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?
Pingback: Links of Note
Pingback: Ten Blunt Messages on the Eve of 2014 | The Daily Dahlia
Pingback: Choosing Your Pub Path | The Daily Dahlia
Caryn Caldwell said:
Well said! And you’re right; the age of the protagonist does not necessarily equal the age of the consumer. Look at all the adults who are reading YA. Surely NA wouldn’t be that much of a stretch for them, then. And what’s exciting about YA — that age when so much changes and anything can happen — also applies to the 18-24 range. I think that’s when the most stuff changed in my life and I grew the most, after all. I imagine it’s the same for a lot of people.
Pingback: Required Reading: 11/11/2012 - Sliced Open Reviews
i hate all the teenagers whose parents hand them everything…your gonna be a failure when mommy and daddy aren’t there to hand you money
I feel that way too…specifically as someone whose age encompasses that region of the NA genre and who always likes writing about characters in the 17-20 range. Not only do I wish I could see more characters MY OWN AGE in literature, I think it’s terribly sad there’s a whole section of the market where novels are excluded because their characters fall in a certain age range.
Also, I think it publishers refuse to handle NA genre, this is a really great argument for self-publishing. While I definitely want to see myself traditionally published one day and am still leery about self-publishing (stigma and quality), if publishers refuse my work because of my protagonist’s age (and no other issues), then I will definitely self-publish.
Stina Lindenblatt said:
I recently discovered NA books just before these big sales happened. Now I’m addicted. I think it’s about time that agents and publishers recognize the need for the genre. When I was in college, that was the type of book I would have loved to read. YA books wouldn’t have been relevant. High school is not the same as university.
Pingback: New Adult Roundup: Definition, Hurdles, and a Suggestion | Kate Brauning
I love this post, Dahlia. I wonder if the biggest challenge is apathy. No one cares enough. The market for NA isn’t big enough…yet. As Diana pointed out, maybe publishing is waiting for a big success to launch NA like Twilight did for YA.
I must admit that I’m in no particular hurry to read books set in college. It’s just my personal preference. But I think I may soon be in the minority. xx
Sean Cummings said:
I write Young Adult and Adult books. My debut YA thriller POLTERGEEKS just hit bookstores this month. What I’m trying to get my head around is the parameter issue with respect to setting. Where does NA occur that doesn’t already occur in adult books? If it’s just college campuses then what about the 18-21 year olds who don’t go to college? See where I’m going with this? I think the reason NA hasn’t taken off is because whatever defines it has yet to be defined. I’m not saying that it won’t ever exist – I’m just thinking that people read what they want to read regardless of their age. 55% of YA readers are adults. When I was 14 I was reading Stephen King.
My two cents at any rate.
Jen (@FindingFruit) said:
Encouraging to read as the book I am querying right now is about a college student, though college experience is not really the focus of the story but just the setting.
Mónica B. W. (@Monica_BW) said:
Wow. Nice to know that!! (re: that they were self pubbed and best sellers.) And it’s good to see that there’s a market for NA despite what everyone says. 🙂 Nice post!
Jaime Morrow said:
I could not agree more. I’ve read FLAT-OUT LOVE and books by Tammara Webber and thoroughly enjoyed them. Good writing is good writing and it doesn’t matter how old the protag is. I was reading your post and just before you mentioned it, I was thinking: “But over 50% of YA readers are actually adults, so why does the age of the protag matter???” Exactly! I love reading about protags in college just as much as those in high school. And even better? I can think the love interest is hot without feeling like a creeper. I think this age range (18-23) is a hugely untapped area and that agents and publishers need to start taking it seriously. As you’ve stated, the success of these self-published NA authors makes that abundantly clear!
Carrie Butler said:
Well said, Dahlia! I want to high five you right now. 🙂
Clare Dugmore said:
Great article! I’m actually getting rather frustrated now that agents/ publishers are still failing to see NA is a viable, profitable category! Get with the picture, people!
Tonya Fitzharris (@tonyafitzharris) said:
Thanks so much for having something positive to say about NA! It seems as though all of the blogs I’ve been reading the past week or so have only negative things to say about it. Hopefully if all of us NA authors can band together we can make a difference!
As an agent I am already seeing adult editors ask me for NA. I don’t have any on my list, but if I did, I know of at least five places I could send it right now.
What I hope is that the genre doesn’t get confused. For me this should simply be an extension of YA but adult imprints are buying for it. What happens when the YA editors start buying? You’ll have to sects of NA, the adult version and the YA version and I don’t know if splitting the books into two sides is going to help the genre on the whole.
