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I'm a published author of short fiction for kids and adults. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. I'm a former content writer for Spirit and Truth publishing on their Living the Word series. I've also worked as a paid book reviewer and as a student editor for The Louisville Review literary magazine. I'm a wife and mom to two great kids, three dogs, and a cat. I love books, movies, gardening, kids, and animals.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What Does It Mean to Write Young Adult

A Guest Post by author Margo L. Dill  

Recently on Facebook, some of my writing friends had a discussion on how to write young adult books (YA). The discussion started with a post where a writer asked: "What makes a book YA? Is it just the age of the protagonist being a teenager?" Many people weighed in. Some agreed this was it. Some said it was serious subject matter handled less seriously than if it was written for adults. (Although I'm not sure this commenter had read any edgy YA recently. There's just about no subject that goes uncovered in YA books!)

It also can't be the age the readers or people buying the books that make them YA anymore either. I'm sure you've heard of the controversy going on over at The Slate, where one of the writers said adults should be embarrassed to read books intended for children. (I think even teens are offended by this since they are being called children.) Anyway, if you want to write young adult or you think you are writing young adult, how do you know?

I've been thinking about this question ever since that Facebook post. Here's what I came up with. . . 

Photo provided by Margo Dill
 When I wrote Caught Between Two Curses (contemporary YA, released March 2014, Rocking Horse Publishing), I did make my main character, Julie, 17 and set the book the summer before her senior year. So, I do think that's one of the main criteria for YA--the main character is a teenager.

The second criteria is that the teenager deals with teen problems. Although in CBTC Julie must break curses and save her family, she also has to figure out what to do about the boy she loves and his pressure to have sex. She has to decide who to go to Homecoming with. She has to choose between a loyal female friend and her feelings for her best male friend. She has detention. She has homework. She has to babysit her younger cousin. These are all teen problems!

The third thing that makes YA books young adult is: Who is the "intended" audience? There are adult books that have teenage characters, such as The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle. But that book was written for an adult, mostly female, audience. When I wrote Caught Between Two Curses, I was writing for a teenage audience. One of the first rules you learn about writing in elementary school is that you must consider your audience when writing anything. Your audience will affect the choices you make while writing. I heard YA author Sarah E. Fine, who is also a psychologist, say this during a workshop at the Missouri Writer's Guild conference a couple years ago, and it stuck with me. YA books are written for teenagers. This doesn't mean only teens can enjoy them, but that's the intended audience.

What do you think? Do you agree with my three criteria? Do you have any others you would add?

photo provided by Margo Dill
Margo L. Dill is the author of Caught Between Two Curses, a YA light paranormal romance novel about the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs, and Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg, a historical fiction, middle-grade novel. She currently has two more books under contract--both are picture books--with High Hill Press and Guardian Angel Publishing. Publication dates of both are to be determined. Besides being a children's author, she is also a freelance editor with the business, Editor 911: Your Projects Are My Emergency! and she is part of the WOW! Women On Writing e-zine's staff as an editor, blogger, instructor, and social media manager. She is also an editor for High Hill Press and specializes in memoirs, historical fiction, and children's and YA novels. Margo loves presenting workshops to writing groups and school groups. When she is not writing or editing, Margo loves to spend time with her husband, stepson, daughter, and crazy Boxer dog, Chester. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri; and if she could eat out every day, she would! She is also a member of the St. Louis Zoo, and this is one of her family's favorite places to go! Find out more at http://margodill.com/blog/.

Photo provided by Margo Dill
SYNOPSIS: Seventeen-year-old Julie Nigelson is cursed. So is her entire family. And it's not just any-old-regular curse, either-it's strangely connected to the famous "Curse of the Billy Goat" on the Chicago Cubs.

Julie must figure out this mystery while her uncle lies in a coma and her entire love life is in ruins: her boyfriend Gus is pressuring her to have sex, while her best friend Matt is growing more attractive to her all the time.

Somehow, Julie must figure out how to save her uncle, her family's future, and her own love life--and time is running out!


To purchase a copy of Caught Between Two Curses, go to any of these links: Amazon , GoodreadsBarnes and Noble, and Indiebound

To find out more about Margo and her other books or editing services check out the following sites:


  1. Good criteria, Margo. But number 2 gives me some trouble because although I agree that a teenager dealing with teen problems is a determining characteristic of contemporary YA, I'm not sure what to do with it when evaluating historical YA. If a teen character is dealing with issues typical of her time period, but that may have little relevance to a contemporary teen reader, then can the work still be considered YA?

    1. Yes, I think so. For example, Diary of Anne Frank is probably YA. There is not a lot of historical fiction YA--Doyle wrote one--Baker Mountain is YA--it's a teen character dealing with teen issues during a time period in the past. Doyle wrote it with the YA audience in mind. I think that's the key too--the most important--who did the author have in mind as the audience when writing the book .Thanks for checking out my post and inspiring me! :)

  2. Thanks for the informative blog post, Margo. You could write three more posts, one on each excellent criterion.

    I think that while adults can enjoy children's picture books (Roald Dahl), middle grade stories (J.K. Rowling) and YA novels (you name it), the opposite is not always true. Kids wouldn't and/or couldn't necessarily enjoy adults' books.

    Perhaps the reason for this is that adults have an inner child who can appreciate books, movies, etc. for various age levels, while younger people only have the context of their own existence. We middle-agers even enjoy stories about older people, because we can relate to our experiences with parents, grandparents or other relations.

  3. Excellent point, Jocelyn. Some books with younger protagonists but meant for adults would not appeal or even be understood by younger readers.

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