Your Target Market

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 28 2010

I’m writing a novel about three 15-year-old high school students who are bullied and come up with creative schemes for solving the problem. The target market is middle grade and young adult. Along with some lighter moments, the story becomes quite dark and violent (before progressing into a happy/satisfying ending). There’s swearing, bashing, blood, minor knife violence and a shooting. The violence isn’t gratuitous, it’s integral to the storyline and assists with raising the stakes throughout each stage of the plot.

Am I writing a novel for a target market that’s too young to be exposed to the material? Would the older end of the target market, say 18-25-year-olds, still be interested in reading about 15-year-olds? Have I completely ruled out both ends of my target market, and will publishers reject the book because of this?

My immediate concern when reading this question was not so much whether the market is too young but that your target market is “middle grade and young adult.” You really need to pick and choose. Certainly, I’ve represented a lot of books that have crossed genre lines, and I love books that cross genre lines, that appeal to readers of two different genres, but I think when writing a book you have to essentially choose your market so that you’ve chosen where the book will be shelved.

I also feel that crossing genre lines between middle grade and young adult is trickier than, say, fantasy and young adult or fantasy and paranormal romance. While you might have kids willing to read both, they will tend to be middle grade readers. In other words, you will likely have middle grade readers who read up, but unlikely to have young adult readers who read down.

One of the things I love most about today’s young adult market is that the books cross over to an adult market. Harry Potter and Hunger Games would not have been the huge successes they’ve become by appealing only to a young adult market. They’ve been break-out successes because everyone is reading them, everyone from kids to adults.

Without having read your book it’s difficult for me to say what target market it’s best for or if the material is too heavy for a middle grade audience. My gut tells me that you might have more success with a book like this if you raise the age of the character by a year or two. I’m not sure why exactly, but I don’t always understand my gut, I’ve just learned to trust her and, honestly, to me the book sounds better suited to the young adult market.


15 responses to “Your Target Market”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I write young adult. As Jessica stated, you can't market a book to a young adult audience AND a middle grade audience. They are not the same audience.

    YA readership are for ages 12 and up. Certain other YA (which may be racy, more adult themes) is sometimes labeled as 14 and up.

    YA is usually not read by 18-25 year olds. They are reading adult books by then, and really, most 18 year olds, not to mention 25 year olds have lives that involve dating, jobs, and college, because of which will not be interested in the teen angst of a 15 year-old main character.

    READ in your genre. It is a must for anyone writing YA. Also, be very aware that the YA market eschews "lesson" books. I'm not saying bullying can't be a theme, but many people new to the genre want to "teach" a young adult something. Those are the kind of books that don't get published.

    Good luck. Read, read, read!

  2. Avatar Jill Thomas says:

    This raises a question that has been floating around in my head as I become closer to querying. How important is it to get the genre spot-on in the query letter? Specifically, if you are writing a paranormal fiction book, is it life or death to tack on 'romance', 'fantasy', etc.? Thanks for all your great posts, Jessica, they are more valuable than you know!

  3. Avatar V. C. Ford says:

    I like to read what my daughter does, it keeps me on the literary up and up.

    I recently read "Numbers" by Rachel Ward. It was posted in the Scholastics book order form from my daughter's school. The grade it was offered to was 6th—that's 11 or 12 year olds.

    I liked the idea of the story, but as a parent, I truly was disappointed by it. The middle school target market was unbelievably inappropriate. Honestly, with the violence, the propensity of dark/morbid/suicidal thoughts and sex, it was far from being acceptable for 11 year old hands where the onset of teenage confusion & identity are difficult enough.

    Young adult is where it should have been.

    I think because it wasn't in the right target market, as a parent, I just didn't appreciate what the author wanted to say.

    In my opinion, I would venture to say that if the story sits on the line between genres, it should probably be knocked to the higher one. And if it was meant to be read by the younger age level, it will happen in its own way, possibly via teachers.

  4. Tougher to know age group than genre. Best to visit bookstores and search the shelves for "like" books for age group.

    I know a few authors that will vary the genre or sub-genre to the agent queried. Have no idea how that has turned out for them.

    I do know that getting genre or age group wrong isn't a killer if your book is strong. It may be a stop read line for some agents, based on a need they are trying to fill, but if the book is well written, they will find room.

    My personal advice, don't mention age group in query. In your synopsis, mentioning similar books is oft times acceptable to suggest possible audience.

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:


    If you write kidlit and are querying agents, you are expected to know the group you wrote the book for. Especially since lots of agents rep YA but not MG, you need to know in order to target your queries.

