A few weeks ago, one of my sisters sent me her WIP, a fantasy novel for 7-10-year-olds. It's a wonderful story with a unique character based on French folklore. I always knew my sister was a great writer, but it's so much fun to get a glimpse into her imagination. Even though I obviously world-build in my novels, I'm still amazed when people manage to transport me into their own imaginary world through their writing.
Unfortunately, aside from telling my sister that I genuinely enjoyed reading her novel, I don't know anything about her audience, so it's hard for me to offer any practical advice. She has two kids in her target age group, so she probably has a much better idea of what's out there than I do. But like all writers, my sister will need to know her audience well before she begins querying, or risk getting rejections simply based on the subject matter, not the quality of her writing.
Admittedly, I didn't do a lot of research into the current YA market when I started writing Friday. I had read the major books like Twilight and The Hunger Games, and I watch many of the shows that are adaptations of YA novels (The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl), but there's a whole world of Young Adult fiction out there I knew nothing about (thank you times a million to my blogging buddies, who have taught me so much in the last six months). I like to think of myself as with-it enough to know what teenagers are like these days, but in truth, I'm twice as old as my protagonist. My babysitter still insists on calling me Mrs. R, and when I asked her if she'd be interested in reading my WIP (so I could get a teenager's opinion) she told me that she mainly reads historical fiction. Target audience, indeed.
The thing is, as much as we may be writing fiction for young adults, or kids, or women in their thirties, none of that matters if we can't get past the gate-keepers (aka agents). We are writing for them more than anyone, based on the books they represent and the kinds of characters they seem drawn to. We trust that they know our target audience, even though they themselves are not young adults or kids (a great number of them are women in their thirties, however; you'd think that would make writing women's fiction a snap, but I'm living proof that just because you ARE the target audience, it doesn't mean people will love your book).
I'm curious how many of my YA-writing friends out there have gotten the opinion of actual teenagers. Agents won't be impressed if you tell them, "My 16-year-old niece LOVED my book!" but I'm sure having a teenager tell me my that no one uses the term "going out" anymore would be genuinely helpful.
Then again, knowing what I was like as a teenager, I may not be ready for that kind of feedback after all.