I’m Not Your Target Audience (Yes, You Are)

Much of the fan mail and comments I get from adults includes this phrase “I’m not your target audience” before continuing to say how much they enjoyed one or more of my books in (sometimes) slightly embarrassed tones. As if they’re a tad worried to find themselves reading and enjoying a book published for teenagers. How did that happen? they wonder. Does it make me less of an adult?

I understand the anxiety. Before I became a published YA author, I was unaware of how disdainful many adults are towards teenagers and anything that smacks of teenager-y-ness, such as books marketed at teenagers. Looking back, I now find it weird that I was unaware of this. Firstly, I once was a teenager. How did I manage to forget the way many adults treated me?1 Secondly, I stopped reading books for teenagers when I was twelve because I decided I was too good grown up for them. So, yeah, I seemed to have imbibed adult disdain for the things of childhood and adolescence at a very early age. Yet I got over it enough to forget such disdain existed until I started writing YA.

At which point, wow, did I learn it all over again.

So, yes, I understand why some adult readers of YA feel a bit apologetic about it. But, truly, you don’t need to apologise to me. I am very happy to be writing the books I write and to be published as YA. Every day I wake up and cannot believe my luck to be in such a fabulous genre.

Also it so happens that I don’t write for a target audience. When I’m deep in the writing I’m not thinking about audience, but about writing the best book I can. Unless by “target audience” they mean “subject matter”. Absolutely, adolescence is the central matter of my work. But that’s a subject of interest for those who are about to be adolescents, for those who are adolescents, and for those, like me and the readers who say they are not my target audience, who were adolescents. From the fan mail I see that my books are read by all three of those groups, which makes me very happy.

Or in other words: I happen to think that everyone is my target audience.

You’ve been warned. I’m aiming at YOU.

Heh hem. As you were.

  1. How come so many adults forget this? []


  1. The OTHER Tally Youngblood on #

    YAY FIRST COMMENT! Hold on and I’ll read first

  2. The OTHER Tally Youngblood on #

    Well, that didn’t really apply to me, but I like the threat! Gol-ly I’ve done way too many recent comments. As you can see, I have no life since all I do is hang out on author’s blogs and try to play guitar. At least now I’m not the only one who feels “too good” for teenage books. I think that was supposed to be a joke… I suppose I’m going to go on YouTube now. Bye Justine!

  3. Zinnamom on #

    I think it’s not only the YA genre that has this problem but also SF, fantasy, chicklit,etc. Often you’ll find readers being almost apolegetic because they are reading something that isn’t considered literature.
    And it’s understandable. I struggle with the same problem. The last few months I have read a lot of books in the genres above and I’m nearly feeling guilty and telling myself it’s time to read some real books. Which I know is silly but I can’t help myself. Maybe it’s because I was never allowed to pick these books in school for required reading, in fact these genres were hardly mentioned during my entire education. I remember being told that such books were good to lead people to serious literature. So it’s only logical that people are almost embarrased when there reading YA, by now they should be too grown up for these kinds of books and reading the classics and the prize winners…

  4. A. Grey on #

    A Good book is a good book. Period. You can label it anything you want but it still falls into the ‘good book’ category, which means that it simply works. That said, about the only books I ever feel even remotely guilty about reading are romances, and that’s only because I’m a steadfast bachelorette who has no interest in dating, so indulging in romance always makes me feel a bit like I’m bending my standards. But I still read them on occasion and I’m not ashamed to say I do. 🙂

  5. Mel on #

    I’m in my mid twenties and about half of what I read is YA, and I’m not bothered that I’m reading “below standard” or whatever. I enjoy reading YA, full stop.

  6. Laurie on #

    “I stopped reading books for teenagers when I was twelve because I decided I was too good grown up for them.”

    I did the same thing around that age. But I was also surprised, as an adult, to find other adults around me snubbing children’s and YA lit simply because they were children’s and YA. I had thought people grew out of that.