    MG = Middle Grade, is generally for 8-12 year olds.

    YA = Young Adult, is generally for 12-and up. (Most kids read regular "adult" fiction by 15 and up.)

    All you have to do is say the book is MG or YA, the agent knows what that means. Clearly, you don't have to make these kind of distinctions outside kidlit.

  6. I'm going to agree with Jessica's assessment. I'm 26, so not too much above what you're targeting as the "older end" of your market, and I would not want to read about these fifteen-year-olds. Or most fifteen-year-olds. The reason I'll read the Harry Potter books, and why I assume many older readers like Hunger Games, is because of the fantasy aspect. We like the elaborate world-building, sense of action and adventure, and so forth. Those things overcome any issues we might have with the young age of the characters. When it comes to books that are more realistic, though…it doesn't have the same appeal to adults.

    Still, I think you'd do better aging your characters a year or two and making your book solid YA. That's the best bet for attracting MG readers as well, because many of them will read more advanced books. The reverse isn't as true. YA readers will seldom read down a level because they'll find the book boring or see the characters as childish or fear they'll look childish for reading MG. Remember when you were young, and the kids a few years older than you just seemed SO cool? That kind of sentiment applies to fiction as well; young readers will want to read about characters at their place in life or just a little bit ahead, in general.

  7. Definitely YA, and I'd only change the main character's age if it works for your story. Your target readers are 12-15 years old, and yours isn't the kind of topic that crosses over into adult readership. Few contemporary realistic YAs do.

    As the author of a YA historical novel that has crossed over to adult readers and is used in college classes, I can identify certain genres that have crossover potential–fantasy, science fiction, and historical come to mind. The reason is that those genres don't place their characters in standard teenage venues such as school (boarding school seems to be an exception) or parties, or if they do, the teenagers don't stay there very long. Bringing the teen characters into an alternative universe or into an exclusively adult world (as I did with my teen characters) significantly raises the potential that the YA novel will appeal to older readers.

    Although I knew it had crossover potential, I chose to query my novel as YA, and my publisher, a small press that published in both, agreed. The book has been widely reviewed in print and online, and only a few blog reviewers have questioned its classification as YA, as opposed to adult fiction.

  8. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I'm not reading Harry Potter. I can't stand that stuff!

  9. That level of violence is probably fine for a YA book. MG? Notsomuch IMHO. I was told my books were too light for YA…they were younger. I read YA and see a lot of things that I don't remember reading in YA when I was a kid. (Judy Blume being the exception!) Death, cancer, sex, unplanned pregnancy, and yes, lots and lots of violence.

  10. Avatar Lynn M says:

    Great question, and glad to read the answer. I've struggled with a similar situation. My protagonists are young adults (ages16/17) but they become involved in some very adult-level problems. I struggle to keep the book in the YA genre because I can't age my protagonists without destroying the entire premise of the story. So the question becomes, how dark can you go before you've gone past what's permissible for the YA genre. And the problem of readers being willing to read up and not down is key.

  11. Avatar Levonne says:

    Thanks for this post today. It is interesting how a story about youth can be for adults. I think about Sweet Mister and Ellen Foster, two of my favorite books. Oh yes and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

  12. Avatar Brad says:

    Wow, thanks for the detail response to my question, Jessica, and what a great community you have here – thanks everyone.

    From all this, I'm now more confident that:

    – my book is YA and not MG.
    – adding a year or two to the age of the characters would work and is a great idea.
    – within the YA market, i'm not crossing any lines with the subject matter
    – I've been careful not to make this a lesson book – thanks, Anon.

    For me personally, youth can be for adults, even in a realistic setting (including school), and that this translates to other media such as film (e.g. I still love the movie Stand By Me even though I'm in my 30s), but maybe in the majority of cases it doesn't work.

    Thanks again.

  13. The best way to find out if your book is too mature for your audience is to test it on your audience. Get some kids from 14 to 19 to read your manuscript and ask them what they think. I've seen plenty of YA novels out there that toe the line, and they are popular. Readers like to be wowed, and to be taken on an emotional roller coaster. I for one would love to read something like that, even though I'm 22.

  14. Avatar Anonymous says:

    25 yr olds lol

  15. I too write for YA, I keep in mind that all those young adults have parents too. I myself read the books my daughter recommends, for various reasons but I never quite find anything in those novels that I can relate to as a parent/adult. Therefore, in my novels, I keep this in mind and add certain elements that I as an adult/parent can relate too. I'm careful not to loose my YA audience in the meantime.