June 25, 2012

Guest Post: Victoria Hanley on Defining YA

When I was approached by Sourcebooks to be part of the Wild Ink blog tour I was definitely on board right away. Being such a huge fan of YA I'm always curious how other people, especially experts, define YA.

Here's some of what I asked author Victoria Hanley to talk about today:
How do you approach YA? Is it a style of writing, a genre? What’s the age level, and just what makes YA unique?

Victoria Hanley on "Defining YA"

Defining the Young Adult (YA) genre is a bit of a challenge, because as as a group, YA novels are dazzlingly multifaceted. But here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

Age of Protagonist. Protagonists in YA novels are usually age 15 – 17.

Style. The YA style emphasizes voice, which means that many YA books are written in first person. The pace tends to be fast, and there’s a trend toward present tense.

Categories of YA. Traditionally, YA books have a recommended reader age of 12+. However, because adults make up at least 50 % of today’s reading audience for YA, there’s a new category with a recommended reader age of 14+. To get a snapshot of the difference between 12+ and 14+, think of the PG-13 movie rating for 12+, while 14+ is closer to an R rating. Both categories are listed as “Young Adult” in online stores, and both are found in “Teen” sections of brick and mortar bookstores and many libraries.

Subgenres. There are dozens of subgenres within YA, so readers have plenty of choices. Here’s a partial list:

  • Contemporary Realistic. Novels in this subgenre can be about anything faced by modern teens, including personal relationships, health problems, multicultural and identity issues, drugs and alcohol—you name it!
  • Speculative Fiction. Covers a lot of territory too, from fantasy to sci-fi, dystopias, paranormal beings, angels and demons, horror.
  • Romance. Go first love! Need I say more?
  • Action-Adventure. Stories featuring wilderness, war, pirates, natural disasters, etc.
  • Mystery. Teen detective mysteries are shorter and less gory than adult mysteries.
  • Historical Fiction. YA themes in a historical setting provide rich storylines.
  • Graphic Novels. Not just comic books! You’ll find contemporary humor along with action, fantasy, sci-fi or other subgenres.

Themes. The young characters in YA books are coming of age. Depending on the author and the subgenre, this means that characters will endure grueling hardships. Adults cannot fix what’s wrong; the characters have to work things out on their own. Often, there’s a blend of passionate honesty, independence and rebellion, wild exploration, breakdown and breakthrough.

Writing YA. If you’re drawn to writing YA, open up to yourself and your experiences. Everywhere you’ve been, everything you’ve done, and everyone you’ve met can help you finish that novel!

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Victoria!

Everyone, you can read Chapter Two of Wild Ink, "Getting Your Book in Shape, Novel Writing 1", on Prufrock Press's website.

About the book:
What do you need to know to break in to the flourishing young adult (YA) market? With humor and a solid grounding in reality, author Victoria Hanley helps readers understand the ins and outs of the YA genre, how to stay inspired, and how to avoid common mistakes writers make in trying to reach teens. This book includes unique writing exercises to help readers find their own authentic teen voice and dozens of interviews with YA authors, blogging experts, editors, and agents to give inspiration and guidance for getting published. Chapters include writing exercises and self-editing techniques tailored to YA, along with encouraging words on dealing with self-doubt, rejection, and lack of time.


  1. Great post! I had no idea that 'speculative fiction' covered so much area! I always broke down each sub-genre in that theme ...

    It's really amazing how many adults read YA these days. I'm in my 30s and have grown really fond of a lot of these books -- so much so that my reading of "adult" books seems to have been pushed to the back burner!

  2. I think this posts, while dealing with generalities, covers a lot of the doubts regarding the genre.

    Because it's one of those things that it's really hard to define! :)

    Nice post!

  3. Sometimes, I still struggle with putting a book in a specific genre--especially because a lot of them bridge multiple genres. But this was very informative!

  4. Thanks for the YA overview! lol, I always say genre, but I guess I should really be saying "sub-genre" instead when it comes to contemporary, science fiction, etc. And really, dystopian is a sub-genre of SF again, but I tend to just say genre instead for that too... I guess it depends on how technical you want to be!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment; I appreciate each one!


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