Dr. Nicole Basaraba

Assistant Professor in Digital Humanities, TCD

Nicole Basaraba


A look at Young Adult (YA) Fiction – Guest Post by Julie Glover

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Welcome to Writers’ Uni-Verse-City (or WUVC for short because every university has an acronym), a place where writers/bloggers can meet to discuss the craft of writing in the Internet age. WUVC will involve independent research, setting a curriculum and hopefully finding other participants (like you – readers/bloggers/writers) to: chip in, give tips, suggest books and other materials for study, teach me the ways of the warrior writer, and offer to guest post here at Uni-Verse-City (contact: [email protected]).

Today I’d like to welcome the ever-friendly and entertaining Julie Glover as part of the Literary Genres Blog Series. Julie’s giving us some background to where the category “Young Adult (YA)” came from, who reads it and what its made of. 

YOUNG ADULT. What a broad label! How on earth am I supposed to cover that topic in one post?

Yet young adult fiction has existed far longer than the label. I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, Judy Blume, and Nancy Drew. Nobody called it young adult. These were simply the books that I – and every girl I knew – read. The “young adult” label was finally applied not because fiction was suddenly being written about teens. That has always been done. (Romeo and Juliet or Huckleberry Finn, anyone?) It was when writers and publishers realized they could market to teens! S.E. Hinton’s ground-breaking book The Outsiders (1967) may have kicked off the approach of telling truer stories about adolescence, but more likely it was several authors in the 1960s and 1970s who started the YA trend that has continued to grow every decade like a redwood soaking up Red Bull.

Primarily known as fiction aimed at audiences between 12 and 18 years, several characteristics typify young adult novels:

  • A teenage protagonist
  • An egocentric focus, with the story often told in the first person
  • Themes of growing up, such as identity, belonging, or the consequences of choices
  • A familiar setting for the main characters, even if the novel is fantasy or paranormal in some respect. (For instance, Harry Potter is a wizard but he still attends school.)
  • A shorter word count, usually between 45 to 80k, although that length has been surpassed by recent successes
  • A more restrained handling of sexuality, violence, language, and adult themes – although some works push this edge
  • Adults as peripheral characters, often absent or mentoring in limited ways
  • The journey of protagonist growth usually focused on moving from childhood to adulthood in some way.

Young adult, or YA, has become popular not merely among tweens and teens, but among adults as well. Bestsellers like the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games series have fallen into the hands of many adults and found a welcoming audience. Teens themselves want to read about characters like them who struggle in the real world with big challenges and find within themselves the will and the empowerment to continue and to grow. Adults remember those years as a pivotal time in life, when personality and character were being formed and tested. Moreover, there is a freshness about that time in life – when you were discovering yourself and your place in the world, when kisses were firsts and romance was intense, when every problem seemed to loom as large as an evil villain attempting to destroy your life.

We all relate to the young adult hero’s journey in one way or another. Despite the expansion of the readership, however, YA books still target those kids a bit younger than adult – our youth.

When I put pen to paper (well, keyboard to screen), it was natural to find that I was drawn to writing young adult novels. I am intrigued by big questions like “Who am I?” and “What is my mission?” and to intense decision moments in life. The teen years are chock-full of those! I admit to also adoring love stories that celebrate the tingle in your hand when a cute boy slips his hand into it or the chill on your neck when his lips touch yours. There is a juxtaposition of harsh reality and youthful naivete in YA stories that lends itself well to the conflict needed for a great novel.

Of course, within the YA category, you can place a book in any other genre as well:

  • YA fantasy
  • YA romance
  • YA thriller
  • YA horror
  • YA dystopian
  • YA sci-fi
  • YA paranormal
  • YA contemporary

And so on and so on . . .

YA writers should know the rules for young adult fiction and for their particular subgenre. For instance, if a novel is a YA romance, the reader expects a happily ever after. If it is a YA sci-fi, there is likely some deep question about how technological advances affect our world. Be sure to check out the posts on other genres from Nicole’s series.

