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What Does a Young Adult Author Do?

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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
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  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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A young adult author writes books for the young adult market. This market caters to readers who range in age from 12 to the beginnings of adulthood. The young adult author specializes in works that will appeal to teen readers and sometimes older readers as well. These are often works of fiction, featuring young adult protagonists who are dealing with the challenges of growing up. The market also includes science fiction, fantasy, and mainstream literature, as well as various forms of non-fiction, such as biography and memoir.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, most authors geared their work to either children or adults. The young adult market was not created until the 1960s, after the success of S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders. Written while Hinton herself was a teenager and featuring teen protagonists dealing with real-world problems, the book was a critical and popular success, revealing a largely untapped readership within the youth culture. In the 1970s, authors such as Hinton, Judy Blume, and Paul Zindel created works catering to this readership. By the 1980s, the young adult market was fully established in the U.S. and elsewhere, and it has remained a potent force well into the 21st century.

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The young adult author faces some unique challenges. Young adult books must be written for teen readers, who may be unfamiliar with complex subjects and language. At the same time, the writer cannot talk down to readers, as few teens will tolerate even a hint of such treatment. The concerns of adolescence are often a primary factor in these books. Particularly popular are so-called problem novels that feature teens dealing with social and emotional issues such as dysfunctional families, drugs, or sexuality.

This approach is not without controversy. Many a young adult author has found his or her works challenged by parents who feel such subjects are not appropriate for young readers. Judy Blume was an early target of such censors, because of her frank approach to teen sexuality and other topics in her popular and acclaimed novels of the 1970s. Many young adult novels have been banned by school libraries in the decades since; sometimes, this actually increases their appeal to teens. The controversy over what subjects are appropriate for the young adult market seems unlikely to end anytime soon.

Problem novels make up a large segment of the young adult market, but books from a wide variety of subjects and genres are also included. In the early 21st century, fantasy authors J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer dominated the market with the Harry Potter and Twilight series, respectively. Although each initially identified as a young adult author, both won over readers of all ages with their popular sagas. Other young adult authors write biographies, sports stories, or even comedy. Graphic novels, including translated Japanese comics, or manga, have also been popular with young adult readers since at least the 1990s.

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browncoat
Post 3

@croydon - Honestly I don't know if there is a real difference between young adult and adult literature. I think these are just marketing terms that publishers use in order to distinguish between books they think will sell well to certain groups of people. There have been cases where they have had the exact same book and put two different covers on it, one for the young adult market and one for the adult market.

And it really annoys me that they get treated so differently by a lot of respected people in the industry to be honest. A lot of young adult fiction should be considered to be classic literature but it gets put into a box and considered to be something that you grow out of rather than something you can enjoy at any age.

croydon
Post 2

@Iluviaporos - There is definitely a blurred line between these different genres though. I have read middle grade novels that dealt with very dark themes, like the Holocaust, for example and likewise, you can find very fluffy young adult novels.

I always liked the idea that young adult novels tend to be quite introspective compared with other kinds of novels. Even if they are in different genres (and they can be quite a mix of genres) the defining feature tends to be that they are quite concerned with the inner life of the main character or characters.

lluviaporos
Post 1

I heard an author say once that the critical difference between young adult books and children's books that a lot of beginning authors don't understand is that the young adult books are intended to be bought by the young adults themselves while the children's books are going to be bought by adults for the children.

So with any books marketed towards children or the middle grade level you have to make sure that you keep adults as well as children in mind. You want the kids to be asking for the books, but you don't want the adults to veto their choice because of blatant violence or other themes that they won't like.

But young adults aren't going to read

something that doesn't reflect the kind of TV they watch and video games they play and that means you don't have to dial back the violence so much. I mean, you probably don't want to write them an explicit slasher story either, but they can handle a little bit of violence.

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