New Adult Round-up: Definition, Hurdles, and a Suggestion

If you’ve been following the blogs of agents and authors recently, you’ve probably seen the term “new adult” come up. It’s an interesting development in the world of books, and it’s generating some even more interesting discussion among writers, agents, and editors. The idea of new adult fiction is coming up against some tough obstacles, but it’s also developing a loyal following.

Since it’s such a new and intriguing development, I’ve been doing some research on the topic, and here’s what I’ve discovered, as well as an idea I think might actually solve some of the obstacles NA is encountering.

What is New Adult?

St. Martin’s Press coined the term “new adult” back in 2009 with the launch of a contest for manuscripts with protagonists slightly older than YA range with stories that could appeal to an adult audience.

The current idea is that NA is a category of fiction about a collection of experiences particular to “new adults”- moving out on their own, going to college, maintaining that first adult romantic relationship, buying a car and paying bills, landing and keeping a place in the professional workforce. Kristan Hoffman’s article for Writer’s Digest goes a bit more in-depth on what NA is and could be in the future, and author Sharon Bayliss wrote a great post on the what and why of new adult, so read those if you would like a bit deeper explanation.

Why do we want NA?

New adult currently revolves around the themes and situations common to YA fiction, but takes those ideas further. Becoming independent as a teenager in high school looks different than becoming independent as you move out of your parents’ home and begin your own life. This particular slice of life is rare in adult fiction, and the YA category doesn’t allow for those experiences, either (with a few rare exceptions). YA protagonists are almost always 18 or younger, and 18 can even be difficult to sell. Usually, if the protagonists aren’t teenagers/high school aged, it can’t be marketed as YA. Now this does look different for situations where no high school is involved (say, dystopian or fantasy genres), but the perspective of becoming an adult stays the same. See my post over at YA Stands for a discussion of the unique perspective of YA fiction and what elements make a work YA.

In an interview (here) shortly after that St. Martin’s Press contest, S. Jae-Jones, an editorial assistant at St. Martin’s, talked with Georgia McBride about the gap between YA and adult fiction, and how NA can help fill that gap.  J.J says, “Just as YA is about discovering who you are as a person, I think NA is fiction about building your own life.” I agree; there is a gap between the experiences of adult and YA fiction. Writers who still want to explore the themes of becoming independent and taking on the world, but want to do so beyond high school experiences, might find themselves fighting the current. I haven’t yet heard of a great way to market that kind of work, and I do think there is a readership for it.

In fact, Dahlia Adler, a YA writer represented by Andrea Somberg, argues in her post “Whose ‘Failure’ is New Adult?” a market for NA  exists, and it’s a market authors will reach with or without the support of the publishing industry. She lists some great deals of NA works originally self-published and then bought by publishing houses–proof readers are willing to vote with their money for NA stories.

In September The Guardian asked readers what they thought about NA, and if they would be more likely to buy NA vs. YA works, and then posted some of the responses. Those responses are excellent for reading some new perspectives on the issue, so I definitely recommend taking a look.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s not all problems and obstacles. New adult IS enjoying some success, which is great. The word is spreading, the group blog NA Alley is gaining a wide readership, and NA works are occasionally being published.

Tammara Webber, a new adult author, discusses her recent deal here and PR Newswire has also reported Atria’s deal with Coleen Hoover for SLAMMED and POINT OF RETREAT, both NA titles.

Part of the difficulty NA fiction is encountering is that many people in the publishing world believe it’s not really a thing yet. A few agents represent NA, some NA works have been sold and are doing well, some small presses accept NA works, and involved readers are starting to recognize the term. But just barely. Most of my friends, even voracious readers, hadn’t heard of NA when I asked. Many agents and editors insist it isn’t a separate category. NA is still early in its development, and wide-spread recognition still has to be fought for.

One of the biggest problems NA is facing is where to put those books in stores. Currently, a NA section doesn’t exist on shelves. Publishers can’t convince booksellers to purchase books they don’t have a shelf for. Booksellers aren’t going to create a whole new space for something with only a few recognized works. Most agents and editors aren’t going to take on projects facing this kind of issue. NA simply lacks a defined place in the current market, though recognition is spreading little by little. Canadian actor and writer Adrienne Cress wrote a blog post, “Why New Adult Interests Me”, addressing this problem with NA.  She quite appropriately points out the cross-over appeal of upper YA, as some have called NA, but also discusses why it’s hard to sell.

