The Line Between YA and Adult Fiction (Maryanne Fantalis)

This month, we're blogging about lines in YA fiction, and as someone who has written both young adult and adult fiction, I thought I'd write about the line between them.

Maybe it's less of a line and more of a wide, ill-defined borderland.

When I started writing Finding Kate, I imagined it as a YA novel. Here's why:

  • Kate is a young, unmarried woman who lives at home with her father and sister.
  • The central conflict of the story concerns Kate's discovery of her true self
  • Kate's relationships are difficult because people don't see her true self, until she meets the hero
  • The inciting incident revolves around Kate getting married (since there was no "dating" in the middle ages, marriage was the primary social focus of young people, as well as their parents)
  • Kate's character arc shows her transformation from an angry youth into a mature woman. 

Thus, the themes and concerns of the book seemed -- to my mind -- well suited to a YA novel.

I really thought this story would speak to young adults.

Turns out, I was wrong.

I spent about two years trying to get an agent for my YA novel with no luck. After attending the Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference, I realized that maybe YA wasn't the right market after all.

Two things convinced me of this.

The first thing was a brief conversation with an agent I respect who said in no uncertain terms that teens don't read Shakespeare and they don't want to read the books that adults buy for them so my hopes for that market were misguided.

The second thing was that as I went around the conference meeting other writers, most of whom were adult women, I got the most enthusiastic reception I had ever received. I kept hearing, "I can't wait to read your book!" Over and over. Everywhere I went.

I started realizing that if adult women wanted to read my book, maybe I needed to write the book for them.

The themes of the story didn't change; they matured. I explored some ideas and some emotions more fully. It became a richer, deeper, longer book than it had been.

Could Finding Kate have been a YA novel?


What transformed Finding Kate from a YA novel to an adult novel?

I can't point to any one thing. It's not sex or language or even themes. But somehow, the book grew up.


  1. This is so interesting! I love how you really thought critically about what those early readers were telling you.

  2. I went through much the same process with my writing in general. I trained as a youth services librarian. I thought I was writing for YA. I've since realized I'm nowhere near cool enough (haha--never have been). So now I write children's poetry, and I'm working on an adult historical--much like you, I realized my biggest fans were grown women.


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