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I'm writing a book, and while I'm not even close to finishing, I can't help but wonder what the age of my intended audience should be. I've read a lot of advice that says that age of my protagonist can help determine the age of my target audience. My protagonist is 11, so I feel like my book shouldn't be listed as adult, or even new adult. The book is also far too dark for me to feel comfortable listing it for middle readers, and it's really not a coming of age story, so I'm unsure about having it be young adult.

I think this excerpt will help, (it's from the point of view of the 11 year old who is retelling the story about five years later)

Hang Days, are days that happen once a week, and everybody was supposed to stop working. I had originally equated Hang Day with Sunday or Sabbath. It was a weekly day off, yes, but that’s where the comparison ends. Beyond the palace and surrounding city, how “observant” people were of Hang Day varied, but at the castle, it was followed exactly as the Queen Her High Majesty wanted. Once a week, the people from the city and court and servants of the castle gathered around the town square, where several gallows were set up, and the entire population of the dungeons that had accumulated over the previous week were hanged. The Queen Her High Majesty, and now me, had front row seats.

On my first Hang Day, I watched in confusion as a large handful of prisoners were led to the gallows, the green coated nobleman from the night before was among them. My confusion turned to horror, as I put together what was happening. I wanted to protest, or at least question the Queen Her High Majesty why she was doing this, but I couldn’t make myself say a single word. The people gathered were chanting and cheering as the prisoners walked to their deaths. The majority of the people were peasants, and were happy to see a noble among the doomed.

I watched, sickend as their heads were placed in the nooses. All of the trapdoors were released at the same time. The prisoners dropped, and I vomited as they did the “dance” that the servant had casually mentioned earlier. When my vomiting, turned dry-heaving finally finished, I found that I was not embarrassed or in anyway worried about what the Queen would think of me nearly vomiting on her. The Queen, the Queen Her High Majesty looked at the dead men, pleased. Hang Days, were the only time I ever saw anything resembling a genuine smile on her face, bitch.

It took me awhile to realize this, but while I stared in horror at dead people, the Queen Her High Majesty only saw puppets that danced in her show. But the show wasn’t for her, it was for the people. “See what happens when I’m displeased.” And at the same time that she was giving her threat, she was also rewarding the people. “See this day of rest, this is my gift to you.” It was horrible, and it was clever. She knew how to control her subjects. Despite the gorier, and more personal deaths yet to come in my story, Hang Day, to me, is still the worst thing I think I’ve ever been through, especially with hindsight.

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    If your whole book goes like this, I think it should be targeted squarely for adults, not even young adults. – Alexander Jul 11 '18 at 22:57
  • It might be a bit scary for young adults, but not for others. However, I think that it might suit adults better. – Kate Jul 12 '18 at 2:39
  • Part of my problem, is when I started writing, the tone was much lighter, rather comedic, my secondary protagonist is even named "Sorcerer Marco the Lightning Tamer tm", and then this scene happened. Of course, thanks to my freshman year of college, there is also about a year between me writing that lighter tone and this bit. – Artsoccer Jul 12 '18 at 13:15
  • I don't know how the rest of your book goes, but I have observed that what kids find scary often differs significantly from what adults find scary. For example, my son watches Pirates of the Caribbean and doesn't find that scary. Yet he leaves the room when my husband and I watch CSI. It has to do with whether what they are seeing, or reading, is likely to happen. Thus, fantasy scenes with monstrous pirates and monsters are not scary, but a person being eaten by a monster while sleeping in their bed in a modern setting would be. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Jul 13 '18 at 15:59
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    Age relevancy is less a matter of the actual age of the protagonist, and more of how relevant the issues at stake are to the age group that you are targeting. Who would be more likely to relate to your protagonist's struggles? If you can't think of anybody, you might need to be rethinking the thrust of the story. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Jul 13 '18 at 16:02
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In my personal experience, the advice you have been given is correct.

I had your exact problem and was told by two editors that my story was too dark/complex for children and my protagonists too young to appeal to an adult audience. I was told I had pitched it mid-market and would struggle to sell it. I ended up rewriting the entire novel, ageing my protagonists to suit a YA-Adult audience. The alternative was to dumb it down to suit children and I didn't want to dumb down my story.

However, since your protagonist is actually an adult (and I would be tempted to make her even older than 16 to give that adult appeal) recounting what happened to her when she was 11, I think you will be okay to pitch at an adult audience.

Unless I've read your question wrong and this is an eleven-year-old recounting what happened to her when she was six, in which case I would say your excerpt doesn't read like the voice of an eleven-year-old (sorry).

I would also say that it's advisable to know your audience before you start writing, i.e. instead of wondering what age your intended audience should be, given what you've written. You should be asking what you should write given your intended audience. If you understand your reader, you can target what you write directly at them. For example, in my current novel, I know my audience to be middle-aged women. So I create scenes, circumstances and conflict for my protagonist that will (hopefully) elicit tension and empathy from middle-aged women who are likely to be facing similar life problems and difficulties as my middle-aged protagonist.

Without knowing who your audience is, how can you create scenes that will appeal to them?

I didn't understand that when I wrote my first book (hence pitching it mid-market), missed my target audience by a mile and had to rewrite. I would save you that pain if I could!!

GOOD LUCK!

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Pitch it as New Adult (18-30) or Adult. The age of the protagonist is not the whole decision, the real decision is which age group can find the story entertaining. Adults are willing to follow the story of teen; there are many Harry Potter fans that began in the 18-30 age range without being parents.

The basics of the New Adult market is, precisely, no longer coming of age sexually, but beginning the new experiences of BEING of age and an adult. So everything from being new to sex and romance, new to working, new to college, new to signing your own contracts and paying your own bills, new to legalized drinking, even new to parenthood, dealing with parental death, the law, etc.

Glossing over some differences in culture between now and centuries past (which is your right in fiction), it is plausible to project similar "New Adult" issues onto a sixteen year old of the time.

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