Earlier today I was having a discussion with friends about a highly touted YA novel just nominated for the Morris Award. We all agree that the book is beautifully written and engaging but we are scratching our heads at exactly who the intended or appropriate audience is for this book. The narrator’s voice feels adult, and the word choices and phrasing feel adult. In the end, the consensus was that this book was more in line with an adult novel that select teens might enjoy than a proper novel for teens.
As a bookseller/buyer, the question of audience in some of the books I read & am presented frequently arises. Who is this book written for, and who can I sell it to are often two very different questions, being able to answer these questions when writing is key to finding readers.
I love reading kids/YA books, but I am keenly aware that I come at them from a different place than kids/teens do. I bring adult experience and ideas to the books and while I do my best to put myself in the head of the target reader, I know that there are books I appreciate that the average kid probably won’t. I love complex ideas and language. I love it when an author does something completely mind-bending (such as Patrick Ness’ More Than This) and leaves you with your jaw on the floor thinking “Wow!” when you reach the last page. I can’t always find a mass number of readers for these books, but I firmly believe that there is a reader. There are some books however that completely miss the mark for a variety of reasons.
A book full of adult language and scenes with child/teen characters does not automatically make it a book for kids/teens. Adult books can have child protagonists (Oceans at the End of the Lane, Room or Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night for example) and be appreciated by teens, but they are not marketed to a juvenile/teen audience. Even when the age of the characters are on point, if the general tone of the book is way above the heads of the readers, it is also guilty of not knowing its audience. Consider who is telling the story. Is the narrator recounting something that has recently happened to them, or are they an adult reminiscing about events from a long time ago? Who are you hoping to appeal to with your book? What kind of reader are you trying to reach? There’s something to be said for appealing to the clever, sophisticated kid- you know the one- 10 going on 50- capable of reading far above their age group but not emotionally ready for YA- but don’t get so caught up in being clever that you write yourself out of your market. L Why is Harry Potter so universally loved? Because J.K. Rowling knew exactly who her audience was and she proved that you can provide kids with a rich reading experience while hitting all of the buttons for a wide variety of readers.
Now I turn the question to you- what in your minds causes a book to “miss the mark?” and have you read anything lately that fits this description?