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Should Protagonist Age Match Reader Age?

In a conversation about the trend in books…I know, very stereotypical writer…I brought up the emergence of the New Age genre. It’s a genre between YA and adult, specifically targeting those in their 20’s. In theory, this genre can address the “coming of age” stories regarding college kids first entering the world and establishing their life. That means the industry will now have children’s books, Middle grade, YA, New Adult and then Adult. One writer mocked NA, saying now we have a genre for every age. In each genre, the protagonist should match the age group. It makes me wonder about The Curse of Atlantis, in which Pandora grows from ten years old to her twenties. Can I market it as all of the above genres….although she wasn’t the narrator, so probably not. I was once told I couldn’t possibly market as YA because my protagonists are not in their teens (typically around 16 for YA). So, when people started defining the NA genre, I became excited since mine tend to be in their 20’s. 

In theory, the age of the protagonist in each genre will be the age of the reader. I find this interesting for a simple fact. In elementary school, I only read when required. At least my teachers let me pick my own books, but I had to track so many hours per day. Being forced to read brought out my stubborn streak that asked me to rebel. I hated it for this, but also because I hadn’t found my preferred genre yet, which is what I tell non-reading teens—which is why, while classics are important, classes should focus on more modern genres as well. But that is a different post, so let me focus. I read children’s books in elementary school. My absolute favorites: Tuck Everlasting, Witch of Blackbird Pond, Sara Bishop, Shiloh, and Number the Stars. 

When I got to middle school, I completely skipped to Adult. I think part of the problem was because YA and middle grade tend to be series and the commitment frightened me. I also think that’s because they were weaker genres then. Once I became an “adult,” I began reading…and enjoying…YA. 

So, what’s my point? This industry requires authors to state their audience. I can’t simply say I write for all readers without being cast aside as an amateur without a focus. Yet, I’ve also heard writers criticize those who define themselves in any genre, saying they are creating limitations—selling out. While I wouldn’t go that far, I do wonder. I know many adults who read and enjoyed Harry Potter…technically a children’s book. So, should we define a market with rules of age? I know, personally, I break most of these standards. While I know I can be a little weird according to society…but am I really that far out of the norm? Maybe we should just say it’s a good book and be done. But maybe that’s too much like anarchy in the book world.