New Adult: The Misfit Genre

So. Today is my twenty-first birthday.

*cue confetti and applause*

Yes, yes, I know - it's an amazing feat, to have made it this far. In lieu of gifts and well wishes, please send alcohol.

(Okay, maybe no alcohol - my parents read this blog. Hi, Mom and Dad!)

And although I've only been twenty-one for a few hours, I'm already consumed with this one burning question:

What am I going to read?

In all seriousness, this has been on my mind a lot recently. Not too long ago I beta-read an amazing manuscript. The main character was a college freshman; her friends were quirky nerds and preppy sorority girls. They struggled with self-esteem and identity crises and relationships and parents' expectations. In short, they were young adults.

But the author was told by several agents that they couldn't sell a YA novel about college students.

The general rule in literature is that college kids are misfits. Some books with college-aged narrators fall under the adult category; some fall under the YA category; but mostly, they don't exist at all.

In some ways, it's understandable - 19-year-olds are technically still teens. But they're also living in dorms and paying rent and shopping for groceries. They're straddling that line between adulthood and childhood.

Which is exactly where I am.

Personally, I'd love to see more young adult literature about...young adults. Does anyone feel the same? Can you guys recommend any books about college-aged students?




29 comments:

  1. Argh, I just had a really long comment that Blogger decided to get rid of, but the gist of it was that I wish there were more serious novels about people in college. The only ones I can think of are about a specific type of girl (Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities and Chloe Does Yale) and don't really explore the awkwardness of trying on adulthood for the first time and the strange reality of college life. I would love to read a book about someone in college who was dealing with the craziness of college life on a more realistic level.

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  2. Happy birthday!!!

    And to answer the question: definitely, I'd love to see more books about college students being published. The problems they face may be different from high school students but they're still young adults! I think college students are expected to just jump from YA to adult fiction, when most adult fiction doesn't deal with the college experience. Which is what a lot of college students (and high school students looking ahead, too) would like to read about!

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  3. I'm going to be the downer and disagree. The life experiences of people post-high school are too diverse to accurately represent. Because I'm not following the typical post-secondary university path, I wouldn't be interested in reading about it. Also, I tend to feel aliened by the American university culture (sororities, frat houses, something to do with the Greeks?) because I'm Canadian.

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  4. I am reading KINDRED by Tammar Stein and at the beginning of the book, the MC is in college.

    Also, AN OFF YEAR by Claire Zulkey is about a college age student who decides to take a year off an do nothing.

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  5. First, happy birthday!

    I've actually wondered about this situation before and why there aren't a lot of books about the college experience (I haven't read them, but Megan McCafferty's series? Part of those were set in college, right?)

    Is the demand there? Maybe it is. I didn't read much for "fun" books in college, but being an English major I was so busy trying to keep up with godforsaken Clarissa and Joseph Andrews. (Blech.)

    I guess my conclusion was that college students are 1) poor, and can't afford to buy unrequired books, 2) college/university libraries don't exactly display and promote fiction books, so 3) publishers aren't too interested in them.

    Maybe I am wrong. I'd be cool with that. I wish I'd read more modern fiction, especially literary, in college

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  6. Happy Birthday! I usually lurk but I had to weigh in. The first book I wrote was set in college but I got the same thing--it couldn't be marketed (although that could have been agents being nice ;-)). One agent told me it had to start in high school and then move to college for any chance. I'm not sure why.

    I agree that college experiences are vastly different from each other, but I think high school experiences are, too (hey, some of them are wizards :-)). And college students are broke but I think they read as much as the rest of us. When I was in college I read more and when I taught Freshman I got the idea that they did the same. Perhaps I'm just super-wishful, but maybe it's just not a market that's cracked yet. I hope!!

    Diana Peterfreund has some really fun college books starting with Secret Society Girl. I also think Greek (the TV show) is fantastic, even though it is of course not a book. Sadly I can't think of many others!

