It’s the age-old question…about age. You’re writing a book that blurs the lines between two age categories, or the protagonist will age as the series progresses, so which category does it truly belong in? Well, unfortunately, there isn’t entirely a straight forward yes or no answer, but understanding the differences will help!
First, let’s take a look at what TYPICALLY makes up the different age groups.
This age category typically means the main protagonist is aged between 8-12 years old. These books are also shorter in word count, between 20,000-50,000 words. Themes can range greatly, but there usually isn’t a romantic subplot.
Examples: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson
Young adult books typically have protagonists aged 13-18. They can include romantic subplots, and typically the parent figure isn’t that present in the story. Books can range between 50,000-80,000 words.
Examples: Hunger Games, The Hate You Give
This is an age range that spans the new adult, just out of high school, often “college age” 18-early 20’s. Usually, this age range is exploring becoming an adult. First job, first major relationship, exploring the “big bad world”…etc. Word count isn’t much different than YA, 55,000-85,000 words.
Examples: Losing It
Adult can also span a large age group, but a typical rule of thumb is that the main character and the themes of the story are adult. We’ll get into exceptions below, but 20+ for adult. Usually romantic themes including family, children, marriage…etc. Word count is usually larger, but this can vary depending on Romance vs. Epic Fantasy. 80,000+ words is a good range to start but it’s wise to check your genre and other examples.
Examples: Game of Thrones, Outlanders
But What About The Exceptions?
There are many exceptions in books that are geared for a younger or older crowd than their typical age range indicates. For example, Harry Potter begins with Harry at age 11, however by the last book he’s turned 18. This age range spans over two categories, MG and YA, making it difficult to classify (and there has been a lot of debate about this). Another example is the book Room, told from the POV of 5 year old Jack, but classified as adult. So how do we know when our book is an exception or a rule?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- What is the MAIN age of your protagonist during the climax of the book?
- What does the theme include? Romance? Adult’s helping or not present? Coming of age?
- How graphic is it? If your book was a movie what rating would it get? Swearing or sex? Violence or gory?
- What books would you compare to yours? What category is their book under?
While this will give you a guideline for determining the age category, there are a few other things to consider that may help in deciding. Who are your readers? For MG books, typically it’s a parent, teacher, or librarian suggesting the books for readers, which means MG readers won’t typically purchase books themselves or e-books (of course, there are exceptions…). This means it needs to be appropriate for an adult to suggest to a child. Young adult readers span from teen to adult readers, but younger teens 13-15 may not have experienced much in the form of intensely romantic relationships, while adults have, so WHO do you want to read your YA book? New Adult is a range that writers speak about a lot, BUT if you walk into a book store you won’t find a section called New Adult (not in many anyway, your bookstore might be awesome and include this as a section…I hope some do). Therefore, you may need to consider if your book will end up in the YA section or Adult section, which could mean pulling back on some graphic scenes (such as sex scenes or swearing) OR increasing your word count for adults.
All of this might seem a bit wishy-washy…and not helpful, but as I indicated at the beginning, it’s not a simple Yes or No answer. I have a few more suggestions to help you figure out your age category:
- Watch TV/Film in different age categories to determine where the themes they include and who their target audience is. For YA check out the CW network for shows like The 100, Pretty Little Liars, Vampire Diaries. For MG go to Nickelodeon or Disney’s Artemis Fowl. NA could include shows like Grownish or How to Get Away With Murder.
- READ, READ, READ! As a writer of books or scripts, this is so important. And I encourage you to read vastly. Check out different age groups so you can see what the themes are for each. Sometimes, we think our books are meant for a specific group and just choose the age, such as 17. Then we find out the theme is actually A LOT older than that, dealing with things a teen may not have experienced before, and could actually fit in NA better. (This is not to say teen’s shouldn’t be exposed to this…this is simply a reflection of the overall age range for the average person)
- Determine your goal. Whether self-publishing or looking to traditionally publish, you need to determine who your target audience is and how your publishing goals may impact that. As mentioned, MG is typically provided to readers by adults, teachers, and librarians…therefor self publishing an MG book will need to take this into consideration much more than transitional publishers (still doable, just requires thinking). IF you are looking to traditionally publish an NA book, where will it sit on the shelves in a book store that doesn’t include a New Adult section?
Hopefully, this article has helped a bit to determine what age category your book might fit, but I encourage you to drop your questions in the comments and I will do my best to help!