Writing YA Books and Adult Books—What’s the Difference? Guest Julie Moffett

The winner of Julie’s book is GinnyJC! Watch for an email from Julie! I am delighted to welcome back author Julie Moffett! Look for the giveaway at the end of the post. Julie had two books coming out in two months — one for adults No Stone Unturned which just released yesterday and Knight Moves that came out at the end of November. Since one is for adults and one young adults I thought it would be interesting to hear more about their differences.

I wrote twenty-one romance and mystery novels for adults over twenty-three years before I finally penned and published my first young adult book. Actually, I’d written a middle grade novel before that, but since it went into the proverbial “drawer,” I’m not counting it. However, I’m often asked by other writers if writing a young adult novel, after so many years of staying in the adult lane, was a hard transition to make.

The answer is yes…and no. After all, a good story is a good story no matter the age of the protagonist. But it is interesting to point out a couple of things. First, by publishing standards, a young adult novel features a protagonist aged 13 to 18 years old. Anything younger, say from ages 10 to 13, is considered middle-grade literature. While that fits neatly into a publisher’s chart, the problem is there are plenty of young advanced readers, aged 10 to 13-years-old who will often read up to young adult. At first glance, there shouldn’t be a problem with this, but there is. That’s because more than half of all young adult books are purchased by adults older than 18.

This is important because after I’d written a first draft of my first YA mystery novel (not knowing this about young adult readers), I ran it past a few editors who made the following comments:

“Great story and mystery. Unique and clever. But the protagonist is 16. That’s a tough sell for young adult. Add a year, some romance and sexual tension, and this would be great!”

“There isn’t a lot of teen angst in this one. It’s kind of happy and upbeat—not a big seller these days.”

“No romance? No sex? A young voice? This doesn’t seem to reflect an accurate portrayal of a teenager.”

Whoa! What?!? I’ll be honest, these comments surprised me until I realized that a lot of publishers were focused on marketing and buying YA books for adults! But it also saddened me that if publishers weren’t taking books that were truly written for teens between 13 and 18 (and not adults), then what book choices were these “actual” teens left to make?

I had a decision to make regarding my book. Did I switch it up or keep it as is? In my opinion, good writing is good writing. Authentic characterization, exciting plots, and a fulfilling ending are critical regardless of the audience. Personally, I find something innately rewarding when writing teenagers. Teens are blank slates—young individuals searching for their identities, where they fit in, and how they intend to make their mark on the world. Everything is changing, they are constantly being pushed, pulled and challenged in multiple directions.

They are growing and learning new things at a rapid pace. A writer has the opportunity to oversee great character change and growth for each book and a series as a whole. While I think there is definitely a place for angst, pain and drama in YA—it’s an authentic part of the teenage experience, after all—it’s not the only part of being a teen. There are plenty of teens who grow up without super deep angst and drama. Besides, I figured many might want to read something OTHER than angst while they are going through it.

Eventually, after carefully considering the unexpected comments from the editors, I decided to stick with my novel the way it was. I didn’t add more years, dark angst, heavy themes or significant romance. WHITE KNIGHTS, featuring a female teen hacker, was released in December 2017 to little fanfare.

Guess what? It sold like gangbusters! It’s STILL selling like gangbusters a year later! I just released Book #2 in the series, KNIGHT MOVES, in November 2018. Libraries are buying the series, adults are buying it, and teens (yes, actual teenagers and even tweens) are buying it. I’m SOOOO glad I stuck with my initial concept and book. Apparently, there IS a market for fun, non-angsty, teen novels that can be enjoyed by both teens and adults alike. Sometimes, trusting your own gut and instinct really works!

Here are some reader and reviewer comments:

“What a great book for all ages! It shows how people with different personalities can come and work together, and become friends.” ~Goodreads Reader

 “It is difficult to find books for my 9-year daughter that interest her, aren’t too easy, and don’t have content that is too old for her. She loves mysteries and isn’t interested in reading about romantic relationships. This was perfect. According to her the book is a page-turner and intriguing.” ~Amazon Reader

“If you enjoy cyber-mysteries this book needs to be at the top of your pile….My robotics loving tween is looking forward to reading it after hearing me laugh out loud while I read it.” ~Amazon Reader

” I like the geek-girl/hacking concept and think it brings a fresh concept to YA books…I would recommend this to fans of humor, nerdiness, spies, secrets, and hacking!” ~YA Books Central

 “Absolutely fantastic! Not normally a fan of young adult fiction, but the themes, quirkiness and the fast pace kept me glued.” ~Amazon Reader

“Read this before giving it to my granddaughter & I enjoyed it so much!!!” ~Amazon Reader

“To say that I enjoyed this book would be an understatement. It was positively awesome and an epic read. I am not one that will usually get in a fan club moment on a YA novel but this one does something for readers. It is smart, witty and just plain fun. Anyone between the ages 14 and oh, heck, 99 can enjoy this book.” ~Amazon Reader

“I think Angel is a great role model for younger girls! I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it to anyone.” ~Goodreads Reader

“As a child, I loved mystery books; Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, the Five Find-Outers by Enid Blyton, etc. So now, even when I’ve grown up, mystery books has been a soft spot for me. YA + Spy mystery is my weakness…I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.” ~ Erucchii’s Books and Recs

So, back to the initial question of whether it has it been hard switching from writing adult stories to young adult novels. As I mentioned before, the answer is both yes and no. Yes, because of the way young adults novels are traditionally marketed. But no, because a good story will always sell regardless. So, trust your gut and take risks. It’s the way of a writer!

