God, querying is just the worst, isn’t it? There are so many zillions of reasons you can get rejected, from bad grammar (OK, that one is totally legit, and I’d reject you too), to “I just didn’t connect with the voice,” to “I’m already representing something just like this,” to what, in my opinion, might be the most frustrating one of all: “There’s just no market for this.” The problem with that last one is that there’s really nothing you can do about it; it’s only subjective to a point. Sure, agents may see it as different levels of a challenge, but there’s a good shot that if one sees it that way, a host of others will too.
I bumped up against this repeatedly with the very first manuscript I queried, the first book in a series set in a fictional college in South Carolina. I’d read books set in college before – the entire Sweet Valley University series, M. Apostalina’s HAZING MERI SUGARMAN, et al. – so it didn’t even occur to me that the fact that college books were a tough sell was a “thing.” This was something like four years ago, when I had zero other friends who wrote for fun, couldn’t name a single agent I hadn’t worked with at S&S, and may have known YA but didn’t really know YA. However, I learned pretty damn quickly when response from lovely agent after lovely agent was “Sooo, I liked this, but I just can’t sell college.” And this was back when “no response means no” didn’t exist and I think literally every agent I queried came back with a personalized response.
Fast forward to now and the desperate push to make New Adult happen. Now, let me just say, I love New Adult, or Upper YA, or whatever name you want to assign to it. Some of my favorite books (The Secret Society Girl series by Diana Peterfreund) and shows (Greek on ABC Family) are set in college, and it’s truly one of my favorite settings. I’d kill to read more. I applaud everyone who says “the hell with what’s an easy sell right now; I want to write what I want to write, and I’m gonna write it and do the best I can with it.”
I keep seeing queries for NA books and thinking, “This could so, so clearly be done as YA without compromising any of the story elements that were major enough to make it into a query.” Even more frequently, I have that thought about books being done as Adult. The craziest to me is when I see people trying to get something published when NA with a protagonist in his/her mid-twenties. GUYS. New Adult is a fantastic genre, but it will put you at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to getting published. Yeah, it’s cool that New Adult deals with that phase of life when you don’t quite feel like a grown-up yet, but here’s the thing: if you’re 23, out of college, and looking for a job, or you’re 20 and instead of college you’re pursuing a passion, or you’re 22 and feel like you’re the only one of your friends not in a serious relationship… I hate to break the news, but you’re still an adult. Plenty of adult books have protagonists who are in that stage of struggling to gain a sense of personal responsibility, or the kind of emotional growth required to be in relationships. Izzy Spellman from the hilarious mystery series The Spellman Files, by Lisa Lutz, automatically comes to mind. (If you haven’t already read them, go on, I’ll wait!) So do Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic books.
And if you’re writing a story with a protagonist on the bottom end of the Upper YA range, ask yourself: “I know I set this in college, but could I basically do this exact same story in boarding school, or during a high school summer?” Because 16-year-olds? They deal with issues like drinking and drugs and sex. So if you’re not writing something that’s really, really college specific (which, of course, the ms I’d been querying was, as it was all about Greek Life), a few major tweaks could potentially turn it from an unsellable market to an undeniably hot one.
So if you’re pitching a New Adult ms, and you’d really like to throw everything you can into getting an agent, take another look and see if your New Adults are really such adults… or so new. It may make all the difference in your future in publishing.
And hey, if you have a contemporary New Adult ms that’s just so, so New Adult it can’t possibly be anything else? I’d probably kill to read it.