Agent Kristin Nelson discusses another hurdle in her blog post on NA. She says the target audience wouldn’t know where to find these books, even if they were to go looking for them. Would they look for them in the teen section or in general fiction? Creating space for them in a book store would take a shift in process and marketing.

Some people in the publishing industry believe these divisions aren’t necessary. Michael Stearns, founder of Upstart Crow Literary, argues here that dividing fiction up this much may become a slippery slope. He points out that in his own early 20’s, specifically because he was becoming an adult and figuring out his own tastes, would have reacted against the idea of a category of books developed especially for people in his age group. He didn’t want to be told what he should be reading at that age.

Another problem is that some people argue NA isn’t different enough from YA. NA is about the perspective of transition. But YA is about that too- the transition between adolescence and adulthood. This is, I suspect, one of the biggest hurdles for NA. I can see how NA is a different point in that transition from adolescence to adulthood, but I’m not sure the difference is distinct enough to change the industry. Different experiences, yes- high school is very different from college. Dorms and apartments are distinctly different from living at home with your parents. But that’s not what categories in fiction really deal with.

An important idea here is that categories are different from genres. Many people mistakenly refer to NA or YA or MG as genres, but they aren’t. Genres are divisions like science fiction, contemporary, horror, romance, etc. Genres are primarily about experiences and structural elements that follow similar patterns- water rights disputes, lone wolf cowboys, and girls who refuse to ride side saddle are common elements of westerns, for example.

Categories are basic divisions that separate fiction (and even nonfiction) into works targeted for picture book, middle grade, young adult, and adult readers. Of course, young adult is enjoying tremendous crossover appeal, with as many adults reading the category as teens. So it’s not just the targeted audience that makes something YA, MG, or adult. It’s the perspective, the lens through which the protagonist(s) view the world. In MG, the protagonist has an experience that may teach them more about himself or the world, but in the end still views the world like a child- which is a great thing. That age was a distinct point in my life, and it’s wonderful to be able to go back and remember it through MG works. In YA, the protagonist meets a challenge that changes how they view the world- they go from viewing the world as an adolescent to viewing it more or less as an adult. S. Jae-Jones (JJ) develops the difference between adult and young adult perspective more here.

Do certain experiences tend to gather around these perspectives? Of course. Perspective influences the events of the story and certain experiences gather around the age category. But those experiences are a mark of genre, not a defining element of category.

So here is my own personal suggestion: NA might meet with fewer obstacles and solve some of the issues it’s facing if it were treated as a genre instead of a category. Many of the experiences and structure elements unique to NA could easily be seen as genre elements, and NA could gain its distinctness and place in the market just like other new genres- steampunk and the genre mashup. Many elements of NA stories aren’t currently marketable as YA, but could NA become a genre of adult fiction? That’s what I wonder.

Truthfully, it’s hard to say what NA is or isn’t, since it’s still developing. To book people who believe the difference in perspective is significant, keep advocating for NA as a category, and keep showing readers how different that perspective is. I’d like to see that more clearly, and I’ll cheer on any NA success I see.

My closing thought, however, is that NA might do well as a genre, instead of a category. Could this genre still have fun being part of a mashup- say, NA paranormal, NA thriller? Sure. But some of the objections I’m hearing from agents and editors to new adult as a category might be solved if it were shaped into a genre.

For those of you who write new adult, Vickie Motter, Lauren Hammond, and Sara Megibow all represent NA. In fact, Vickie Motter wrote some advice on querying NA works.

From NA Alley, here is a list of NA books and films (though some were marketed and sold as either YA or adult):

For those of you who don’t write and don’t work in the publishing industry, but still love books and are wondering why in the world I’m talking about this tiny difference, what you need to know is this: whether NA is a category or genre makes a huge difference in who writers can submit those manuscripts to, how their chances of selling that book sit, and what the future NA as a whole looks like. Those first-time-as-an-adult experiences are dear to a lot of people, so go check out a NA book. You might like it!

Publishing Terms and Abbreviations

 

Below is a list of common terms and abbreviations you might see as you read my posts or other publishing blogs.

Agent: Literary agents are professionals who represent an author’s career. The most well-known tasks an agent performs are selling the writer’s MS to a publishing house and negotiating the contract. Agents do much more than this, however.

CP: critique partner. Writers who critique each other’s work. These can be great relationships to establish because of the encouragement, resources, and support writers receive from each other.

Crit: critique. An evaluation that aims for showing both the strong and weak elements of a MS. Critiques from other writers, especially authors and agents, can be a great way for writers to improve their writing.

Editor: Editors acquire books for their house to publish and help polish the work before publication. Like agents, they do much more than this as well.

