The difference between writing YA as a teenager and an adult

When I started writing my first novel I had no idea it would be a Young Adult book. I was eighteen, and I just wanted to write a story. I wrote it about people my age, about characters who were like me, with jokes that I thought were funny and ideas that caught my interest.

It was only later when I started looking for an agent that I realised it would probably be classified as Young Adult. What to me was just a Book was a separate genre to the rest of the world.

What defines a book as YA? There are adult fiction books featuring teenager protagonists (The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, for example) so it’s not simply the age of the characters. Is it the content, which is usually less explicit? Some YA books have as much sex, drugs and violence as any adult fiction I’ve ever read, so it’s not that either. I would say that what makes a YA book YA is that it is written specifically for teenagers. It could be a story about an immortal vampire, and if the themes and plot portrayed are specifically designed to capture the interest of a teenager, then it’s YA.

So is there a difference between books written by adults for teenagers, or by the teenagers themselves? An adult can take a step back, think about what was important to them when they were growing up and write a story that will resonate with a huge range of teenagers.

A young author might instead write a story that is perfect for them personally- that captures all their ideals and experiences and worries. But it would be so personal, and so specific to that one person, that it might not be as relevant to others. With nothing to compare to how can a teenager decide what is important and lasting about their coming of age, and what they will forget five years down the line? What experiences are worth sharing, and will make captivating reading?

How can you reach out to other people when you are writing to try and deal with your own life and problems as you grow up, rather than setting out specifically to interact with others from the perspective of someone already there?

Now I’m at the interesting point in which I’m no longer technically a Young Adult- I’m twenty one, about to graduate, and getting to close to the point when I’m forced to admit that I’m actually a real grown up. Instead of just writing a book about people my age, I have to think about my audience for the first time. I can’t write a book about filing taxes for the first time and expect it to be a reasonable followup to a book about teens.

I’m a little worried I won’t be able to portray that again, now I’m not living it myself. But I’m going to try and figure it out. Maybe I can offer something different now that I’ve passed the finish line, as it were. Maybe I’ll try to write a YA book and find that it ends up being adult fiction- or somewhere in the grey area, in the mysterious New Adult category. But as long as what I write captures someone’s interest, somewhere, I’ll be happy.

My book THE NEXT TOGETHER, a reincarnation romance, comes out in September. You can add it on goodreads, preorder on amazon, or you can subscribe to my mailing list for updates nearer the time here.

Originally posted at

Published by Lauren James

Lauren James is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many Young Adult novels, including Green Rising, The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. She is a RLF Royal Fellow, freelance editor and screenwriter. Lauren is the founder of the Climate Fiction Writers League, and on the board of the Authors & Illustrators Sustainability Working Group through the Society of Authors. Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide and been translated into six languages. The Quiet at the End of the World was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award. Her other novels include The Next Together series, the dyslexia-friendly novella series The Watchmaker and the Duke and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise. She was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and many of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. She sold the rights to her first novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university. Her writing has been described as ‘gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly. Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2022. She has taught creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands.

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