Often when you see a story online, it’ll offer certain descriptors to help potential readers decide whether or not to read it. Let’s face it: Even the most open-minded reader tends to have certain things they’re looking for from their reading material. Most commonly, the major deciding factor is the story’s genre, and possibly the subgenre. That’s fine. That’s how we’re used to organizing books. That’s how we see them organized in libraries and bookstores. We understand this as a means of classifying a book.
As more and more people move into writing either as a hobby or as a self-published professional (I say this because it’s where I’ve seen this happen most often), there seems to be a problem of understanding what genre is. So let’s start there. Genre is the general category a book (or other piece of media) can be classified as. We’re talking classifications like nonfiction, business, fantasy, science fiction, romance, etc. Within many genres, there are subgenres. For example, science fiction includes the subgenres dystopia, space exploration, cyberpunk, and steampunk. (Fear not. This is not an exhaustive list of sci-fi’s subgenres.)
In each of these cases, there is a category that helps the reader sort out what the book was most likely about. If I pick up a book listed as being in the fantasy genre, I’m not expecting it to teach me how become better at managing my freelance career. Sounds simple enough, right. The assigned genre categorizes the type of story the reader can expect.
The problem is that these up-and-coming and independent writers are often told to choose the genre where their book would most likely be found in a bookstore, and so they choose Young Adult. Well, bookstores and libraries do have children’s and teen sections, so that could potentially make sense. Except…within those sections, books are still organized by genres. The books aren’t jumbled all together; they are grouped the same way the other books are.
What? Why? How is that fair?
It’s because the classifications Young Adult and Middle Grade aren’t genres. They tell you nothing about what the book is most likely going to be about. What they do tell you is the age group most likely to resonate with the book. So, a Young Adult fantasy novel is more likely to be accessible and relatable for a middle school student than a fantasy novel from the general stacks. They’re age bands, not genres. (They’re also not meant to discourage any age group from reading what they like. I’m not ashamed to admit I reach for a YA novel before I reach for anything in general fantasy or science fiction.)
So, if you are writing and feel the need to claim you write in the Young Adult genre, march yourself into a library or bookstore (I actually advocate marching into many libraries and bookstores *grin*) and spend some time just acquainting yourself with what’s in the section and how everything is laid out and grouped together. It’ll go a long way to helping you sound more ready to join the authors on those shelves.