Literary Categories Explained: Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, Adult Fiction + Erotica
Literary categories exist to guide the readership toward an audience they identify with and have nothing in common with literary genres. Therefore, when you hear YA (YOUNG ADULT), MG (MIDDLE GRADE) or NA (NEW ADULT) by all means, don’t panic. We’re going to break it all down today. If you’re an author and you’re not sure where your novel fits, read on as we uncover why book categories are important, how they differ from literary genres and why it’s imperative for your novel to fit in.
The main reason why your novel should fall into one of these categories is to make sure it reaches the right readers. As you’ll see in the graph below, the proportion of offensive words, graphic violence and PDA differs accordingly and we wouldn’t want anyone to rant on how they expected a cat and got a mouse.
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MIDDLE GRADE(8-12) YOUNG ADULT(12-18) NEW ADULT(18-late 20s) ADULT(any age)EROTICA(+18)
Platonic Love*First Kiss* Non-descriptive sex*More descriptive sex * Any * Very graphic sex
Little Foul Language(FL) *Moderate FL * Moderate to graphic FL * Any * Graphic FL
No Graphic Violence(GV) *Moderate GV * Can have GV * Any * Can have GV
What is Middle Grade (MG) ?
Like the name suggests, the MG category is geared toward readers aged 8-13. The characters of a Middle Grade book will usually be within that specific age range and face the inner struggles a pre-teen usually faces. From dealing with bullies to developing friendships, changing schools or countries, the possibilities are endless and the narrative voice is easy to follow for a young reader.
Book categories are a fine indicator of the main character’s age but most importantly, if it’s age appropriate for young readers. This way, when you have to pick up a book for your 10 year old cousin, the MG section at your local library will do the trick.
Not sure if the novel you’ve written is MG?
Is profanity kept down to a nearly non existing minimum? Same for the graphic violence? If there’s a budding romance, is it limited to a crush or a first kiss? Are your characters of age? Is the storyline easy to follow? If you tick all boxes, chances are your novel is well nestled in its category and that’s exactly what you want.
What Is Young Adult (YA) ?
For the love of literature, Wikipedia, these are categories not genres! No wonder so many authors are confused.
YA is probably one of the most popular categories out there and for good reason. Targeting an audience of roughly 12-18 years, its characters are at that particular age where everything they experience happens with the intensity of a Sean Connery movie. When they fall in love it’s like a tornado, when they dislike someone, they do it with the passion of ten sailors.
Emotional stakes are prevalent while YA characters undergo a journey of growth and self-discovery facing teenage dilemmas like insecurity, finding out they’ve fallen in love with an alien or that their sister has mailed all their private letters to all the boys they’ve loved before (wink, wink).
Young Adult novels can remain at the first love stage, but also show a more graphic display of PDA as the story progresses. YA tends to be more graphic in the offensive language department compared to MG. Both the characters and their audience have evolved to a certain maturity that allows drama as a means of growth. These novels will often be sprinkled with situations where the protagonists won’t necessarily make the obvious right decision or be politically correct all the time and that’s totally fine considering YA is about the journey of the character growing into their true self.
Nestled in the Young Adult category we have the very popular To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Hunger Games, Twilight, etc. Both first and third person narrative are popular throughout.
What Is New Adult (NA)?
I know, I had the same conflict because the terminology used in the writing industry is not the most intuitive. NA novels target an audience and feature characters that are new at adulting. A popular misconception is that NA novels only feature people starting college or that it’s strongly connected to campus related topics or the early academic life. Nothing further from the truth.
If your characters are between 19-late twenties/have graduated from high school and are entering a new stage of their life such as starting their first actual job, breaking up with their high school sweetheart and starting over, getting superpowers, it’s likely for your novel to fit in the New Adult category.
Some New Adult novels also have a strong YA appeal and you shouldn’t shy away from mentioning that. However, if your main characters have already graduated high school, chances are you could market the book better as a New Adult.
As we’ve seen in the graph, New Adult novels can be slightly more graphic when it comes to language, sex scenes or violence compared to YA novels. It doesn’t mean it’s a must. You can find mostly anything in this category, from Clean College Romance to super Spicy Space Opera or even Sci-fi.
What Is Adult Fiction?
Did you hear me say Porn? Because I didn’t. This category is not about the age of your characters anymore but the complexity of your content. Your characters can perfectly well be underage but if your novel tackles situations of drama, abuse, or things that are not easy to digest by younger readers, this content is fit for a mature audience.
I can’t count the times I’ve read The Boy In The Striped Pajamas being classified as a YA novel. It’s not. Even if the story is narrated by a 9 year old, the content of the novel is clearly directed to a mature audience.
What Is Erotica?
Well, here’s where we’re getting graphic with the motion of the ocean. Not every Romance novel is an Erotica and not all Erotica has a developing romance. Make sure you read my article on The Difference Between Romantic, Steamy And Erotic Scenes In Novels to get a better understanding on that fine line we so often enjoy crossing.
Just like the covers of the genre indicate (because, yes, Erotica is a genre and not a literary category), numerous sex scenes are what sustain a work of Erotica and without them, the story would belong to an entirely different genre.
The only reason why it exists on my list today is to help readers understand the difference between Adult Fiction and Erotica (and between you and I, I’m a huge fan of both). I think the terminology adult content has been used and therefore identified with mature content of the sexual and violent nature. However, in literature it is used to make a distinction between the audiences a novel is addressed to and to make sure it’s picked by:
a) lovers of the category
b) age appropriate readers
And that will be all for today. Happy writing everybody!
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