Diana Peterfreund said:
It’s a mystery to me, too. For about 5 years there, I was the ONLY one in this market, and not a week went by that I didn’t get an email from an author writing this sort of thing and asking me why it wasn’t selling and how I got an agent to take a chance and blah blah blah. And I really don’t know — I still don’t know. The editor who bought those books of mine at Random House has left publishing and though my books are still in print and selling seven years later (no mean feat in this industry) I am not getting the opportunity to write more NOR is my publisher taking the kind of advantage of this resurgence in the market you’d expect. We’ve sent them the stats on these other authors and pointed out that they have books just like it on the list. We’ve shown them review after review that compares the bestselling books to mine, or who lists mine as favorites in this “new” trend. There is a disconnect. I think when these self pubbed stars come out through traditional publishers AND DO WELL, you’re going to see the publishers wake up, as they did with erotica and 50 shades. (Note that though Don Weisberg bought Weber, the paperback is coming out through an adult imprint, and Atria for McGuire is adult, too.)
So have your manuscripts ready.
Thank you so much for weighing in! Knowing that your books are still doing well actually made me assume that you were the one who made the decision to stop writing NA, because you’d think an established NA success would at least get the green light, but wow, that’s just so crazy to me. As you said, I really do hope that the self-pubbed authors getting book deals through traditional publishers do well enough to show there’s a market (which seems so redundant, since they’ve obviously done that well enough to get these deals in the first place!), but I’m curious how that will play out since obviously so many readers have already bought or borrowed these titles. Time will tell soon enough, I guess!
Diana Peterfreund said:
As I mentioned on Twitter (darn charc. limit) it is more complicated than that. My last adult book came out in 2010. It’s been almost 3 years since then. I was working on proposals and looking for the right one with my editor (while doing fun projects for her like Mornign Glory), then got pregnant and realized I could not keep up the 2 books per year pace I’d had Before Baby. I was under contract with a YA house, so I focused on that. Meanwhile my adult editor left, her replacement left, and her replacement’s replacement left. So it’s not like there’s someone there waiting for my next novel. Kind of a perfect storm of me not having time to write as much and having other contracts and duties, and changes in the publisher I’d been working for.
Erica M Chapman said:
Great post. I don’t get it either. I wish I knew!! I’ve read all of those books on that list and really enjoyed them. There’s a market for NA, they’ll have to figure it out sooner or later.
Definitely a thought provoking post ;o)
I think this is such a strange issue. Pride and Prejudice, and pretty much everything else written by Austen and friends would be categorized as NA today. NA is selling a little better in niche markets (the LDS market in particular likes NA stuff), but there’s really no reason for it to not be a mass market category.
Plus, there are a LOT of YA books that would make MORE sense as NA. Look at all the absentee parents! That’s a non-issue in NA, but we still see authors bending and twisting the bounds of reality and believability to force their characters to be teens instead of the adults that make a lot more sense.
The first thing this reminded me of was the chapter-book children’s market back when JK Rowling was first querying her strange kid’s book about a boy wizard, and being told that there just wasn’t much of a market and she’d never get rich at it. And now look at YA (and MG). I think NA is kinda there – the publishing industry is still thinking no one’s reading it, but it’s really just waiting for one (or two) breakout novels to come change the landscape. I think some publishers are already waking up to the potential – I’ve started seeing a number of small pub houses putting out requests for NA submissions. Just need the big six to climb aboard.
Well, my point is more than one or two breakout novels have come to change the landscape, and the big sixes HAVE climbed aboard, albeit after the fact (when they have to shell out a lot more for the contracts when they would have had they picked up the authors as debuts). So if what they’re presumably waiting for has already come to pass, what’s left?
I guess I was kinda thinking breakout more along the lines of Harry Potter and Twilight, which were the catalyst that put YA on the map (in the big-box bookstore). I think part of the challenge currently is that even if agents/editors start buying NA as NA, and publishers start shipping NA as NA, where does it get shelved in the bookstore/library? There needs to be that blockbuster bestselling NA – or better yet, two – that will prompt retailers to create a new section of floorspace under that label. Until there’s a proven marketing label in the retail sector, publishers aren’t going to embrace the category, and if publishers aren’t buying, neither will agents (admittedly, this is something of a catch-22, since how do you create a blockbuster from something that doesn’t exist, but what can you do).
Jen Zeman (@jen_zeman) said:
I wonder if agents don’t recognize these deals as NA success stories because once the traditional publishers have a hold they relabel them as YA?
Gina Ciocca said:
It floors me that anyone would use the excuse about a college student’s budget as an excuse to not aim literature at their age group. And how, exactly, do high school students afford the books they read? Where there’s a will there’s a way – not to mention no one reads books that are ONLY specifically tailored to their age group.
