Is that a sci-fi novel in your pocket…?

When Ella Drake discussed genre hopping authors who switch between writing science fiction and fantasy or romance and mystery, the hop from writing adult fiction (rated X, XXX, or TV-MA) to writing young adult (YA) novels came up in the comments.

I think we can all agree that a hop from writing alien BDSM to writing “Goodnight, Little Alien” would require at least a pen name and a separate website. No parent wants their child to accidentally discover the joys of spanking scantily-clad heroines with a three-pronged… er… whip. And anyone looking for “50 Shades of Green Skin” is interested in an entirely different type of bedtime story.

Hey, this looks like a perfect book for a teenage boy! That’s a surfer, right? He plays video games?

But what happens when your adult books are mistaken for YA? This is not a deliberate genre hop, but one thrust upon you by an incorrect customer or well-intentioned friend.

For some reason, a lot of people assume that science fiction is only for young men. “I’ll tell my son about it.” Or they find out that that it’s “cyberpunk” with video games and computers, so it must be for kids, right? Never mind all of the adults (including my 41-year-old self) who play video games, or the fact that the Stellarnet Series is set fifty years in the future — when our kids are all grown up, and still playing video games.

Or maybe they assume, because I’m a frumpy old lady with two kids, that I couldn’t possibly be writing violent or sexy stuff? Or using language that would make an Irish sailor blush?

One of my doctors told me how he’d shared my book with someone interested in becoming a sci-fi author. The conversation went on for about ten or fifteen minutes, throughout the appointment, before I realized A) my dear doctor hadn’t read my first book, and B) the aspiring author was only 15. I warned the doc he might not want to go on recommending it to anyone else under the age of 18. Or 21, if he wants to be totally safe.

Have you ever had this happen? As an author, how have you dealt with or avoided misconceptions? As a reader, have you ever picked up a book and found yourself “boldly going” where you REALLY didn’t want to go? What do you think would make it easier to avoid this problem?

I don’t have a hard time telling close friends that my books aren’t for children — and if they’re close friends they probably guessed that already! But doctors, colleagues, club members, or potential readers I meet at conventions and events? “It’s a book with adult themes,” is what I often say, but then my warning is either ignored — “Oh, my daughter is very mature for 13” — or misunderstood — “I don’t read erotica.” What’s an author do to?

J.L. Hilton is the author of the Stellarnet Series published by Carina Press, including Stellarnet Rebel (January 2012) and Stellarnet Prince (November 2012). Her artwork is featured in the books Steampunk Style Jewelry and 1000 Steampunk Creations. Visit her at or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and deviantART.


  1. Well, I think you’re doing the right thing, informing all interested parties that it’s a book for adults.

    But, you know, when *I* was fourteen? That’s exactly what I wanted to read. Though, admittedly, there wasn’t a rich source of YA books available when I was a teenager.

    1. I used to sneak read my mother’s books, things like the Earth’s Children series by Jean Auel and her favorite Scottish highland romances (and I’m still a sucker for kilts, today). Or I’d read my dad’s Omni magazines, which were full of science and sci-fi stuff, but had some connection to Penthouse (I think they had the same publisher?).

  2. Yes, I am very familiar with this problem. I often you get – “You write children’s books, right?” Ah, no. No, I don’t. Obviously these people don’t look at my covers. Ever. I wouldn’t want my 13 year old reading my books, but I have to admit that I was sneaking peaks at my brother’s penhouse collection (and yes the sex scenes from Valley of the Horses) at not much older. But do I want teens reading my work? Not so much. I have a separate pen name for YA and NA that I am working with, and it is definitely staying that way.

    1. Oh, Jondalar. A man of many talents. Talk about setting up unrealistic expectations in a young mind.

      I think there’s a significant number of people who still assume sci-fi is male YA — or think it should be. Or maybe they think because I have kids I must be writing for kids (?).

  3. I think there’s only so much you can do to control who sees it. After all, I’ve had 15 year olds try to friend me on FB (uh, no, denied) but I have to assume that they’re getting access somehow. I was reading stuff way out of my level when I was 11 & 12, so it’s gonna happen, but you’re doing the right thing.

    Most of my covers feature enough naked pecs that I think its content is pretty clear. I did have a short story with no sex in it, and someone complained because it felt like YA. Which is amusing – just because there’s no sex doesn’t automatically make it a kid’s book!

  4. I have an sf short about a 3rd grade teacher in the future, and people assume it’s supposed to be a kid’s book because her students are on the cover with her, sort of, and the students are mentioned in the blurb, sort of. It wouldn’t be anything that gave a parent a heart attack if a kid read it, though! No prongs and whips, hehe.

    1. There is that perception that if children are in a story, it must be a children’s story, right? I’ve heard that the creator of Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski, avoided having any children in the show, for that reason. “No kids or cute robots.” lol

  5. I think best you can do is give the warnings. We all seemed to have the same experience, reading out of our level at a young age. 🙂
    But, yeah, just warn. Past that, it’s up to the judgement of the parent/child/teacher/whoever.

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