Time for a little author’s angst. Pitching my novel at Can-Con was a rush: I was nervous, excited, pumped. I presented to two publishers I respect, and got two invitations to submit.
Now the hangover of doubt: what if they don’t like it, etc. etc.
Leaving aside the worst uncertainties, because I’m reasonably confident it’s a good story, what about the whole, “It’s not right for us,” aspect? It may not be for them. Because my protagonist is young, both editors asked whether this was an adult novel or a book for young readers. I have trouble with this question. There’s no adult content – I would let my friend’s kids read my book without hesitation. But that doesn’t make it a kid’s book. When Hayden Trenholm asked this question, I must have looked uncertain. After all, in one sense, I wrote the book for me. It turns out the way I want. Does that make it an adult book? Although my characters often have their own ideas about how to get there. They’re young. Does that make it kid lit?
Mr. Trenholm clarified it for me. In his view, a Young Adult novel deals with a young protagonist deciding what kind of person they will be. In an Adult novel, the protagonist’s character is firm, and the issues are about how that person will deal with the situation. This was food for thought, and I’ve been relating this idea to books I have read, to see how it fits.
Not long ago, I read Julie Kagawa’s Blood of Eden trilogy. In a nutshell, it’s about a street kid who hates vampires, and has to become one. This is a wonderful coming-of-age story, because if you substitute the word adult for the word vampire… well, it couldn’t be much clearer. Will she be a moral, honorable
vampire adult? Or a cruel and corrupt one? For the insight into that series alone, Hayden’s explanation was magic.
But if I look at Harry Potter, it’s not so clear to me. I don’t think any reader expects Harry to join Slytherin House or side with Lord Voldemort. He’s not choosing between good and evil; he’s trying to figure out how to stay alive. Perhaps this is the mark of a more straight-forward adventure story. Teenage anxiety plays less of a role. It could be argued that Harry Potter is for middle-grade readers. But I know a lot of adults that read and enjoyed it, myself included.
Another series I admire is Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. If that doesn’t ring a bell, I’m talking about The Golden Compass and it’s sequels. Girl rescues boy. Yay! Girl turns out to be secretly princess of the Gyptians. Umm. I’d rather she made it on her own merit. Lyra does face a number of moral challenges, and she comes of age in more ways than one. But there are some pretty adult themes: can a weak God be a bad thing? That’s not especially meaningful to me, but it’s hardly kid stuff.
More clearly an adult novel with a young protagonist is Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW series. Wake, Watch and Wonder are about Caitlin, who is fifteen. It’s not a kid’s book. Her parents are fully developed characters, too. There is a question of good vs. evil, but it revolves around a computer. Well, the internet as a synthetic person, actually, but Caitlin’s role is as a guide as much as an actor.
Then there’s The Hunger Games. All kinds of survival and adventure there, but also a love triangle, some family issues and a dystopian future. Dystopias are great for young adults. They know the world is whack. They may have just come to realize how whack. Themes of how to cope with that are highly relevant to teenagers. It’s their life. Divergent, too.
So I’m a little clearer on one thing. My book is not aimed squarely at teenagers. Now I just need to know if my target readership is pre-teen or post. My beta readers were adults, and they liked it. I have sent my MS to a tween I know. He reviews books, and is extraordinarily well-read. If anyone can tell me whether I should be barking up the kid tree or the grown-up tree, I think he can.
Of course, I may get an answer from one or both of those publishers. They may say, “It’s not for us, it’s too young.” Or they may like it as an adult book. Or hate it for some other reason entirely. “Too many characters.” “Not enough male characters.” “The protagonists goals and obstacles are all over the map.”
It’s hard to sleep with a monster under my bed. His name is Doubt.