Oh gawd, it’s been a while…
So, I’ve been going through several drafts of Private Tuition over the last several weeks/months/
years, and when I got to the point that I felt that it was vaguely presentable, or at least, there was nothing more I could edit without outside opinions, I decide to send these drafts to some beta readers.
However, it occurred to me quite quickly that I wasn’t entirely sure who would count. Bear in mind this is completely new territory for me. When it used to come to posting stories such as fanfiction and their conspiratorial ilk online, I never checked the damn things, just went with what I had. This is perhaps not an admission that fills many with confidence about my abilities when they hear it, so, be assured in that it’s not a habit I partake in any more.
Point is, I wanted to get a diverse range of opinions in for my novel to get a better picture of how different people would react, but I was also reluctant to include strangers in that list. Suddenly, the problem became apparent. How many people did I actually know who would be willing to read this
garbage proto-novel? Furthermore, as with many things in the process of making your writing an actual book, a lot of those who assist you may want paying for their work. Understandable, of course – they need to eat. But with my impoverished financial concerns, you can imagine this’ll make me reluctant too.
As it happens, I have now actually received feedback from a few people, and it’s mostly been very positive, with some question marks, nuanced suggestions for improvement and a whole host of other things that have been welcome. But my gut instinct tells me that I need more, and whilst I’m at it, as has been suggested, I really need to work out who my audience is meant to be.
This is not something I thought with give me that much strife, but it seems to be the most debilitating thorn in my side at this stage in the writing process. Well, that and the omnipresent doubts about whether the story is actually decent or just a terrible work of art that should be regarded with scorn in the centuries to come.
The traditional genres of fiction have never really been solidly defined. They are fluid, and sometimes fitting midway categories that would be better deserving of their own, new category. An example of such uncertainty is the line between science fiction and fantasy. What defines the difference? Well, science fiction tends to focus on the potential of future technologies or future developments on the impact of society, whereas fantasy is more steeped in mythology and supernatural elements, right? Well, maybe. So, where does Star Wars fit in? I mean, it’s not about the future. The famous tagline even describes it as taking place a long time ago. The technologies in it are not the most realistic even for future projections and it is steeped in mysticism, complete with warrior knights and magic swords.
Can’t wait people to tell me I just don’t get Star Wars…
And whereas science fiction can contain fictional or (probably) impossible technologies, such as easy to use time travel devices, teleportation that doesn’t kill you and faster-than-light travel, the magic elements in certain fantasy works can sometimes feel a lot more down-to-earth and mundane than the fantastical technologies in certain science fiction, with what’s known as functional magic, or, for the innuendo-happy, HARD magic, and indeed, applying actual zoology to fictional fantasy creatures.
It was a bit of a tangent, but I feel that the same can be said for the genres of adult, new adult, and young adult. Whilst the audience they’re aimed at naturally determines what genre they belong too, what in the substance of the novel determines who they’re aimed at?
Given how young adult, especially in recent years, has fitted itself into genres as diverse as contemporary, urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic dystopian, semi-autobiographical and so on, what features and tropes do we have to look for to classify and story as young adult, as opposed to new adult or adult?
Perhaps the most fitting definition of YA fiction I’ve heard is that a consistent theme of it is that it relates to what it’s like to be an adolescent. But even that isn’t particularly clear cut – Robin Wasserman’s Girls on Fire features three teenage as the main characters, with two as POV characters, and yet the book is aimed at adults. And if even if this seemingly clear-cut example isn’t so clear-cut, I don’t know what help my book’s got.
The protagonist is 28 years old. Adult, surely? And hey, a fairly important supporting character, a work colleague of hers, is also an adult! But wait, most of the other major characters are in their late teens, still at school, and the a good chunk of the plot moves forward based on their character arcs. So, is it actually young adult? But what about things detailed within the pages that the moral guardians might get antsy about? There’s no shortage of swearing, and it practically thrives on talking about sex. Someone gets fellatio in a cupboard – is that going to be a problem? And what about the fact that it constantly goes on about contemporary philosophy and ethical debates? If John Green has proved anything, then there’s no issue with YA being full of philosophical musings. But is there a line to draw?
For now, I’ve settled on the idea that it might fit best as New Adult. This genre’s supposed to be aimed at the 18-30 age bracket, which not only are most of the main characters in, but also me too. According to Wikipedia, that ever so reliable guide, this genre generally deals with issues related to leaving home (not really, but the characters tend to thrive on independence and many in standing apart from their parents’ expectations), developing sexuality (yeah, apparently…) and negotiating education and career choices (also seems to fit). So, have I found the appropriate thing to label it as? Well, again, the doubts come back. The publishing industry is not hugely fond of this genre, and it does seem to exist as a sort of nowhere-land label. It’s not a category you find in most bookshops, and apparently the readership isn’t there, although I know plenty of 18-30-year-olds who read books, so…
If anyone on this site, or Twitter or Facebook is willing to beta read this, feel free to contact me to talk about the possibility, because I definitely want to expand the potential room for opinions, but I want to know who I’m sending it to first.
There are still a few other people lined up, but the specific opinions are looking for explicitly include those of:
LGBTQ people – The novel contains quite a few characters who are LGBTQ, but as I’m not, I think it’s important and I know what you think, because representation is important, but good representation is probably even more so.
People around the sixth form age or slightly older – Might be worth it. As there are many characters who fall into this age bracket, I might want to see if it has the appeal to people of that age bracket. If not, that might give me a clearer idea of which age demographic to market to.
People interested in philosophy and ethics – Pretty much a given.
So, there it is – a slightly reluctant call for more beta readers. Maybe my anxiety will strike again, and I’ll decide not to be so open about opening up the market for betas, and just keep it among people I know. But hey, maybe something will come of it.
If anyone who reads this is interested, contact me and we’ll take it from there. And if anyone just generally wants to talk about the novel, contact me also, I’ll be happy to talk about it.