YA books have been the fastest growing category of book sales over the past five years, with a knowledgeable readership who know exactly want they want.
So how do you write and pitch a YA novel that works for this discerning reader? Our latest course guides you step by step.
But what exactly is Young Adult fiction?
First up, YA isn’t a genre: it’s an age range. YA fiction is aimed at a target audience aged 12-18 (12–14 is the lower end of the YA market and is sometimes categorised as teen fiction).
That’s not to say older readers don’t enjoy YA fiction too – many adults are also avid readers of YA fiction. But as an author, if you want to write YA fiction, you need to keep the target age group firmly in mind.
YA fiction encompasses a range of genres, including contemporary, thriller, crime, dystopian, historical, sci-fi, romance, fantasy – and the current hot ticket, romantasy.
In short, YA novels are as diverse as their readership. However, there are several key elements that most YA novels share.
- A teenage protagonist, usually aged 15-18.
- Written from the point of view of a teenager (or more than one, in novels with multiple points of view), rather than an adult looking back on their teenage years.
- A relatable, authentic emotional experience.
- Coming of age themes, such as discovering who you are, finding the confidence to be yourself, challenging authority, or standing up for what you believe in.
- More mature content, including drug use, mental health, relationships and sex and sexuality (although in YA the content is usually less graphic than in New Adult or adult fiction).
I think I’m writing YA, but am I?
Sometimes writers who think they’re writing YA fiction might actually be writing Middle Grade or New Adult fiction.
The age of the protagonist is key here, as young people tend to ‘read up’ rather than ‘read down’. For example, a 15-year-old is likely to read books featuring a protagonist who’s 17, but they’ll be less interested in reading books where the main character is younger than them. In YA, protagonists typically fall into the 15-18 age group.
The themes covered and maturity of the content are also a factor, and it’s important that these are appropriate for your target audience.
Middle Grade fiction (MG) is aimed at 8-12 year olds and usually features protagonists aged 10-12. The content is much less mature and graphic than YA, although big issues such as mental health are commonly explored.
New Adult fiction (NA) is aimed at an audience who are transitioning out of adolescence into adulthood and have moved on from YA fiction. The protagonists in NA fiction are usually 18/19 or in their early 20s. Themes may be more mature or graphic than in YA, and the focus is often on the transition to independent adulthood e.g. leaving home for the first time, going to college/university or getting a job, and navigating the challenges of relationships, mental health and sexuality and gender identity.
How do I think like a fan?
The best way to get to grips with YA fiction is to read, read, read!
Buy or borrow YA fiction from the library, and read recent releases to see what’s popular now as well as classic YA titles such as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman. Pick up a range of books and see what appeals to you.
Try reading like a writer and consider what draws you into the story (and keeps you turning the pages). What techniques does the author use to tell the story? What makes that book stand out?
Think about why you’re drawn to writing YA fiction – what is it about writing for this age-range that really appeals to you?
What else can I do?
Get on your phone! The rise of BookTok has had a huge impact on the publishing industry, with many YA titles going viral as fans review, discuss and share the love of their favourite titles, making TikTok a good place to explore.
Or watch some TV. The runaway success of the Heartstopper series on Netflix (an uplifting, coming-of-age LGBTQ+ drama about teen friendship and romance based on the web-comic and graphic novel by Alice Oseman) has drawn a new audience to YA fiction. And it’s worth tuning into another big-name title – Karen McManus’ New York Times bestselling YA mystery/thriller novel One of Us Is Lying – also adapted by Netflix, to find out what really speaks to fans.
Finally, we recommend joining a writing group. On our Write a Young Adult Novel course, you’ll work with bestselling YA author Lee Weatherly alongside a small group of fellow writers to make sure your novel delivers just what your reader wants. Together, you’ll hone your big idea, develop a relatable teen voice and explore some of the key issues in YA fiction. We’ll speak to agents and editors to make sure you know how the publishing industry works for this age-range, and what you need to do to pitch your book.
At the end of the 18-week course, you’ll have the first 10,000 words of your novel, plus the skills and confidence to take it forward.