**GIVEAWAY!** I’m giving away an e-copy of either the first book in the Lexi Carmichael series, NO ONE LIVES TWICE, or the first book in the young adult mystery spin-off of the series, WHITE KNIGHTS. How to enter? Let me know if you read YA novels, and what were your favorite mysteries growing up!


Award-winning mystery author Julie Moffett’s new book, NO STONE UNTURNED, Book #11 in her popular Lexi Carmichael Mystery Series from HQN/ Carina Press just released yesterday! Geek extraordinaire, Lexi Carmichael, is faced with her hardest mystery yet—her fiancé!

Getting engaged is supposed to be a fun, exciting time in a girl’s life. But things are never that easy for Slash and me. Instead, someone is threatening to expose Slash’s past–a past so secret, even I know very little about it.

Before I can get used the weight of Nonna’s antique ring on my finger, he’s on his way to Rome…and we’re farther apart than we’ve ever been. Still, I have no intention of sitting at home and letting him take on the Vatican by himself.

With a little expert-level hacking, I learn Slash is keeping secrets from me. Big ones. Dangerous ones. In fact, the more I dig into Slash’s past, the more I discover things about him I never knew–things that eventually pit us against each other.

From Rome to the Amalfi coast to the highest levels of the Vatican, we both race to discover the truth. No matter what I find, we’re officially a team now, so I won’t let him face this alone. Even if I don’t know if our relationship can survive it.

39 Thoughts

  1. Julie, congratulations on the success of your YA novels! What a great validation. And…I’m off to order them for my favorite 13 year old. ;^)

  2. Yes, I still read YA, mysteries and contemporary being my faves. I think I read most of the regular YA mystery series as a kid–Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, the Five etc, But some I always reread were the Phyllis Whitney young adult mysteries. They always took place in exotic locales with smart girls figuring stuff out!

  3. Read YA all the time. I didn’t read when I was growing up starting reading books as an adult. We lived to far away to go to the library.

  4. Welcome back, Julie! My daughter read a series of books about cheerleaders at a private school who worked for the CIA and loved them. No angst in them either. I’m so happy you realized that there is a vast audience and that people don’t always want to read the same thing over and over.

  5. Fascinating look inside the world of the YA market—I was surprised by this and can see how you would be too! Congrats on the great success, Julie—hooray!

  6. I do read and have several YA books. I’m still young at heart , even though the wrinkles are showing up more and more , lol! I have read all the The Land of Stories books. Loved them !
    Sounds like you have gotten wonderful comments on your YA books! I’d say writing what makes you happy, has made others happy!
    Loved reading about you and your books!
    Have a great day!!!

  7. I do read the occasional YA book. I didn’t really read mystery’s growing up – I was more into fantasy and sci-fi

  8. Congrats Julie on your releases. I love YA books. Divergent, Hunger Games just to name two.

    Tighefan42 atgmaildotcom

  9. Congratulations, Julie! I do read YA and I’m with you. Not every YA story needs to be angsty. Sometimes editors just don’t know what they’re talking about.

  10. I began my fiction writing with Middle Grade books, and now write cozies for adults (or anyone else!) Not too difficult a transition. As one of my pre-teen grandkids said, “You write Goosebumps for grownups!”

  11. I wonder if one reason only dark YA sells is because that is the majority of what is published. A bit of a self fulfilling prophecy.

    I don’t read much YA but I do still read some middle grade.

    My favorite series growing up? Trixie Belden!

  12. It’s great to read about your process & decision. Glad the history from your other novels allowed you a choice with the publisher!
    I grew up when Judy Bloom was just inventing the genre of YA. There wasn’t much of a transition between middle-school “chapter books” & adult fiction. I devoured my big sister’s books about Nancy Drew (& her literary siblings), then moved to my mother’s Christie, Stout, & Kemelman.
    As an adult, I read a great deal of YA. Good ones are full of complex characters & relationships. Also, as you say, a story is a story. A well written story is more important than the protagonist’s age.

  13. I love YA novels that don’t have angst and dark problems. There is too much of that in real life. I always was a Nancy Drew fan. I would love to win White Knights. Only recently did I discover how much I like well written YA mysteries.

  14. I love YA novels! I share them with the teens in my life all the time. Thank you for not going down the emo/angst angle.
    As a teen I was a strictly fantasy/sci fi reader. Except for Sherlock Holmes, I didn’t read much mystery. I fell in love with mysteries in my 20’s and really love my cozies!

    1. Did you ever go back and read the Nancy Drew/Trixie Belden books? I just wondered how that would be like coming at them from a different direction.

  15. Welcome to the Wickeds, Julie. It’s so great to have you here. One of the things Stephen King has talked about is that the explosion of YA books makes it difficult for adult books to break through that have a young protagonist. To Kill a Mockingbird would be a YA book today. Would it attract the same notice and reviews and have the same influence? I don’t know.

    1. That’s an interesting point, and hard to say looking back in hindsight. There are adult books with young protagonists today, but I would consider those an exception rather than the rule, and fairly rare.

  16. I enjoy YA books and middle grade ones also. I like the Land of Stories series. Glad you stuck to your ideas about YA book.

  17. I love your adult and YA books, Julie. As a fan of your Knight books, I was delighted to hear about your decision. At a conference, I, too, was told by three different editors, the YA book I’d written wasn’t dark enough, sexy enough, old enough, or angsty enough. . I shelved it and worked on an adult book instead. Your success is making me decide to pull it out and see if it will work or not.
    Thanks, Merrily

  18. I LOVE YA novels: complex writing and I don’t have to worry (usually) about torrid sex or graphic violence.

  19. I LOVE YA: complex stories and I don’t have to worry (usually) about torrid sex or graphic violence. On a separate note, I seem to be on the newsletter list twice, May you have a blessed day. Barbara

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