    “But – but that’s just the silly posing people do when they’re still kids and want to be seen as grown-ups, isn’t it?” I wondered when I encountered the attitude. “What actual adult could be that insecure about their presented age?!” But apparently, some people never grow out of the nervousness that others will still see them as little kids. Pretty bizarre, if you ask me.

    Folks, once you hit 20 or thereabouts, I think you can stop worrying about that. We can all see that you’re big girls and boys, now. Really. Promise.

  7. Jennifer on #

    I’d say it’s definitely the way kids are taught to think about reading in school. Certain genres, depending on your teacher, curriculum, etc. aren’t “real” books. Kids are forcibly isolated into a peer group and marched along the path of progressive reading, from easy reader to chapter book and onward until you end up with “classics.” I never had to deal with this when I was a kid and I read widely in many genres. I read Josephus’ histories and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs when I was twelve, the complete Tom Swift series when I was sixteen, 18th century novels (especially Richardson and Defoe) and vampire romances when I was in college. Has my intelligence, reading ability, social skills, or “adultness” suffered? Nope. Read what you want and enjoy it.

  8. Mundie Moms on #

    I love your post!! I started a site for Cassandra Clare’s MI series and all of us are in our 20’s -30’s and even 40’s. We also have younger members following our blog, but our forums were set for 21+ yr old fans. There are so many wonderful YA authors out there, that to me, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can enjoy a good book. A good book is a good book no matter how old you are. Most of what we read and review are YA books. It’s great authors are keep us reading more.

  9. Diane on #

    I also agree that a good book is just a good book but as I get mocked frequently by various people about my reading habits, I understand the embarrassment. I think society needs to just get past the concept that the only good books being published today are “legal thrillers” or long, long, loooong epics covering wars and strife and woe is me, my childhood was sad/bad/tragic, etc. topics. Reading grows the mind, whether you’re reading a book you love or reading a book that you can disecte about what you don’t love.

  10. Laura on #

    Rock on. I work at a bookstore and I read/recommend a LOT of YA novels. One of my coworkers has this attitude you’ve described and most of the time I wanna say to her “A good book is just that. Don’t knock it because it’s YA (or other non-mainstream genre).”

  11. thatgirlreads on #

    i agree with mel–that’s totally where i’m at right now. it bothers me to no end how people can deem something ‘not a real book’ just because it isn’t considered a classic or because it wasn’t written for an adult. books are books. as long as you’re reading i don’t think it matters what genre of books you like best. find what makes your heart happy and stick with it, and realize that you don’t have to defend your decisions or make excuses. 🙂

  12. Mediachick on #

    I would never apologize for reading YA as I tend to prefer it to most general fiction that’s out there – especially chicklit! To quote a previous comment by A. Grey, “a good book is a good book”. In my experience, the most rewarding YA lit around is that anything that shows an understanding and respect for the mind of today’s adolescent. The teenagers I interact with (my own two kids and most of their friends) are some of the most insightful and interesting people I know (moreso than many adults I meet!). I would consider time spent reading anything that appeals to those minds, time well spent.

  13. Pat Murkland on #

    Thanks for writing these insights. It’s all about telling a story, the way the story is best told. The story itself forges a path for the storyteller to follow. Tell me a good story, and I’ll read it. Let others fuss about what pigeonhole it belongs in. Today I found books in a YA series shelved apart, in 3 separate places, at a library!

  14. Heather on #

    I’m 25 and about 50% of what I read is YA (just picked up LIAR today and am STOKED!). I don’t understand the attitude that YA books aren’t “real” literature, either. (I actually wrote a whole blog post about it one day when someone really got me going on the subject.) I’m an aspiring author, and when I started writing I found that my main character was a teenager, and a lot of my subject matter would be great for YAs, so I’m a YA author. I tried to explain this to my brother at Christmas, and he started asking me all these questions about if I would consider publishing under a pen name, etc., so that I could get “this first book” published as YA and then get “something real” published later. I know he was just trying to ask if I was worried about being pigeonholed, but I’m not. I would be honored to be an accomplished YA author, and would want my real name on the books. I don’t understand this attitude AT ALL. Many YA books I’ve read are even better than adult novels.

