August 8, 2011

Dear Publishers: "New Adults" Read, Too

Dear Publishers,

When I was in university, I read a lot — and I'm not just referring to the thick textbooks that were required. No, if I was on campus during a break between classes, you were almost guaranteed to find me hanging out in the children's/YA section of the university bookstore. And I wasn't just there for a quick browse. I'd be in there for hours, sitting in a chair if I could get one — and on the floor if I couldn't — and delving into some YA books.

And if the bookstore wasn't open? Well then, I headed over to the Educational Library, where the lower level was full of kids' and YA books. Probably intended for those teachers-to-be to use for their classes, but I'd walk through the stacks, pulling out a pile of books, reading them for a while, and then when I had to leave, checking them out at the desk so I could finish them in my room at residence.

So when I read Jessica Lawlor's recent – and excellent – post on Where Are All The Books For Twenty-Somethings?, and saw a comment suggesting that the reason there are so few books for this age bracket is because publishers think college students don't read, it got me thinking. Yes, there is more academic pressure in college. And yes, when they're not studying a lot of college students are out partying, not raiding the YA section of the bookstore. But not all of them, and not all the time. My reading habits didn't really change that much from high school to university. The selection at the campus libraries and bookstore was different, but I made do with what they had (and when I felt like making the 20-min bus ride in, then I went to Chapters.) But I was still reading YA.

The biggest change was, I didn't want to read about high school anymore. That period of my life was over, and frankly I wasn't keen on reminiscing about it. I was enjoying university life far more than high school, and I wanted to read books about people and events I could relate to. Classes with oh-so-frustrating profs, university club activities, dorm life, getting your first job...not the same-old, same-old stories about high school cliques and prom night. But where were these books? Check the YA section: nope. Check the adult section: nada. They were nowhere to be found.

The selection looks something like this. Only in actual bookstores there IS no "New Adult" section.
I know that some students who had an exceptionally heavy courseload didn't have time to read for fun. But I know others did, because I was lending them YA books from the "library" I'd brought to university. Jaclyn Moriarty's Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Year of Secret Assignments, Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, and Sorcery & Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer all made their way into my university friends' hands. And if I'd had some books with college-aged protagonists, you can bet I'd have been lending those as well. 

Admittedly, there have been a few popping up in the YA section recently — ones like Psych Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson, An Off Year by Claire Zulkey, and Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott. I'd like to see ones for all different experiences for this age group, be it college, a trade school, a first job, a gap year around Europe, getting married, etc. Generally, I'd just like to see MORE of them. And if they were easier to find, that would be appreciated as well. Right now it feels like looking for a needle in a haystack. What do you search under? "College-aged protagonists"? "Older YA"? Or the term St. Martin's Press coined, "new adults"?

Publishers, I'm not sure what you expect readers who have grown up on YA to do when they reach this age. Do you think these people will just stop reading? Or will miraculously hurdle over this massive gap into adult fiction about 30-year-olds? Or will be perfectly content to keep on heading down memory lane to high school? Whatever the rationale, I don't think it's working — at least judging by how often this category popped up on the Top Ten Tuesday lists last week, as something the blogger wanted to see more.

So, please...the next time you receive a manuscript for a YA book with a 19- or 20- or 21-year-old protagonist, don't tell the author to drop the age and put the character in high school. Don't write off college-aged people as being unlikely to pick up a book. Instead, just give us a book we'll want to pick up.


A 23-Year-Old Who Still Loves to Read for Fun


  1. AMEN.
    I mean, I still love YA but after finishing HS it feels like sometimes I want to move onto something new and well, there's nothing there! Love the post, I would totally jump at the chance to read more new adult.

  2. Brilliant post. I completely agree. I can never find that middle ground between Teen YA and Adult and that is something I would very much wish to see more of on the shelves.

  3. New adults sounds like I'm born again or something lol
    I'd love to read about characters my age, I feel like they could bring a different..something to a story. Were adults but more carefree :P

  4. You know, now that I think about it, in college I went all fantasy-heavy in my reading to cope with the 'not sure what to read now' conundrum. Weird! I didn't even notice... but I'm sure I'd check out 'New Adult' if it became a 'thing.'

    I believe Diana Peterfreund wrote an 'in-between' ages sort of series - you should check it out!

  5. Absolutely, I agree. I love YA like woah, but sometimes I definitely want to read about people my age, or at least 18 or over without going to the opposite extreme and reading adult books, which I find boring (though there are exceptions, of course). I loved 'Flat-Out Love' for a lot of reasons, but I especially enjoyed that the main character was entering her freshman year in college, since you don't get to see that a lot.

    I'm not sure why this age group is so taboo... I know when I was in university I was frustrated by the fact that I couldn't find those books with people my age, experiencing those first years. I think maybe I need to start a tag on goodreads or something to keep track of books with people this age, because I know a lot of people are looking for books with that age group.

  6. Fantastic post! I agree with everything you said!

  7. I really enjoyed Meg Cabot's Heather Wells books in uni. I was a resident assistant with Res Life and so was she! We passed SIZE 12 IS NOT FAT around Res Life and it was so funny!!!!

