Monday, June 10, 2013

New Adult--a ramble

So I've been thinking about my next book and the publishing opportunities available for me. Oh I know, I hear you--"JULIE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? You already have two books on submission! Why on Earth are you thinking about this now? DON'T YOU HAVE ENOUGH GOING ON?" Well, you know. I mean, you know. Anyway, I'll discuss that in a minute.

I've just been to a chat event on Figment in which the topic was the emerging New Adult genre. The event featured New Adult authors Lisa Desrochers and Molly McAdams, as well as editors Tessa Woodward and Amanda Bergeron (who bought their books). I'd like to discuss my thoughts on New Adult and what we talked about in the chat!

I am super interested in New Adult as a genre. It always puzzled me that Young Adult seemed to cut off right after high school and then stuff aimed at adults kicked in, starting up when they'd already made a name for themselves in the adult world. Where was college? Getting the first job? Interning for no pay? Student debt? RAGING insecurity? Starting a family? Finding your niche as an adult? So when I saw Figment was hosting this chat, I signed up. (I don't post my work on Figment, but I like jumping around in the forums engaging with other writers and giving them querying advice, and this is the second writer/editor chat I've been to. It's pretty excellent.)

Anyway, once upon a time, a few years back, I was querying a lovely little "problem child" manuscript called Finding Mulligan. I hit agent after agent with my sort-of-fantasy story about a fractured college student whose two personalities are in love with different guys in different worlds. (Is that cheating? I'm still not sure.) And you know what these agents kept saying?

"No. Nobody's buying YA set in college. No way, no how. (Okay there are exceptions but you're probably not it.)"

And the thing is, my story was very much a young-adult-flavor story. The main character is seventeen, and her story is much more about her quest for self than it is about her romance. Coming-of-age type stories always seemed to be primarily the realm of YA, but I didn't think the only way you could write a coming-of-age story would be to deal directly with high school and puberty. This story is about finding yourself. Clawing your way into the adult world and figuring out who you are. Establishing the tone of your personality for the rest of your life, and exploring what that means. (You know, along with a few hot guys to make it interesting.)

Yeah, these two are pretty cute.
And yet, one agent who turned it down even told me I should rewrite the whole thing in a boarding school to avoid that college stigma. You'll have to trust me when I say that would not have made any sense for these characters, considering the things they get away with and the expectations they're saddled with and the lack of supervision that enables my protagonist to get herself into the pickle she does. The advice was to uproot the characters from the organic environment they were grown in--the one that makes the most sense--and stick them in boarding school so a couple sentences in the pitch would squeak better in a publisher's ear.

Enter New Adult. 

In the chat, I sat and watched line after line go by affirming the appropriateness of the tone and message I've written in my story. New Adult is about those first experiences on your own. New Adult is about transition from child to adult. New Adult is that scary time when you're trying to figure out where you fit--where you're thrown into a sink-or-swim environment that can make or break your future. The only thing I didn't nod along with is when the authors and editors involved seemed to agree that New Adult should have a focus on romance, justified by the fact that forming adult relationships is assumed to be part of every adult person's journey toward maturity. As an aromantic asexual woman who does not experience romantic attraction, I kiiiiiinda disagree with that, and I don't like the common assumption that everyone's maturing process features romantic relationships. That said, it absolutely is true that coming of age requires an examination of how we pursue intimacy, what relationships we want, and how we establish those relationships in our lives. It just doesn't always have to be sexual or romantic to be mature.

And I guess since my book does feature romance front and center it's moot in my case anyway. Feh.

I was unable to sell a literary agent on my YA-in-college book and I ended up pursuing representation for something more traditional. My fantasy trilogy is now agented and on submission to publishers, but my fiction agent did ask me what else I've got. We had a conversation about Finding Mulligan. I explained my difficulties to my agent and told her the college setting was apparently a problem. She told me she'd be willing to look at it, and said "I'll be honest with you if I think I wouldn't be able to sell it." I have yet to show it to her because I'd like to focus on getting my fantasy trilogy sold, but in the meantime I am of course looking forward to what's next. I plan to be doing this whole writing books thing for life, yo. (There's a science fiction romance from a male perspective sitting on my back burner too. Alas.) And I'm thinking New Adult may just be my salvation here.

New Adult will let my protagonist struggle out on her own, free for the first time of her parents' restrictions . . . and pinwheeling a bit without their support. New Adult will let her flounder around trying to grasp where she'll be in four years, and it'll let her be alone with an older guy in her room, make some terrible decisions, and sneak into a club with no shoes on. It'll let her do the "who am I?" thing as the two different versions of her try to figure out who they love and who is doing the loving, and it'll let her pretend to disapprove as her best friend makes it with her TA. It'll let her dig up all kinds of really frightening aspects of her childhood that are influencing who she becomes as a grown-up, and it'll let her finally take possession of the talents she's buried for years and make them her own in a constructive way. She'll discover love, discover ambition, discover self. And she'll do all these things without being repainted as a high school kid just because the publishing industry thought it'd be a safer bet.

Let's go, you crazy kids. There's a genre for y'all after all.

New Adult, here I come.

Thank you to the authors and editors who weighed in on the chat. Check out Molly McAdams's books Stealing Harper, Taking Chances, and From Ashes, and look for Lisa Desrochers's upcoming New Adult title A Little Too Far as well as the already-available Personal Demons series.


  1. I'm switching from YA to NA. The nice thing about NA is it's an unknown quantity and doesn't have too many rules yet. Good luck with your NA and all your writing! :-)

    1. I think so too, but I'm kinda disappointed that so many people believe it's YA with more sex. We shall see what shakes out. . . .