The good news is that if you write young adult fiction, there is large audience reading YA. The bad news is that people have caught on and everybody and his Cocker Spaniel is writing YA. Big names in adult fiction have come out with their own young adult works, such as James Patterson, Ridley Pearson, Candace Bushnell, John Grisham, and Harlan Coben. These are only a few of the crossover authors dipping their big toes into the YA pond. Moreover, there is a vast sea of young adult writers publishing or attempting to get published, so it can be hard to get attention in this crowd.

So what does a YA author need to know to get ahead, get published, get noticed, get read? Since I misplaced my fancy turban and crystal ball, I can’t answer this question with accuracy. But those things that make you a good author will make you a good YA author:

  • Read and know your genre.
  • Know your audience.
  • Have an interesting story idea.
  • Learn your craft.
  • Deliver quality content.
  •  Be nice.
  • Rename yourself J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins.

Okay, not that last one, though it wouldn’t hurt to partner up with James Patterson.

Another benefit of writing YA? There are many supportive writers groups for this genre. Tool around online or check out your local writers group chapter to see if they have a specialty group. Just like the teen years themselves, it’s easier to walk the writing path with good friends around who encourage you and have your back.

As a city girl from the Lone Star State, Julie Glover owns both go-go boots and cowboy boots; has been to Broadway shows and rodeos; enjoys chateau briand and rattlesnake sausage; and likes Led Zeppelin and Rascal Flatts. Most importantly, she likes her man in a suit and in boots – sometimes worn together. When she isn’t daydreaming about a personal chef or wrestling the family’s laundry, Julie pens mysteries and young adult fiction. She writes on her blog about the wonders of language on Amaze-ing Words Wednesdays and about various pop culture topics on Deep-Fried Fridays. She is currently working on a young adult contemporary romance titled SHARING HUNTER.

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11 thoughts on “A look at Young Adult (YA) Fiction – Guest Post by Julie Glover

  1. Great post, Julie. I loved many of the books you mentioned growing up, and I think the Harry Potter series is a masterful crossover and great example of growing with your characters and the audience. JK Rowling did a wonderful job with that.

    It’s too bad the market is so cluttered, but I think there is a place for everyone who writes compelling characters and a good plot. Good luck!

    1. I agree that there is room! YA is expanding to various audiences, and we can always recruit new readers. Some teens will say they don’t like to read until they discover a specific genre and find they love it. I think that will continue to happen. Great input, Stacy.

  2. Julie, I happened across this post because I’m trying to follow this series but I didn’t see you advertise it. (I’m going to advertize the hell out of it tomorrow!)

    We saw two editors/agents speak on YA at my chapter last month and it was VERY eye opening. I had no idea that there were such adult themes being discussed. But it makes sense – kids have to make pretty tough choices these days.

    I agree with Stacy – if you’re pushing out quality work (which of course you are), you WILL get noticed. It’s just a matter of time. 🙂

    1. Crazy day yesterday and super-headache today (small annoyances). But I appreciate you pimping my post, Jenny! I’ll be there soon.

      Indeed, adult themes are far more common now. They are still handled with a youth perspective (and if they aren’t, it isn’t YA), but kids wrestle with some tough stuff. My son recently read 13 Reasons Why. That’s a good example of such intensity.

      I sure am planning to be one of those YA authors who gets noticed! Thanks.

  3. Great post Juile! I’m venturing into YA telling a story based on my own history. I’m glad I found you here today and such a great explanation of YA. I don’t worry about a particular market being saturated…like you said good quality wins out. Also savvy marketing makes a difference. Thanks for hosting Julie, Nicole!

    1. Its true that the big books these days tend to be YA, but they are also getting a large adult audience from what I can see. So like you said, I’m sure a great story, wins out. An interesting trend. I wonder what’s coming next…

  4. […] Apr. 18: Julie Glover on Young Adult. Julie writes adult mysteries and young adult fiction. As a city girl from the Lone Star State, she owns both go-go boots and cowboy boots. Julie is currently seeking representation for a mystery, GRACE & FIRE, and completing a middle grade novel, A YEAR OF FIRSTS. Julie blogs at Julie Glover, Author and writes about the wonders of language on Amaze-ing Words Wednesdays and on various pop culture topics (movies, books, and more) on Deep-Fried Fridays! You can also find her on Twitter. […]

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