Saturday, December 8, 2012

New Adult Fiction vs. the Literary World

You know how agents and authors are always telling you to write the story that needs to be told and not to worry about following the trends? I think this is true. Except when it comes to New Adult Fiction.

Now, in case you aren't familiar with "New Adult" Fiction, here's the gist of it: A couple years ago, St. Martin's Press thought it would be a great idea to introduce a new genre of fiction with main characters age 18-24. After all, the readers who bought Harry Potter and Twilight have to grow up sometimes, right? They held a pitch contest and the winners got a book. From what I can tell, none of the winners were ever published, other than in E-Book format, and that is most likely by their own accord.

The books St. Martin's did publish under this "new genre" was a re-launch of the Sweet Valley High books... where Jessica and Elizabeth are ten years out of high school and torn apart by some horrid secret. (As a quick review... I read the book... I read the first few chapters... I could not go on. It was so much less than I expected. From what I can tell, only two books were ever printed, and there are an additional four stories as part of the E-serial. I'm not saying the books were horribly disappointing... I'll leave that to those who posted reviews.)

But the cat was out of the bag and writers, like me, who were writing books about college students, or the recently graduated college students had reason to hope that this relatively untapped corner of the market would open up. We wrote about being on your own for the first time, not having mom and dad there to help you make your decisions, having to clean up your own mess (literally and figuratively), etc. And a couple have gotten past the gatekeeper to book deals. Cora Carmack, author of Losing It, comes to mind, but her success is a rarity.

Here's the thing, in the literary world, it's not the writers who run the show. It's not the agents. It's not even the publishing houses. It's the retail chains. If Barnes and Noble doesn't like the title or the cover, it gets changed. Publishing houses have to pay for prime placement in the stores. It's the way capitalism works. I get that, and I'm not complaining. It is what it is. However, for this "emerging market", B&N is the only nail needed to put it in it's coffin.

At my first writer's conference, I was ready to pitch my novel, The Partizans. But as the weekend went on, the only thing I heard from agents is how I really needed to make my 19 year old college sophomore a high school student. One of them actually suggested I have the story unfold in a prep academy, "which is almost the same as college, so I wouldn't have to do much revising". Except that this book is intended to be part of a series. A series in which the characters struggle with balancing their destiny with their desire to have normal lives. There's a wedding in the future. Babies. Learning that sometimes love isn't enough to get you through the rough patches. (And before someone says, Yeah, didn't they do that in Twilight, just don't.)

Back to my point: I wanted my characters to be in college. I wanted them to explore their freedoms and experience what it's like to have your dreams tampered with by reality. I didn't want them to be in a prep school... like so many books that were coming out at that time.

But that's exactly what I did. I made my MC three years younger, took out a couple scenes I felt inappropriate for the YA crowd and sold out. I told myself I was doing it for the right reasons. I wanted to be an author, not someone who writes just for my friends and family. I forgot the most important person I was writing for: ME.

Since I wrote this book, I've had some interest, but it's a paranormal, so most of the time I get the "saturation of the market" bit. After thinking about it, I decided to pull the book back and planned to submit it later, when the market wasn't so saturated. But it's been bugging me. Since doing this, I've written two more books. One is a first in the series YA Thriller with a "pre-dystopian" slant and the  other is a YA Ghost story ( think Mean Girls meets A Christmas Carole). But the Partizans has been on my mind a lot lately. The second version, or "The Academy" version is okay, but honestly, I don't have the passion about it that I had when I first wrote it. And as you can tell from my posts, being passionate about what you do with your time and your life are important to me... so much so that it's my mantra and will someday be my tag with my signature! (Coming to a book store near you in 20??.)

Last night, I decided it was time for a change. I decided it was time to stay true to my creativity and vision. So after I'm done with revisions on Replay, I'm going back to the Partizans. I'm taking what I have learned about writing these last two years and am making one more revision pass. Then I'm sending it out. And if every single agent turns me down, I'm doing something I said I would never do: I'm going to prepare it for self-publishing. I refuse to let a bookseller have so much control over the industry that it impacts the passion I have for my own work. I will not let my creativity and vision be hijacked by the layout of a store. Yes, by self-publishing, I will lose my "debut" novel status and thus be ineligible for several awards, but I didn't make sacrifices to be a writer on the chance I might win some prize. I made them because I want to share my stories with others. And if there isn't space on the shelf, I'm pretty sure I can find room on the internet.

So BE PASSIONATE about what you love and don't let anyone make you second-guess yourself! Be who you are and do what you love!


  1. I thought this was an awesome article. I think that, among actual READERS, there is a lot of interest in the emerging NA market. I definitely think the bookstores got it wrong this time. Good for you on sticking to the book you know you want to write. I wish you the best of luck with it!!

  2. wow Sarah, awesome.I hear grit and spice here. You inspire me. Thanks for sharing. I didn't realize the bookstores could dictate the title and the picture.