    Regardless, I hope it's something that changes.

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  7. i just read a post by an agent who said college characters don't sell because college kids are too busy to read.

    but if we all like to read about the slightly-ahead protag, then it makes sense that h.s. students would be interested in reading about college. and "felicity" was certainly enjoyed by many post-grads.

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  8. Happy Birthday!

    I agree. I'm 22 and I'd really like more college-aged lit. I'd also like to write it. Sometimes I feel like my YA characters are in situations they might not really be in at that age, but... they can't be 19!

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  9. Happy Birthday! When I was in college I read Psych Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson and loved it! I really think there should be more college books. There are so many great topics to tackle. It's the first time you live on your own, start paying bills, have to make new friends all over again, maybe discover a new city, relationships become more serious, you have to be serious about eduction while at the same time there are parties where alcohol and drugs are a lot more accessible. There can also be great moments of learning where you discover what you really love and want to do and how ignorant you really are. How big the world really is!

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  10. I hate The Secret History, but I guess it counts.

    I'm at a loss for more New Adult book. It's so hard to pinpoint where the genre would start and how it would end. Especially when there are so many Young Adult books that span from age 13-19. If anything the division should be 12-14 and 15-16 and 17->.

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  11. I sort of get the feeling the lack of books about college geared towards college kids is because a lot of people in college don't read. Or at least not for fun. I know that's a pretty broad generilization, but for all three years of my university career, I just didn't have time to read for pleasure.

    When I was a teenager I devoured books, but then I hit Uni, the workload got heavier and suddenly I was shleping huge History of Art tomes back and forth and even the kids I knew who did English were too knee deep in Hardy and Lady Chatterly's Lover to actually read anything for non academic reasons. And I think after spending nine hours straight in a library you tend to go to the bar or to TV relax.

    I can actually pinpoint exactly the moment I returned to reading for pleasure as the moment I finished my finals. I was literally sitting in the grass, most of my friends still had their finals because History of Art exams were some of the earliest, and it just occured to me really suddenly "I need a book!" and I ended up 20 minutes later leaving Borders with 'The Murder of Roger Ackroyd'. I didn't HAVE to read anything anymore so I returned to being a compulsive reader for fun.

    Again, I know it's a generalization, but, thinking about it, I wouldn't say college aged kids are a very good demographic from a publisher's point of view. A typical college student is short on cash and time, and reading and pleasure become dychotomic. Which is probably one of the big reasons there are so few books about college for college.

    There are on the other hand, now that I think about it, quite a few books that deal with the last summer after high school/before college. Sarah Dessen's books come to mind, or Lauren Oliver's 'Delerium'. Transitional summers pretty much seem to be as far away as most YA seems willing to get from High School.

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  12. Happy Birthday!!

    I'm usually a bystander on these blogs (not, you know, one of those creepy hide-behind a light pole bystanders) but since I think of the very few after high school YA novels as the "misfit genre" I felt the urge to comment.

    I've always wondered why there were very few novels for the 17 and up age group. I am also one of those (aspiring) writers whose MS was turned down because "the content is good but the young adult audience for characters already out of high school is too limited". Honestly, I knew this before even submitting it. But, hey, it doesn't hurt to try! :)

    Another thing we have to think about is not everyone takes the college route. Some join the military. Some take a year off. Get married. Have a kid. Then they may go to college. Or not.
    My point is--although this does not apply to all genres--people usually read (for fun) what they relate to OR what helps them escape whatever reality they are facing.

    I kind of agree with some of the other comments when they say college kids don't read. Now that may be because of their busy schedules (be it studying, partying, jobs, whathaveyou) but maybe it is also because there isn't a lot out there that relates to them or their situation.

    Maybe the audience is too limited because there just isn't enough out there to peak their interest.

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  13. Happy Birthday!

