YA literature isn’t just for young adults anymore. With its straightforward story and fast moving plot, adults and young adults alike are enjoying the genre. Need proof of that statement? Just look at the success of book franchises like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Divergent.
I see adults and teens alike tote these books or emblems of these books around and are proud of their association and admiration of YA literature.
But this is not the case for all YA literature. Recently, The New Yorker ran a story called The Percy Jackson Problem.
What is the problem? In a nutshell, it’s that Percy Jackson’s tale isn’t as appealing to adults as it is to young adults. As YA literature, the young adult audience loves the stories. But the book series lacks the mass appeal of other YA novels to adults.
It’s fairly easy to see why, however, and if you’re writing YA and want to have more than just a YA audience appeal, there are three tips you can glean from YA that successfully appeals to adults versus YA like the Percy Jackson books that only appeal to the YA audience.
Rule 1: Magic and mythology is okay, cool even, but too much mythology is not. While Harry Potter and Twilight use and even reinvent mythology, they do not strictly exist in a world of classic myth like Percy Jackson does. Bella Swan and Harry Potter are young adults that exist in their world of mythology and in a very human world where their problems relate to both young adults and grown ups alike. For Percy Jackson, his issues of being a half-god and confronting Greek mythological figures while in a special high school is fantastic and fun for young adults, but adults are looking for something different from their YA.
Rule 2: Kids like camp and adults do not, so YA should be a balance between the two. There are campy parts in stories like The Hunger Games and Divergent, but those small campy moments are surrounded by a serious story where a massive conflict is taking place. YA is the genre where it’s okay to be both serious and campy, but too much child-like campiness, such as having Medusa own a statue shop off of the side of a freeway that the hero must battle his way through, will appeal more to the young adult reader rather than an adult reader.
Rule 3: Universal problems make young adult literature a hit, but they can’t be problems that end when young adulthood ends and adulthood sets in. The Hunger Games has layers of problems within its pages – it’s not just a story about Kat choosing a boyfriend or about Kat coming to terms with her family and forgiving her mother or about Kat fighting an unfit government, it’s about all of these things, and these problems are universal to an adult and young adult audience. Twilight‘s success also hinges on the fact that boyfriend problems persist well into adulthood, and even married women struggle to deal with their partner. Dealing with issues purely of identity and knowing one’s place works on one level, but many adults find themselves, eventually, and young adult literature that doesn’t branch out and look beyond the issue of identity or knowing one’s place loses its appeal to an adult audience.
So, to summarize: One, use magic and mythology as the setting, not driving force of the story. Two, temper sometimes campy writing with situations that feel serious. And three, write universal human struggles into your story, not just struggles that appeal to a young audience and end when they reach adulthood.
Do these three things with your young adult story, and hopefully it’ll be a hit. But, then again, there are never any guarantees in life or in publishing.