  15. Sean the Blogonaut on #

    I have only recently read a couple of YA books, Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy and Scott’s book.

    I think nice plain english (well apart from some flavouring like clart, boffins etc) used in both makes for an easy read. You can still tackle some quite delicate themes, but when you strip away fancy( read: artistically clever) writing all you have to go on is a good story and both of these writers have it in my opinion.
    I am currently reading the 2nd Bourne Trilogy by Lustbader, not enjoying it the writing doesn’t feel honest to me.

    Agree with A Grey, a good book is a good book.

  16. Sean the Blogonaut on #

    On the subject of placing books into categories I read a post by Jennifer Fallon on the problems of a fantasy author being placed in the Romance genre – being that it can effectively kill of a career.

    Do you think that the YA label is good, ie does it show better results marketing wise, or do you think it might be limiting your/others readership?

  17. Kelly on #

    I am in it for the tale. I’ve been reading fantasy since I picked up the Lord of the Rings in the late sixties. I read the Magic or Madness trilogy along with Eoin Colfer, Tamora Pierce, Philip Pullman and Holly Black in between times while waiting for the next Harry Potter novel to come out. The best tales coming out these days are coming from YA. I’m 59, so I am very little concerned with what others think of my reading tastes. My Granddaughter and I have very stimulating conversations about the books that we are reading. YA rocks!!

  18. Brendan Podger on #

    YA is the best writing. Not too long, concise and tightly plotted, a fair bit of excitement or action. What is not to love.

  19. Inoli on #

    Something I came across and saved:

    “Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
    — C.S. Lewis

  20. Schuyler Esperanza on #

    YA reading saved me when I was a traumatized kid. The authors were excellent then, and many continue this tradition. As I get older, I get more and more concerned with what young adults are reading–they need strong role models. Also, teens and young adults need good writing modeled for them. I love your books, and Mr. Westerfeld’s, too, because they are damn good stories with damn fine writing. (P.S. When I love an author, I try everything they write, even if it’s a so-called “departure” from their usual style. So I read “How to Ditch Your Fairy” and just began “Liar” and the “Magic” books. On the subject, I’m going to read “Leviathan.” If a book has a good story, and is written by an author I admire, it’s on my “to-read” list.)

  21. Shveta Thakrar on #

    I love this post. 🙂 We’ve all been conditioned to think we have to act/be “mature” at a certain age, whatever that means. Personally, YA is my favorite category, and I can’t get enough of it.

    As for being someone’s target audience, I just squealed with joy over a copy of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs in the store the other day. My boyfriend and I were buying holiday presents for our tiny nieces and nephews, but you better believe that one came home with me. 😉

  22. Brynne on #

    Interestingly, my act of defiance was to continue reading children’s fantasy through middle school even though it was, like, the least “cool” thing it was possible for me to do. I SURVIVED on the stuff. And there was a LOT of it.

    I first read the Lord of the Rings when I was six (…yeah…), my dad read it aloud to my brothers and me three times, and between the ages of 12 and 14 I read it a further three times (plus the Silmarillion twice), but when it came to other adult fantasy? Psh. It was all so DARK. I didn’t like the characters. I played Dungeons and Dragons (three brothers leads to love of “boy” games) and I knew a flat D&D imitation when I saw it.

    (That’s a gross overgeneralization but it’s true for far too much of the genre. And how weird, I blogged about this yesterday…perhaps there’s a bug going round.)

    I don’t think I came to YA lit (still clinging to my DWJ, Lloyd Alexander, Patricia C. Wrede, Robin McKinley – I know she’s often considered YA, but my library shelved her books in the children’s section – ) till I was sixteen or seventeen. At which point I was semi-tired of fantasy (with the exception of Robin McKinley’s and DWJ’s books, which I still reread pretty much nonstop) and started reading other stuff (including your books, which I suppose *are* fantasy but of a different variety).