    Earlier in my twenties I too wanted more books about that age crossing from childhood to adulthood and even tried aiming a novel at an audience not really catered for. I gave up and went for YA instead. I do remember reading a bunch of Point Horror books when I was a lot younger with college freshman as the leads. I don't really think they were aimed at college students though...

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  14. Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl series is a fantastic one (all her books are amazing). In those, not only are the characters in college, but they are juniors/seniors in college. Neither young adult or adult. I like this "new adult" genre. It will be interesting to see what happens to it as today's YA readers grow up.

    Also, Sarah Dessen's Along for the Ride is about a girl in the summer after high school before she goes to college (another must read).

    I'm 22, but I found that once I got out of college, all I wanted to read was YA. While I like Peterfreund's NA (new adult, yes let's make this a trend!) books, I'd much rather read YA. Perhaps it was all that 19th century lit I had to read in college, I'd prefer reading something 'simpler' now.

    O and happy bday! Welcome to "adulthood."

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  15. Happy belated birthday!!

    I've talked to other bloggers about this subject. It's nearly impossible to find a YA book that takes place in college. I don't know if there really isn't any interest in it or what because I'd read it. I'm just out of college, but I still see myself as toeing that line between young adulthood and actual adulthood.

    Even when people get older and graduate high school, they still deal with all the emotions and the issues they had when they were in high school, so I don't really understand why there isn't a market for post high school YA. I know St. Martin's Press has developed New Adult that caters specifically to college-age YA stories, but aside from that it's rare to find anything.

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  16. I'm waaay past college age (sigh), but I think one problem publishers/booksellers might see with this "genre" is where to put it on the shelves. There's already some controversy in edgy or issue books being available to the 11-15-year-old crowd browsing the YA shelves. College-age books would bring in even more books involving drinking, drugs, sex, abortion, abuse, etc. But put them on the general fiction shelves and they could be hard to find...I don't know what the solution would be (sorry).

    There are books out there that start and move quickly through childhood and school years, have a bulk of it in young adulthood and then touch on the later years. She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb comes to mind. Or, to go way back, The Thorn Birds (has young adulthood of 2 generations, actually).

    Good luck and happy birthday!
    erica

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  17. I know what you mean. My MC's are primarily about 19-22. It's very difficult to know how to classify. I just hate writing about high school. It's so BORING. I saw a post about the differences between YA and Adult literature. They said it all had to do with voice. YA is more 'I' focused and Adult is more 'everything else' focused. All in all, the line is really thin.

    If you want a good college-aged book, I'd recommend "Diary of an Emotional Idiot" by Maggie Estep. It's more of an 'I' focused book, but the content is more on the adult side.

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  18. Definitely a neglected age group in books! I'd love to see more college-aged main characters.

    And happy birthday!!!!!! The wine is on the way ;)

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  19. I remember as a junior and senior all the teen magazines were jammed with articles about college. I couldn't get enough of reading them. College was a big, mysterious thing that loomed ahead of me and I wanted to know more. I was also one of those kids who loved Felicity when I was in high school. So, the market for New Adult may not just be college-aged kids.

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  20. I would have loved to read books about college in high school! I didn't really have anyone to grill about their college experience - my older brother is eight years ahead of me - and this was right before Facebook really hit to give me a glimpse at the secret life of my slightly older friends.

    To be fair, when I was in college I wouldn't have had the time or inclination to hear about other college students since I went to an untraditional school and wouldn't have related to books about frat houses, etc. I'm not certain that now that I've graduated would change that unless the topics covered in college fiction broadened beyond frat/sorority life. Wish I had recommendations for you, but mostly I'm only bringing up post-college new-adult that blurs into standard literary fiction (and if you want that, I'd recommend Gary Shteyngart because I see so much of my college experiences in his characters - probably because we went to the same school :-P).

