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Young Adult Books 101


What is a Young Adult Book?

  • Fiction and nonfiction for ages 12 and up or 14 and up. Books tend to be 150 pages or longer. Manuscripts are generally 40,000 words and higher.
  • Fiction can be any genre. Some of the most popular are fantasy, paranormal, dystopian, cyber punk, science fiction, historical, thriller, mystery and contemporary stories.
  • Nonfiction can be complex and delve deeply into a topic.
  • Characters are teens ages 12 and up, though most are in high school. Fantasy or sci-fi protagonists would also embody the teenage mindset.
  • Characters are taking more control of their lives (or seeing the need to take control, and trying to figure out how to do it), contemplating their place in the larger world, and thinking about who they want to be as adults.
  • Adults tend to be secondary characters, or serve as the antagonists.
  • Conflicts are complex, high-stakes and realistic. Characters face adult-like situations and decisions for the first time.
  • Several sub-plots explore other aspects of the protagonist’s life or relationships with other characters, and add dimension to the main story line.
  • Stories are often told in first person, with the protagonist’s voice, feelings and perspective filtering the events of the plot for the reader.
  • Plot and character are developed over longer scenes of dialogue.
  • Characters grow and change over the course of the story, moving from adolescence to adulthood by the end.



Are Young Adult Books Right for You?

  • Are you finely tuned into the attitudes, relationships, behaviors, values and mindset of teens? These attitudes would apply whether you’re writing historical, science fiction, fantasy or contemporary fiction.
  • Can you develop your characters through dialogue, their thoughts, body language and how they react to other characters?
  • Does your protagonist have a strong, unique voice that teens can relate to?
  •  Are you willing to put your characters in high-stakes situations, let them make mistakes and bad decisions, and allow them to act as teens, not adults?
  •  Is your idea complex enough to support several sub-plots?
  •  Are you comfortable with the possibility of not having a neatly-wrapped, happy ending, but rather a realistic one?
  • If you have these skills, or are passionate about developing them, you could be a young adult writer!
    Here are some excellent young adult books to study:





Laura Backes

Laura is the founder and publisher of Children's Book Insider, and co-founder of Her work has appeared in Writer's Digest and The Writer magazines, as well as on numerous writing blogs. She's the technical editor of "Writing Children's Books for Dummies", and her book "Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read" is published by Random House. Through webinars, workshops, and online courses, Laura has taught thousands of children's book writers how to improve their craft .