This was originally posted on my Tumblr, in response to a question here.
|"Oh my God, we've been boxed!"|
Age-based categorisation of a books is a topic I find fascinating. From the beginning, there was never any question that The Bone Season would be an Adult book. When my agent was sending it out to publishers, he sent it to the Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury’s Adult division. She was the one who first loved the book and made a passionate offer on it; it was never considered, to my knowledge, for Bloomsbury’s YA and Kids’ division. I’ve spoken about why I think it was the best choice here. However, other opinions differed. I’m published as YA in the vast majority of territories not covered by Bloomsbury, and I’ve seen my books on various YA lists and shelves on Goodreads and other websites.
For the whole of my career so far, I have existed in a strange limbo between Adult and Young Adult. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed this fluidity. I don’t like to say who I do and don’t think should read my books. I like that people of many ages feel perfectly comfortable reading them. I’ve met people in their seventies who’ve loved it, and people in their early teens, and every age between. The one label I didn’t want to give The Bone Season was Children’s or Kids’, as I genuinely don’t believe it would be appropriate to call my books “children’s books”. This isn’t because I have anything against children’s books at all, but because I don’t see how my work fits into that category. There’s swearing, sex and violence, which I have no intention of toning down, and most of the characters are adults. But apart from that, I don’t aim for a particular age demographic.
I don’t think anybody really knows how to define YA, or distinguish it from Adult. I’ve seen reviews of my books that say the content is YA, but the pace is Adult. I’ve seen reviews saying they’re clearly Adult. I’ve seen reviews criticising Bloomsbury for the Adult categorisation.
Or is it to do with who buys the books? Does YA have to be bought by young adults? (Yet a recent statistic suggests that 80% of YA books in America are bought by adults.)
So clearly there is no consensus among readers, but age-based categorisation of books is still upheld by both the publishing industry and booksellers. And you can understand the logic behind it, as they need some way to market them. Arguably, genre is one way they can do this, and they do – but then, some books don’t fit into one clear genre. either. I also feel that genre-based categorisation could make aspiring writers feel as if they have to write within the confines of a genre to ensure there’s a place for their book on the shelves – which, in turn, could discourage experimentation. We don’t want to create a world where books are locked into a faction system, or where people feel guilty for enjoying stories that are supposedly too young for them. There has to be room for the Divergent books that tick multiple boxes – the ones that break that system – or they’ll fall between the cracks. And I believe most books are Divergent; that very few books in the world can be easily defined by a label, or an age range.
Age-based categorisation isn’t great, and it’s terribly subjective, but I doubt it’s going away any time soon. Think of it as a guideline, nothing more. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t read. Don’t think you can’t write books that appeal to both adults and teenagers. Basically, we should all do what we can to avoid limiting readership for any book.