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  21. I think of WANDERLOVE, my 2012 book, as borderline new adult. The MC is 18, and the other two main characters are 19 and 20. They're all backpackers, and they needed to be the age they are for independence (and realism) purposes. It'll be interesting to see how it fares :)

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  22. Reading through the comments again, I see so many similarities: not enough time in college, but perhaps the interest is there. We (generalizing here) tend to be big readers in high school, but then get too bogged down in college to spend time pleasure reading, which is unfortunate.

    Is there a way to be proactive and develop an audience here? College campus readings? Marketing geared to this age group.

    Of course, someone would have to write something for this age and convince a publisher to BUY it. Sigh.

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  23. This is a great question and one on my mind as well. I'm currently writing a YA--set in high school--but nearly every other story idea I have right now is with college age characters. I guess I assumed high schoolers would read something like that since people always read "up." Is it really true that publishers are leery of such manuscripts? The "Nanny Diaries" nanny was in college.

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  24. I would love to see literature set in a college setting, but it's true that supposedly there is "no market" for it. I think this is BS, b/c it's based on the fact that there hasn't been a market yet. Bummer.

    I love the TV series Undeclared, which laste like half a season. A book series about dorm life would be awesome.

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  25. Happy birthday! I totally feel the same. I hate that the YA market tends to reject MCs and narrators who are 18 or older. That's one of the biggest transition periods of a person's life; it definitely needs more attention.

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  26. It sounds like the publishing industry needs to come up with a new genre for MC's transitioning to adulthood. I like New Adult. It has a nice ring--and connotation--to it. I also think that if you can't find them, become an indie writer and write/publish them yourself. That's what I would do.

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  27. Happy Birthday! I remember taking my brother out for a drink when he turned 21 and he was disappointed that they didn’t card him.

    I heard mixed reviews of The Ivy by Lauren Kunze set at Harvard, but it came out in 2010, I think. I didn’t read it. The retelling of Jane Eyre released last fall had a 19 year old dropping out of college and getting a job as a nanny for financial reasons. It was good but not great – hard to measure up to the original. Both books are YA.

    I shifted the setting of my WIP from Oxford University down to a fictional English boarding school after guessing that there would be no market for it. Had I kept it in university, it probably would have been adult fiction, but I was unsure. My agent was open to the idea of a university setting. She told me to write it, and she’d figure out how to market it. In the end, however, I thought the story would work better if the characters were a couple of years younger. I’m still working on it now and am happy I made that shift.

    I agree with others who stated that high school teens would be interested in books set at college and also that college kids still read. I read for fun but only on vacations during that time. I also get publishers’ reluctance. My 16 year old barely has time to read for fun in high school. It’s worth remembering that YA is mostly marketed to 12-15 even though the characters are older teens. Those kids have time to read and teachers assign outside fun reading reports.

    I like Celise’s New Adult idea – maybe it could be college and early 20’s. I read a lot right after graduating, commuting to work on the subway.

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  28. There are a growing number of these books, Kindred is one, and I just finished Zero Point: Bond about a college girl who discovers crystals that convey supernarutal powers while she struggles to deal with her nomadic, workaholic mother. Kayla Perrin's Spring Break that involves college girls on Spring Break when one goes missing, also comes to mind. (She does a number of books about the college years) But the majority of the books about college kids are not being Marketed as "YA set in college." Most school librarians will tell you that by the time young people are juniors and seniors they don't want to consider themselves YA and head for the adult shelves. (I was a bit precocious and hit those shelves by 9th grade).

    Maybe New Adult will be a title that will bridge the gap. But I can see an editor looking at a Manuscript the author calls a YA in college and saying "Thanks but no thanks, we can't figure out a way to market that" as opposed to a manuscript about the college years (same book) that they decide they could do something with if they can call it New Adult.

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  29. A few publishers are actually starting to realize the need for the New Adult genre. I hear St. Martin's Press is building a library of these types of books. It's very frustrating because I've been trying to get my book published and it's being rejected because the main character is 21. I was sending the book out as a young adult novel, but everyone keeps telling me 21 is too old. She needs to be a teenager.

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