  8. @Audrey: I know, that's exactly the feeling I had! Like, okay, now let's move on to the "college" books...oh wait. There aren't any!

    @The Happy Booker: Thanks! Yes, it's that middle ground that just seems to get left out :(

    @Laura: LOLLLLL born again :D I think you're right, "new adults" could bring something fresh and different to the equation.

    @Cecelia: Yes, I think that's one reason I started reading a lot of fantasy for a while - because it didn't matter nearly so much which ages the characters were, since they were off in some fantastical world where high school didn't exist! And thanks for the suggestion :)

    @Ashley: I've seen some positive reviews of Flat-out Love, sounds like it's right up my alley! And it would be awesome to start a tag or list on Goodreads for these sorts of books...would make it so much easier to find if they were all in one place!

    @Jenni Elyse: Thanks! :D

    @A Backwards Story: I think I read the first couple books in that series and you're right, they're quite entertaining!

  9. I completely agree as well! Now that I'm in university, it would be nice to find more novels with characters that are my age. I'm beginning to feel a bit old if I'm reading a book where the MC is only 15 or 16.

    I love both Alicia Thompson's Psych Major Syndrome and Elizabeth Scott's Stealing Heaven!! Love Story by Jennifer Echols is another novel set in college as well! (But, seriously, I wish there were some more!)

    What a great post, Danya! :)

  10. I was just going to rant about this. I agree. I like the Magicians, which is like Harry Potter only in college with drinking and sex and all that good stuff. I think it just takes one good college aged novel that will blow up that category, but right now writers are flocking to the YA. I think as the target audience gets older, maybe they'll drive the trend,but I hope we won't be older by then. I'm getting frustrated reading about high school and I have no idea what happens as a 40 something woman struggling through a divorce and trying to find herself. Give me the 20 somethings, something I can relate to.

  11. Great post! I completely agree! Sure I love YA and remeniscing about high school is pretty fun, but I'd LOVE to see more fiction set in college! Or at least with college-aged characters! It's not as if people go off the map when they're 18, only to return at 30. And this is such an important period in life. More 'New Adult' fiction!
    I think the only 'new adult' book I've read in the last year is Love Story by Jennifer Echols (though the story didn't work for me, at least it was about the first year of college..).
    I wonder if we should we start bribing publishers with chocolate? ;)

  12. Great post! The other thing is that many readers read publishers really could capture a large portion of the older YA audience (+17) who would be interested in reading about lives post HS. Not to mention the emotional gold mine to be explored (leaving home, more serious sex, managing unprecedented freedom) I mean, do remember how exciting and scary those first years in adulthood were (well, they're memories for me anyway...I'm an old lady of 36 :-)

  13. @Midnight Bloom: I know what you mean, sometimes I feel quite old reading them too! I haven't read Love Story yet but it was definitely on my radar because of the fact it's set in college :)

    @Najela: I think you're very right in that it just needs one powerful book for this category to become a lot more popular. I hope it happens soon! I too am tired of always trying to choose between reading about high school or midlife crises :(

    @Daisy: Exactly, it is a really important part of life! It doesn't just end at graduation from high school and then suddenly start up again 20 years later. And LOL at the chocolate bribe...oh how I wish that would work...

    @Becky Taylor: Yes, good point! A lot of teens read up and I wouldn't be surprised if they'd like to get a sense of what lies in store for them once they graduate. So really, you'd be hitting both the older teen age group and the actual college-aged readers! And yep, it's definitely an emotional gold mine, and one quite different from the teen years, so I think these books would really stand out from standard contemporary YA.

  14. I feel the same way!!!! Trust me, when I become an editor (when and not if because I will make it happen...) this will me one of my main priorities. Give me three more years until I get out of college. :P

  15. Huh. I guess I've never given this much thought before. But yes, now that you mention it, I would really love to see more new adult fiction being written! And I know I would have appreciated it when I was in University too. There are so many great contemp books out there for high schoolers to relate to; it would've been nice to have books to find comfort in and relate to as a new adult too.

  16. amen

    we actually have *a lot* of new adult stuff in aussie YA. doesn't seem to be an issue for publishers here? i think they know we love reading it :)

  17. @Cialina: I'm very happy to hear you say that! In 3 years' time I'll be looking out for a flood of "new adult" books ;)

    @Aylee: exactly! I know in university I would have loved to read about some experiences close to my own.

    @Nomes: *is jealous of your Aussie YA* That's interesting your publishers seem to have cottoned on to that! Perhaps it means there's hope for North American publishers yet... :D

  18. I know I'm in the minority on this, but I couldn't care less about new adult books. At least not contemporary ones. Then again, I don't like reading a lot of contemporary YA books either. Hm...well now. What I would love to see are fantasy, historical fiction, paranormal, etc books with 19-20 something protagonists. Like Ward Against Death by Melanie Card. I like the fantastical storyline but sometimes it's a little weird to think of the MC as a teenager.

  19. @Small Review: I agree, older YA protagonists in other genres would be great too! Often in traditional fantasy there are characters who end up getting married at 16 or whatever, after all...which is kind of scary O_O. Thanks for your thoughts!


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