Form rejection: A copy-pasted rejection from an agent to a writer who queried. Most of the time this is what writers will receive. Most agents receive 100+ queries a week (I’ve seen some agents report 800+), so personal responses are often impossible.

MG: middle grade. Writing written for middle grade readers and adhering to certain age group conventions.

MS: manuscript. An unpublished work of fiction or nonfiction.

MSS: plural of MS.

NA: new adult. Characters and plotlines revolve around situations common to the 19-early twenties age group. This category of fiction is just getting started and most agents and editors don’t recognize it yet because booksellers don’t have a system in place to sell NA works. A good-sized community is advocating for NA to become established, however.

Personalized rejection: A rejection from an agent to a writer who queried, but some element of the letter is personal. A line or two complimenting the work but explaining why it’s not right for the agent may be included. This is an encouraging compliment from the agent, and is actually a good thing to receive.

Pitch: A brief description of a manuscript highlighting the main elements in a way that makes others want to read more. Contests sometimes ask for a 1, 2, or 3-sentence pitch. Writers should have one ready for contests and conferences.

Query letter: A letter, often a professional email, that writers send to agents asking them to consider them for representation. The letter includes specific details about the MS the author has written and relevant credentials the writer may have. Some agents want 5 or 10 pages and/or a synopsis included as well. Conventions for queries are very particular.

R&R(or R/R) Revise and resubmit. The request from an agent or editor to have the writer make certain changes to the manuscript and then resubmit the work for consideration. These are common, and don’t necessarily mean the writing was poor. The agent’s current list of titles, market trends, and the writing itself may be reasons for R&Rs.

Request: An agent (or sometimes editor) requests to see a certain number of pages of a writer’s manuscript. These can be “partials”-generally 30, 50, or 100 pages- or else “fulls”- the entire manuscript. Usually agents request a partial first and then request a full if they are considering representing the writer. A request is a BIG deal, particularly if it’s a full.

Synopsis: A 1-2 page summary that reveals the main elements of the MS.

Twitter pitch: A pitch designed for Twitter contests. 140 characters or less.

WIP: work in progress. The manuscript an author is currently writing.

YA: young adult. Writing intended for a teenage audience, but with tremendous crossover appeal to adults. Publishers Weekly reported this month that 55% of all YA books are purchased by adult buyers, and 78% of the time, those books are for themselves.

Have you heard any other terms you’d like to know more about? Ask in the comments- I’ll answer!

List of Agent Blogs and Interviews

A writer’s job is to read, read, read. Read fiction. Read nonfiction for research and nonfiction on your craft. Read your manscript aloud. Read publishing industry news. Read more fiction- bestsellers, books in your genre, and books nothing like your own. Read until your eyes cross. Read, read, read.

One of the most important things for aspiring authors to read is agent blogs. Whether you are querying agents, trying to break into the publishing business, or simply learning more about the world of books, agent blogs are an absolutely necessary source of information. During my plunge into querying agents, I’ve painstakingly divested the internet of its most valuable resource (don’t argue with me on that descriptor): agent blogs.

Blog posts from industry professionals contain the personal details you need to make your queries stand out, the contests that will give you a leg up, and the industry knowledge that will help jump start your writing career.

Actively Maintained Agent Blogs

Thoughts from a Literary Agent: blog from Marisa Corvisiero.

The New Literary Agents– blog of Kae Tienstra and her business partner, Jon.

Chip’s Blog: Blog of MacGregor Literary.

Ask a Literary Agent: Blog from Noah Lukeman, president of Lukeman Literary and author of multiple books on writing queries and fiction.

Carly Watters: Blog of literary agent Carly Watters. Great post from July 12 on making your query stand out in the slush pile.

Bookalicious– blog of agent and top YA book blogger Pam van Hylckama Vlieg.

Mandy Hubbard: author and agent with D4EO Literary.

LaVie en Prose: blog of Meredith Barnes, ex-literary agent now working in digital marketing for Soho Press.

Rapid-Progressive: The blog of Victoria Marini, agent with Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency.

New Leaf Literary: The blog of a brand-new agency headed by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe

This Literary Life: The stylish and thought-provoking blog of Bree Ogden, agent with D4EO Literary Agency.

Magical Words: Featuring posts on helpful topics by several literary agents and published authors.

Confessions: Posts by agent Suzie Townsend.

Janet Reid, Literary Agent: Posts by agent Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management. This blog in particular contains a wealth of information and blunt advice for writers. Janet has also been known to host contests.