    Suddenly – whoa, what happened? – I’m 18 and a half and reaching the upper edge of the YA bracket, yeah? Somehow I don’t think I’ll be moving away from it anytime soon…

  23. cathy on #

    I think Jennifer@7 may be on to something. Because the U.S. educational system is pretty heavily “tracked” (that isn’t quite the right term), I think people are often left with a sense that they aren’t supposed to read certain types of books once they’ve moved on to the next level.

    I also wonder if in part there’s a sense of discomfort felt adult readers of books marketed as children’s/tween/YA because they’re worried that they’ll be perceived as perverts trolling the children’s section of the store.

    Personally, I think a lot of the YA fantasy currently being published is better than a lot of what my local chain store stocks in the adult SFF section.

  24. Brynne on #

    “Because the U.S. educational system is pretty heavily ‘tracked’ (that isn’t quite the right term), I think people are often left with a sense that they aren’t supposed to read certain types of books once they’ve moved on to the next level.”

    Well I guess that would be the difference for me. 😀 I never went to school.

  25. rockinlibrarian on #

    You know, I have always been an unashamedly huge fan of children’s and YA lit long after I outgrew the Age Range (I never even went through an “I’m too old for that book” phase in childhood!) and a vocal advocate for adults reading it– I would never have thought of apologizing for reading it– and yet you gave me an “excuse” I didn’t even know I needed:

    Absolutely, adolescence is the central matter of my work. But that’s a subject of interest for those who are about to be adolescents, for those who are adolescents, and for those, like me and the readers who say they are not my target audience, who were adolescents.

    Lovely! Adolescence as a “subject of interest.” Yes, I honestly find adolescence interesting– the drama, the coming of age, the extremes, the reconciling the dreams of childhood with the realities of adulthood, so on and so forth– that interests me! It’s another good reason to like YA, rather than just a reason to not-dislike it.

    I wrote about my annoyance with people’s obsessions with “reading up” a few posts ago in my own blog, but that was sort of a different angle– that it’s more than okay, it’s NECESSARY, for kids to occasionally read about people their own age even if they’re “capable” of reading “harder” books. But this goes the other way around– it’s also okay to read about people NOT your age, if the story is compelling enough!

  26. Kaethe on #

    I’m so flattered that I’m your target audience. I’ve never been too self-conscious about what I’m seen reading, nor shy about declaring plot an important part of any novel. I suppose I’m lucky, because none of my reading friends and relations seem to bother much either. For Christmas I gave a good friend copies of Liar and Leviathan because I know she hasn’t read them yet, she will love them, and like me, she finds married writers to be particularly adorable.

    Sadly, my ten-year-old was saying just this morning that she didn’t want to be caught reading a particular beloved book at school because it’s too thin, and if her teacher catches her, she’ll be made to read something thicker. Way to encourage a lifelong love of reading there.

  27. John Barnes on #

    There’s an uproar or six going on in publishing marketing and sales about a couple emerging facts (that is, they’re not all the way confirmed yet but it Keeps Looking More That Way):

    1. Almost everything else is way down but YA is way up.

    2. Much more of the YA audience is turning out to be people 20-35.

    My guess is something really crude and simple: the YA was ignored/neglected for so long that it ended up as the place where people could write a traditional novel, i.e. a long story that deals with the inner state of someone undergoing a personal crisis, with no more irony than is called for by that particular story. If you want to write about someone moving along in the world, becoming better or worse or just different, as long as that protaonist is in YA age territory, you’re fine. In all the genres I read, the adult novel has largely moved away from that — either the presentation is too ironic for the fictional problem to be taken seriously, or the problem is too small or too interior, or the protagonist is struggling mostly with something other than the problem, etc. etc. etc.

    Go to YA and you’re back in the home country of everybody from Fielding to Dickens to James&Woolf&Conrad and all the way roughly to Norman Mailer in English. And for a lot of people it’s simply more satisfying.

  28. Ellen on #

    The only thing about reading YA novels that I think I’m “too grown up” for is the tiny sections in the bookstores I visit which are just on the other side of the picture books. I think sometimes the stores think that YA isn’t a real genre.
    I’m 17, and I don’t want to read “adult” books.

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