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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
UPDATE: I have decided to move this series to the Adult Fiction category. Thank you to everyone who weighed in.

I am planning a new series, which was originally intended as YA. This is largely due to the fact that I want to write in the first person and the main character is a 15 year old teenage girl. The plot has everything to do with sex, love, and figuring out who you are. (Classic YA, right?)

The problem: In the story I have developed so far, sex plays a critical role in both plot and character development. My two greatest concerns are that 1) my protag is a minor (and will remain a minor until the final book in the series), and 2) a huge part of the story relates to sex.

I am wondering if this kind of story is just too controversial for YA. Would it work as Adult Fiction? What about the character being a minor? It feels cheap to just shift her age for the sake of decency (transport her to college rather than high school, for example). That doesn't feel true to the story and character I've envisioned.

What do you think?
 

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You could probably get away with it if you don't have any of the sex on the page. But don't be surprised if it's a hard sell. Both because YA is generally a harder sell for indies anyway, and because 15 seems to be a weird no-man's-land between middle grade and YA protagonists. And now that I'm thinking about it, that could have something to do with the age-of-consent issue, actually.
 

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I think it could be doable if you were a woman writing a girl, but I don't think it'll fly as a male writing a girl. YA self-discovery can be received very well, even with a tricky subject like sex, but you're going to run into problems when you're a grown man writing about a teenage girl's sexual self-discovery. Namely, how on earth could you possibly know a single thing about it?

A lot can be forgiven if you write it particularly well, but you're fighting an uphill battle when it comes to the demographics here. You're not drawing from your own experiences for this story. You're an outsider, but you're also a grown man philosophizing about a young girl's sexuality. It's a discomforting premise.
 

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I am wondering if this kind of story is just too controversial for YA.

I read YA from time to time. YA kind of divides into older/younger groups (with 15 being no man's land, but leaning toward the younger side). In YA directed toward the more mature end of the spectrum (say 16-18), you'll encounter controversial topics, like suicide, death, drug use, eating disorders, and yep, sex. (Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak deals with the aftermath of sexual assault, for example.) So, I would not necessarily say it's too controversial, but I would consider shifting my character to be 16 or older. Also, do know, that by including sex, just like by including things like strong profanity or exploring issues like drug use or suicide, you're limiting your audience because some parents won't let their kids read it.

Would it work as Adult Fiction?

Possibly. While I can't think of a YA novel with an adult MC, the age of the characters does not necessarily determine the genre. Scout is 6-8 years old in To Kill a Mockingbird. To Kill a Mockingbird is clearly not a novel intended for first, second, or third graders. It's more about how the novel is addressed and who it's aimed toward. Even when it delves into darker themes, YA is still less graphic and less explicit than an adult novel would be.

What about the character being a minor?

Minors have sex in YA. John Green has a sex scene in The Fault in Our Stars, for example. (If I recall, Gus is 17 and Hazel is 16. And Hazel is a pretty mature 16-year-old.)

But the way the sex is depicted matters. In YA, the novel should be told through the lens of a teenager. Sex for teenagers is often awkward and fumbling. And what teens worry about in regard to sex is different than what adults worry about. The novel should reflect that, whether it fades to black or whether it shows the act.

I'd suggest grabbing a few YA titles and see how they handle sex. Maybe then compare them to a few romance novels intended for adults to see the differences. And let that be your guide.
 

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The advantage of indie YA is that you can make this choice. Don't worry about controversy as you aren't big enough to cause a controversy. The book will either (be/not be) what someone is looking for, and that should be clear in the blurb. Note that your decision may decrease your sales pool.
 

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Just finished Screamcatcher: Sasquatch Most Monstrous, fourth in series. Agent has it.
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I've been writing YA exclusively for years now and found out the hard way that sex is not tolerated in my books. I may make reference to it, but hugging and kissing is just about all I'm going to dare. You've got school teachers and librarians reading this stuff. Only my opinion and circumstances.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thank you all for such helpful replies.

After a long brainstorming session, I have figured out a way to move this particular series to the Adult Fiction category, where I think it truly belongs.

Thanks again!

 

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My books are in YA. My thoughts:

1)  A male author writing about a 15 year old girl...is going seem odd to begin with.
2)  You cannot really target that market with anything even remotely "questionable"- no librarian will go near it.

I honestly don't see the market. This sounds more like a "new adult" genre type book with a main character in the university/college age range.

Mark
 

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IMO, books are more censored than movies or even commercials on TV. This topic reminds me of a couple of YA hits  although the first was R rated: "Your mother sucks cocks in Hell -- The Exorcist; "Penis breath -- E.T.
 
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