Query Shark: Janet Reid, master shark of the query waters, also maintains this blog where she dices queries to bits. Enter yours, if you dare! Reading the archives is one of the most entertaining and alarming things you’ll do as a writer.

Pub Rants: Maintained by agent Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency. Personal, informative posts about all things literary.

Rachelle Gardner: Posts by Rachelle with Books and Such Literary Agency. Many of these posts contain enormously helpful information on the daily life of a successful author- taxes, social media, and the changing publishing landscape are all covered.

Coffee. Tea. And Literary: Blog of the Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation.  Contests are occasionally run here as well.

Kathleen Ortiz: Agent with Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation.

Glass Cases: Blog of the fabulous agent Sarah LaPolla with Curtis Brown, Ltd., featuring short stories, flash fiction, and memoir and novel excerpts from readers.

dhs liter show + tell: The wide-ranging blog of DHS Literary/Inkwell Management.

DGLM: Blog maintained by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. Frequent posts revealing the world of publishing and writing in valuable detail.

Full Circle Literary: Blog of Full Circle Literary, with archives going back to 2006.

Et in arcaedia, ego. Blog of Jennifer Jackson, powerhouse agent and Vice President of Donald Maass Literary Agency. Frequent “query wars” reports  and contests. Archives back to 2003.

The Knight Agency: Blog of The Knight Agency- fantastic recent post on preparing your manuscript for submission.

Lucienne Diver’s Drivel: News, advice, and entertainment from author, agent, and superhero Lucienne Diver.

Agent Savant: “publishing morsels from Laurie McLean.”

Agent in the Middle: posts by RT-award-winning literary agent Lori Perkins.

KT Literary: blog from “shoe-obsessed superagent Daphne Unfeasible.” Immensely informative peeks into her query pile included.

Call My Agent!: Blog from Australian “Agent Sydney.” Emailed questions will be answered in a blog post.

Writing and Rambling- A Literary Agent’s Industry Musings: posts by Nephele Tempest.

Fresh Books, Inc.: infrequent but substantial posts from Fresh Books literary agent and founder Matt Wagner.

All that’s new(s) from A to Z: posts from The Zack Company, Inc.

Ask the Agent: Posts from Andy Ross.

Kidlit: Blog from YA and children’s lit agent Mary Kole.

The Forest for the Trees: Maintained by Betsy Lerner- author, ex-editor and agent with Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary Agency.

Between the Lines: Business Blog of Books and Such Literary Agency

Jennifer Represents: the blog of Jennifer Laughran, children’s and YA fiction agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Jill Corcoran Books: posts from Jill Corcoran, children’s book agent with Herman Agency.

Agent Incite: Posts from agent Mike Kabongo

Red Sofa Literary: Red Sofa’s agency blog. Eclectic industry news.

Babbles from Scott Eagan: posts from Scott Eagan from Greyhaus Literary Agency. Frank and unique presentations of industry news and advice.

Slush Pile Hell: “one grumpy literary agent, a sea of query fails, and other publishing nonsense.” Sometimes it helps to see what not to do in your query.

The Steve Laube Agency:  Browse it and learn from it- you’ll love it. Fantastic “News You Can Use” feature.

Upstart Crow Literary: new book announcements, advice on getting published, and more.

Navigating the Slush Pile: “Agent and book lover discovers the world of publishing one fast paced, eye opening step at a time, armed with only a handful of books and an English Lit Degree.” Posts by Vickie Motter, agent with Andrea Hurst Literary Management.

Inactive Blogs

BookEnds, LLC- A Literary Agency: Recently inactive, but chock-full of must-read posts on submissions, query letter samples, and pitch lines.

Fox Literary: Blog of Diana Fox of boutique agency Fox Literary.

Miss Snark, the literary agent: Inactive since 2007, but still a valuable resource.

Deep, Deep Thoughts: informative posts from John Jarrold of John Jarrold Literary Agency.

B.G. Literary: inactive blog of Barry Goldblatt Literary.

The Rejecter: Blog of a super-secret agent. See if you can find out who it is! Contains fantastic archives going back to 2006.

Lyons Literary LLC: “tips and quips on publishing from a literary agent,” Jonathan Lyons, formerly of Curtin Brown, Ltd., and McIntosh & Otis, Inc.

A Gent’s Outlook: inactive since 2007, but still valuable archives.

Blogs Interviewing Agents

Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog featuring new agent alerts, “How I Got Published” stories, conference/event spotlights, and author interviews.

Hunger Mountain: The VCFA journal of the arts Listed by interview type, the archives contain interviews with authors and agents.

