Like lots of other children of the 80s and 90s, I grew up reading the many offshoots of the Sweet Valley series, including the approximately 75 books of the Sweet Valley University series, so it wasn’t until 2009, when I attempted to query my first manuscript, that I learned that apparently no one’s interested in books set in college. To quote directly from the (really, really lovely) very first rejection I received:
“My biggest concern here is that the YA market overall has not been terribly successful with books set on college campuses—I think the YA’s who would be the right age to read them tend to read adult chick lit instead, and the 14/15 year olds prefer books with high school settings.”
After another five or so similar rejections, I shut it down. Yes, I loved the series I’d written, and I continued to write it for fun, but I knew I’d never again try to pitch it or any other book in this age range. (Yes, I am so old that it was not even yet “New Adult” or “Upper YA.” It was just “That thing we can’t sell.”) More importantly, yes, I was sad for me and my series, but I was sadder to hear that books in this range would always be few and far between. I’d devoured M. Apostalina’s Meri Sugarman series, fell hard and fast for Diana Peterfreund’s Secret Society Girl series, and of course there were always my beloved SVU’s, and these agents were telling me that was basically it?
Fast forward three years and the general response to the “New Adult” category (i.e. the category of books featuring protagonists aged 18-23ish) hasn’t changed – just today I watched several successful YA agents discuss on Twitter just how unmarketable New Adult still is. But here’s what I feel like I can firmly say today that I couldn’t say three years ago: You’re wrong.
That’s not me being scrappy or hopeful. That’s me after having read this, which was also stated today:
Which also made me think of this:
What do these three books have in common, besides that I’ve read and enjoyed – and, more importantly, paid money for – all of them? They’re all self-published. And they’re all best sellers.
What does that mean? That means that a ton of people like me took their wallets and announced to the world, “We want to read NA books.” And not just any NA books, but ones with no pub-house backing, which means no one provided these authors with production and editorial and marketing and publicity departments. These authors wrote NA books, and people found them, read them, and recommended them. THOUSANDS of people. So many people that Penguin, Amazon, and Simon & Schuster took notice and gave them book deals.
Which is great, don’t get me wrong – a hindsight is 20/20 offer is certainly better than none, and whatever gets these books out to more readers is fantastic. These authors have certainly earned the recognition. But WHY are these things only happening in hindsight? Why do agents feel like they can’t sell NA when self-publishing author after self-publishing author is successfully doing it? If readers are proving they want it, and writers keep proving they can do and sell it, why do so many agents and editors keep propagating the myth that there’s no market? Why do they continue to make arguments about how it fails because college students can’t afford/don’t have time for NA books even after Publishers Weekly‘s study about how 55% of YA books are bought by adults proved that the ages of the subjects do not automatically equal the age of the consumer?
And what’s even left for us to do to prove them wrong?