Saturday, September 14, 2013

It was New Adult all along

I have a novel entitled Finding Mulligan and it's about a teenage girl going to college.

I wrote this book after my first attempt at Bad Fairy turned out to be monstrously long, striking gold with agents until they saw the word count. I figured hey, let me try a YA story, and maybe it will be shorter. Well, not only was it still not particularly short for YA (at 120,000 words or so), but it was apparently in a no-man's-land of book genres. It was a story set in college. No one wanted it.

And I was told so, with that reason cited, several times.

Of course, this was several years ago, before New Adult exploded onto the scene in the giant buzzword-powered wave we're seeing now.

It's clear to me now that I have written a New Adult novel. Today I read this article, which inspired my blog post:

Industry Perspective: New Adult FAQs

Several familiar names--mostly, for me, the agents--weigh in on what New Adult is all about and what they think, from a publishing-industry perspective. What struck me as interesting was that the agents kept stressing that New Adult is not Young Adult With Sex and that it is WAY more than a "romance genre," but the publishers seemed to somewhat disagree--all of them said they expect to see a major romantic plot. Hmm.

Well, I guess none of that is a huge deal to me, because my NA, Finding Mulligan, is indeed driven by its central romance. Cassie is just starting as a freshman in college, overjoyed to get away from her home life and out of the shadow of her younger sister, whose chronic illness has always forced her into the background. But she's also got a whole second life she's dealing with: At night, Cassie travels to a utopian dreamland where she has a secondary persona. There, she's known as Dia, and everyone in dreamland thinks she's amazing and awesome. But when she meets a hot guy named Mulligan in dreamland and finds out he has his own second life, she's determined to find his other self in the waking world. The plot thickens when she finds herself attracted to both of her most likely suspects, and she has to do some serious wrestling with her identity and confidence before she can execute her detective work and find her love.

There's no sex in it. There's some dorky longing and awkward flirting and attraction experiences that sound more like "tingles" and "warmth" and "flushed faces," but it's a pretty innocent book. The big reason a lot of people want to market as NA instead of YA is that their romances are more mature than anyone feels confident marketing to "kids," but I agree with some of the agents' perspectives in interpreting NA as books about what comes next, whatever that happens to be. Not everyone's maturation to adulthood and early independent adult years have to feature their sexual relationships, for God's sake. Cassie has just gone to college and is carving out her identity. That's about as quintessentially New Adult as I can fathom.

But what kind of bothers me is that I was told so many times that there was no place for this back when I was presenting it as YA (for lack of a better option). I was even told a couple times that the solution for my problem would be to uproot Cassie from college and stick her in a boarding school. That way, people said, I wouldn't have the stigma of having a college protagonist that nobody in publishing wanted to touch with a ten-foot pole, but I could still have Cassie living away from home as the plot required.

That would have been wholly inappropriate for the character. The things she did were college things. The mental place she was in was a brink-of-a-new-life now I'm an adult mindset. And on top of that, Cassie first becomes aware of Mulligan because of a painting on her bathroom door. Who in a boarding school is going to be allowed to paint a bathroom door and leave it there for a new resident to find? I mean, yeah, there are all kinds of plot points that could have been moved around, but why? Just so I could unnaturally squeeze the story into something that didn't scare agents, for a seemingly arbitrary reason? Why were they saying that college protagonists don't sell, anyway?

Well, I guess they were right, because agents have to be conservative; they have to follow the money and the publishing deals, and it's not them who are being close-minded. But now publishers are excited for New Adult. Something has changed in the industry so that what was once a leper of a book might now have an actual chance.

Just goes to show you . . . listen to yourself when it comes to the soul of your novels, and maybe a window of opportunity will open for you.

Maybe I'll be able to get this out there after all. . . .


  1. The MS I'm querying now is a freshman in college too. And I totally looked over if I could switch it to YA by doing the boarding school thing, but I'd just loose too much of the story. It wouldn't have been right.

  2. My newest novel has a protagonist who's about 21/22. I originally had her at 18, but there is sex in the novel and there is sex with two men... one of whom is older. I have a friend who's a YA librarian, and I asked if it was YA or adult and she said not YA - it's too sexy. So I think that New Adult would be the perfect genre for mine as well! Wooo!