Algonkian Writer Classes: Online Workshops and National Conferences for Agents: Great list of interviews with well-known agents.

Stacey O’Neale: Writer, Publicist, Superhero.  Most of these interviews are very recent and therefore most likely to contain accurate information.

Agent Advice: “a series of quick interviews with literary and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else.”

Literary Rambles: “spotlighting children’s book authors, agents, and publishing.” The agent spotlights are invaluable for personalizing your query letter.

Mother. Write. (Repeat.) Long list of agent interviews. Be sure to check out the main page of this blog for “how I got my agent” stories, contests, and more.

YA Highway: Writers hosting contests, introducing agents, and collecting publishing news. Fantastic resource.

Comment to let me know what you think of these! I’d love to hear any agent-related blogs you follow. I’ll add them to the list! As always, thanks for reading.

A Chat with Folio Literary Management and Brendon Burchard

In querying agents, I came across this video featuring powerhouse agent Scott Hoffman and NYT best-selling author Brendon Burchard. I strongly recommend watching it. Hoffman and Burchard deliver worthwhile content about standard book advances, working with a backlist, the author-agent relationship, and traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.  Additionally, they discuss how Burchard earned his multiple 7-figure book deals.

What are you currently doing to position, package, promote, and partner?

Which social media networks do you think are key- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads… which ones are absolutely necessary?

Do you “block time” to write?

Do you promote yourself in some way besides social media?

Comment with your professional development strategies, regardless of your field. I’d love to hear your tips!

Knee-Deep: Query Letters, Agent Blogs, Publishers Marketplace

Stressful experiences apparently can leave you with a strong sense of accomplishment. Finally, after several weeks dedicating significant blocks of time to researching agents, building my agent list, over-analyzing my query letter, bemoaning the much more difficult  (for me) synopsis, and painstakingly assembling the requested materials for each individual agent, I have begun to contact agents. Two wanted a simple, unadorned query letter. One wanted a query letter and a synopsis. Another’s site required a query letter, synopsis, the first three chapters, and an author bio (that was a lengthy email). Each agent seems to request something different, which is totally within rights. Naturally, after each email is sent, I panic that I spelled the agent’s name wrong, or used the wrong gender address, or included the incorrect materials. Thankfully, I don’t think I’ve done any of those things yet.

Publishers Marketplace has been remarkably helpful. For $20, I get a month of access. The top dealmakers search sorts agents by a few performance statistics, the “who represents” search enables me to find who represented a certain book, and the deal makers search enables me to search for agents by criteria, for example: fiction, debut. If you’re going to spend money one place in the agent search process, I say do it there.

Of course, there’s a lot more to do- many rejects to go through, many more agents to query, and probably revisions still to make as I find new and better information. I  got my first rejection this morning, actually- a personal rejection, not a form rejection, and I’ve heard that’s a good thing. The agent simply didn’t like my specific topic. I’m taking this to mean that I am one rejection closer to acceptance.

As a final note, agent blogs are wonderful things. Jenny Bent’s blog is a good one, as is Lauren Ruth’s blog, SlushPileTales. Query Shark, too, is remarkably helpful for writing a query letter.

Next week I hope to be more settled in the process and post a book review, so keep checking back!

Please post a comment with any agent blog that you like to recommend.

As always, thanks for reading!

 

Querying Agents

Here’s a bonus post for your Sunday night, because I am so excited that I have to write about it.

I am finished with my novel! 110,000 words of literary fantasy. This moment has been two years coming, so I feel justified in posting about it.  But… now that I have it written, I want others to read it, so… the celebration can’t last long. On to finding an agent.

I have a draft of my query letter, about which I feel uncertain, so I clearly have to improve it.  I’m finding Query Shark to be immensely useful, as have been a number of other tools I plan on writing about later, but no one appears to be answering a few questions I have. For example: Do I mention that this book is the first of a series and can’t really stand alone? I know I shouldn’t query about multiple projects at once- but does that mean I shouldn’t mention that this is the first of a series? Would it help or hinder? If you know anything about this, please comment! I’d love the in-put.

Researching agents is turning out to be a complicated process, as Noah Lukeman‘s How to Land (and Keep) A Literary Agent warned me. Writer’s Digest, Publisher’s Lunch, Publisher’s Marketplace…again great tools. I can already tell it’s going to take me weeks, if not months, to compile the information I need, since I am also a full-time teacher.

Anyone have favorite tips, tools, or advice on finding agents, writing query letters, or researching agents themselves? I’d love to hear from you!