I’ve just started the process of querying agents for my new novel, which is about a 19-year-old girl who moves to Los Angeles and begins a secret affair with a Hollywood movie star. I’ve been agonizing over whether it’s an adult book (but it’s about a teenager!), or young adult book (but it’s got some racy parts!), and I finally went with calling it YA in my query letter.
I got some good feedback from the first agent I queried. He liked my writing – he said I have a strong voice and that the characters and scenes are extremely well-developed. Unfortunately, he said he couldn’t represent my book as it is because the plot seemed weak. (Oh, plot, shmot – who needs that? Plus he only read to page 70, and the plot really gets going on page 86, although maybe that’s part of the problem…) He did, however, give me a keen piece of advice: that my novel probably belongs in the category of “new adult.”
Wow! I wasn’t even aware that this was a genre, but a quick Google search proves that it is, and I feel like an idiot for not realizing that sooner. I plan read some NA books right away (like Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire), and I’d love more suggestions for excellent NA books, if anyone has recommendations.
But what is “new adult,” you might be asking. And what is YA and MG and all the other novel genres? Well, to help you figure it out, I’ve developed this little quiz…
IF YOUR LIFE WERE A NOVEL, WHICH GENRE WOULD IT BE?
#1 Choose a beverage:
A. Red Bull
D. Chocolate Milk
E. Red Wine
F. Coffee, black
G. tequila shots
#2 Choose a mode of transportation:
A. your best friend’s Jeep
B. teleportation or astral projection
C. an air-ship
D. your bike
E. a sleek, red convertible
F. a black town car
G. the subway
#3 Choose an outfit:
#4 What are you probably doing on a Saturday morning?
A. Fighting with your mom
B. Setting out on a long and dangerous journey
C. Tinkering with your machines
D. Watching cartoons
E. Having “breakfast in bed” (wink, wink)
F. Putting the pieces together
G. Regretting what you did last night
#5 What is one of the biggest problems you have faced or are currently facing?
A. Surviving high school
B. Surviving a zombie attack
C. Figuring out how to defeat your evil robot clone
D. Figuring out how to defeat a bully
E. Finding love
F. Finding your father’s murderer
G. Figuring out what you want to do with your life
IF YOU CHOSE MOSTLY….
A’s: Your life is a Young Adult novel! Young Adult novels are traditionally written for readers ages 15 to 25 (although some sources says 12 to 18). More and more these days, however, YA novels are being read by people of all ages. The protagonist in a YA novel is usually in high school. (The agent I queried said YA characters are about 17 years old, but I think they can be anywhere from 15 to 25). These are often coming-of-age novels. They are heavy on plot and dialogue (and angst).
B’s: Your life is a Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel! This is HUGE category. There’s traditional Science Fiction with spaceships and aliens, but then there’s the more subtle “speculative fiction,” which is very popular now: think dystopian societies and post-apocalyptic worlds. When it comes to Fantasy, you’ve got your traditional Fantasy with gnomes and trolls and faeries and unicorns, but then you’ve got “slipstream” and “magical realism” in which magical or fantastic elements are inserted into an otherwise normal-seeming world (think Karen Russell). Then there’s zombie fiction and horror and Gothic horror and ghost stories and so much else it’s a little overwhelming.
C’s: Your life is a Steampunk novel! I included this genre just because I think it’s funny that it is it’s own genre. Of course, it comes underneath the Sci-Fi/Fantasy umbrella, but Steampunk is a very specific style. It typically features steam-powered machinery in a fantasy or post-apocalyptic world inspired by the British Victorian Era or the American “Wild West.” Characters tend to wear goggles and corsets and top hats. I have to say I don’t have much experience with this type of novel, but I think Chime by Franny Billigsley falls into this category, as does the awesome, silent German movie Metropolis, which I highly recommend.
D’s: Your life is a Middle Grade novel! Middle Grade novels are written for readers ages 8 to 12. They are usually shorter and use (somewhat) simpler language than YA books (although not always — there tends to be a different between the “literary “middle grade books like Tuck Everlasting and the more popular/commercial ones like Captain Underpants.) The themes of MG books are also more suitable for a younger audience, and there tends to be less romance than in YA books. The mean age for a MG protagonist is probably 11. There are some really wonderfully written books in this category, and I was lucky to once be a 5th grade Language Arts teacher and get to read Holes, Shiloh, Bridge to Teribithia, and The Cay with my class. (And there are so many more wonderful MG books and authors, too, including one of my favorites: Roald Dahl.)
E’s: Your life is a Romance novel! This one’s a pretty obvious category. A relationship novel, or possibly a female wish-fulfillment novel with some steamy scenes. A feel good (in more ways that one) story. One thing you may not know: in order to be considered part of this genre, it MUST have a happy ending!
F’s: Your life is a Mystery/Thriller novel! Again, pretty obvious category. These books tend to be heavy on plot and they utilize surprise twists and subtle clues. There are “cozy” mysteries in which an amateur sleuth (usually a woman) solves a mystery. (These are usually fun and not too bloody.) Thrillers are more apt to be filled with car chase scenes and violence. I don’t read too many thrillers, but I do enjoy a good mystery novel now and then, like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn or The 13th Tale by Diane Setterfield.
G’s: Your life is a New Adult novel! This is a relatively new genre that is also called Mature YA, Upper YA, or Crossover Fiction. NA books feature a protagonist from 18 to 26 dealing with topics such as sexuality, drugs, life choices, or a new career. The character are usually living away from home — often for the first time — and they are making their way through the transition from teenager to adulthood. These are coming-of-age stories for a slightly more mature audience. As of yet, there aren’t too many books solidly in this category. Maybe my novel will become one of them!