As someone whose first manuscript was about 21-year-old college students and wrote it with no idea that it didn’t have a place in the publishing market, I would LOVE to see more new adult. College is a such a life-changing experience, and to say no one would want to read about it is presumptuous, and quite frankly, stupid.
What a great post.
Totally agree with you, Dahlia. I loved EASY, and it’s fantastic that Tammara Webber has had this success.
The first manuscript I wrote was technically new adult, too. The protag was in her 20s, just out of college and figuring out what to do with her life. May or may not have been representative of what I was going through at the time…but either way, I had NO IDEA how to pitch it to agents. I went with “women’s fiction,” but I eventually shelved it. May rewrite it someday as YA, or pick it up again if NA ever takes off.
And as a teen, I would have LOVED to read books about college-age protagonists! I loved Sophie Kinsella, and most of her books feature early-20s women MCs. Becky Bloomwood in the Shopaholic books was 23!
Agreed with all of the above. There is a serious need for college settings and/or early-20s MCs in the book industry, and I don’t get why all the heels are dug into the ground over it. It’s an entirely different set of experiences and an age range in which people oftentimes experience even bigger upheavals than in high school. We should be tapping that for the emotional gold mine it is!
Self-pubbers are demonstrating that they have the flexibility to respond to these holes in the marketplace; traditional publishers need to be smart and follow suit. Adapt or find yourselves missing out on a brand-new market.
And I saw that agent convo as well – I’m not sure why, with the recent stats on how over half of YA novels are bought by adults, anyone argued that there’s no market for it because college students have no money.
Whoops, I totally meant to address that argument with that stat in my post. Adding it now!
I’m not sure why, with the recent stats on how over half of YA novels are bought by adults, anyone argued that there’s no market for it because college students have no money.
Oh my God, yes. That was a head-banging moment.
Angi Black said:
This times a million! I know exactly what you are saying and I completely agree. There was a time when YA didn’t exist as a category. It was adult and children. No middle ground. Now there’s picture books, chapter books, MG, YA and upper YA. I see no reason one more self can’t be added.
MG is made for just that, but plenty of 13 an 14 year olds still read it. YA is read by high school seniors and beyond. Upper YA probably as big or a bigger market with adult buyers. With all this info, I don’t see the argument that ‘college kids won’t buy it’ as valid.
As with any genre, yes, it written from a certain age and view point but that doesn’t mean those are the only readers. In most cases I would guess the main audience is not that age group.
Some of the biggest success stories in our current literary landscape are YA books made best sellers over and over by adults reading it.
*steps off soapbox* I hope we can make it a real thing and more power to the self-pubs who are leading the charge. I love to write about that age group. And plenty of people want to read it.
Being in my late 30’s, I don’t feel my age and I’m living my life. Why wouldn’t I want to read about the time of your life when everything is in front of you and enjoy characters who are the age my brain still tells me I am?
Great post!! Thanks!
Tristina Wright said:
Oh I love this. I think we all need to keep doing exactly this – publishing blog posts, reviewing books we love, speaking up when agents/editors start talking about it on Twitter or in their personal blogs.
I saw a few agents claim that there’s no market for NA because the age group (college kids) wouldn’t read it. Um, last time I checked, 55% of YA readers are adults in their 30’s. So there’s no guarantee that your “target age group” will be the actual purchasing age group of the books.
Why is it they balk and give up before they even try? Is it just a “I don’t want to take on another genre?” Okay.
Personally I would LOVE to see more books in this age range. I’ve seen a LOT of successful romances in that age range and would really like it to bleed into all the genres and become its own thing.
Leigh Ann said:
*grins like an idiot*
I have been so happy for Tammara all day. SO HAPPY.
And I’m almost as happy for all the college students I work with who love to read and would ESPECIALLY love to read some books written about people their own age.
Bestselling NAers and Jessa and Curiosity Quills, go on with your bad selves. You too, Dahl. ❤
Jessa Russo said:
Dahlia!!! I am AS WE SPEAK typing up a post for Curiosity Quills because I am their newest NA acquisitions editor and I want ALL THE NA! lol!
I am always so saddened to see these form rejections for genres, and sub-genres, that have NOTHING to do with the general public. Paranormal is dead, you say? Weird, because that’s ALL I read. New Adult can’t sell? That’s funny – I just bought Beautiful Disaster at COSTCO of all places.
We can make this happen. As authors, and as publishers. It will just take time and patience, but New Adult IS a thing, and it needs to be acknowledged and accepted.
Fabulous post Dahlia! Shared it on twitter and have been having GREAT discussions about it. Thanks for a brilliant, and thoughtful article.
PS Jessica Park said that’s the first time shed seen her deal in publication 🙂