More on New Adult

So, interesting commentary on my New Adult post. I’m not sure if my thoughts were quite as collected as I wanted them to be for a Sunday morning. I do wan to add that I think in many ways that it’s a difficult category to market, and I believe that Tiff’s comment on that post really illustrated why.

“It was like English literature was some sacred thing where no one could ever read or study anything that wasn’t “important.” So, of course, the second one gets out of college, one stops reading because reading has been so “important” and such a job for the past four years. And I think that’s where adult fiction is losing readers. Reading for fun becomes a kind of foreign concept. When you go out to brunch with those post-grad friends, and you talk about books, people don’t want to talk about the Dan Browns because, of course, you can’t learn anything from that (and don’t even get me started on YA books). It’s better not to have read anything at all than to have read something “trashy” or something off the bestseller list/front table of Chapters (or Borders, or Barnes and Noble).”

Also illustrative is the massive response to The Booksmugglers 4-line mention of it in their massive post full of far more interesting book news, cover reveals, and movie trailers. Readers were, in a word, offended. A sampling:

“‘New Adult?’ Really? Because when I was between the ages of 20 and 26, I was fine with reading adult novels. I didn’t need something that was more mature than YA, but not quite an adult novel yet. It sounds like a marketing ploy and a slightly insulting one at that.”

“WTF?!? Seriously???
The idea may be good, but the age range is ridiculous. When I was 20-26, I would’ve been seriously pissed at being targeted for “mature writing and ideas, but not full on adult stories.” Seriously. Pissed. :evil:
Who are these 20-26 year-olds? College students, possibly graduate students, studying science, philosophy, medicine, etc? How many are married and have children by 26? How many soldiers are that age? And they’re not ready for “full on adult stories?”
I find the whole idea distasteful.”

And I have to say I’m with them. I think they are misreading what is meant by “full on adult stories” however. It’s like the people who think that because a book is categorized as a YA it can’t have mature complex themes. (Guys, To Kill a Mockingbird is YA. Just saying. It’s an issue of subject matter, not of maturity level. Even if I am a married-with-kids soldier at 22, I’m still probably going to want to read about married with kids 22 year olds than 40 year olds. (And indeed, some of the books that SMP uses to illustrate this “new adult” range features teens who are married with kids — Hello Ice by Sarah Beth Durst.) Or I’ll want the escapist facotr — not being married or with kids. What SMP is saying is that there seems to be a gap in books ABOUT people that age, written for an adult audience.

That why it was so hard when my book came out to figure out who exactly our market was. Bridget Jones was ten years older than Amy. The Gossip Girls were six years younger. My book wasn’t as fluffy and brainless as some, but it was a far cry from serious literature. There weren’t other books out there like my book. And as chick lit crashed and there were fewer and fewer books that were “like mine but slightly older” most of the comparisons for my book came from “like mine but slightly younger” direction. They were frequently compared to the Kate Brian “Private” novels or Maureen Johnson’s books, all of which are YA.

I think it’s going to be a challenge to market “New Adult” as such. The last thing a 22 year old college graduate who just wrote her thesis on Proust is going to want to be told is that she’s not ready for “real books.” Part of the success of chick lit was because the packaging treated it more seriously. It was in trade paperback form, it was shelved in the “fiction and literature” section in the bookstore, it had Book Club questions in the back. People who would turn their nose up at a romance novel would have fun reading a chick lit and not feel guilty about it.

I’m a big believer in not talking down to readers. I write commercial fiction and I’m proud of it. I’m in this biz to show readers a good time, but I don’t believe that commercial fiction equates to brainless fiction, and I don’t “dumb down” anything I write, whether I’m writing it for an audience of forty year olds, twenty year olds, or 14 year olds. The only difference is the situations my characters are forced to face (if anything, my teen characters are in a much more mature and dire situation than my 20-somethings — but that’s a product of the type of story I’m telling) and the resources they’ve got on hand. I don’t take my readers for granted, I don’t believe that a touch of romance or humor brings the level of a book down, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading for fun.

But that’s me.

Posted in biz, writing industry, writing life

21 Responses to More on New Adult

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Diana Peterfreund Blog | More on New Adult [dianapeterfreund.com] on Topsy.com

  2. Well said. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate the time you took to share your point of view and obvious “feelings” on the matter. No one is saying that just because SMP is the first to take a stand and define “New Adult” this way that this is they way it will continue to be defined by the industry. But they have and are. So, I say, well done and congrats to them for recognizing a need and attempting to meet it with good books that would otherwise have sat unpublished. Cheers-Georgia

  3. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  4. MaryK says:

    The evil smiley comment is mine. 🙂 That was the visceral reaction of this reader. As disclosure, I’m 35 and read YA occasionally if a story interests me. Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my favorite books of any genre.

    “What SMP is saying is that there seems to be a gap in books ABOUT people that age, written for an adult audience.” This makes sense. But “not full on adult stories” says the opposite to me – not … adult stories.

    If writers are having to revise the age of their characters to fit genre requirements, something needs to change. After all, genre classifications evolved to help readers not to stifle authors. I don’t have a problem with the idea of a new category of books (though don’t they usually evolve more organically?)

    However, I feel they should seriously think about a new label – something that describes the books, and doesn’t pigeonhole readers. Only the Children and YA genres have labels that apply to the reader, and it’s because they’re aimed at underage readers. Other (adult) genre labels identify the type of fiction in the genre. I don’t think creating a new “age genre” is a particularly good idea because of the parallels that can be drawn. I’d choose something not age based and deliberately funky – “Not Serious Literature” or some such. And soon before “New Adult” catches on and the label obscures the stories.

  5. Diana says:

    MaryK, I think “not full on adult” is bad phrasing. I agree with you.

    But I don’t think “not serious literature” is accurate either. Who is to say that there is not serious literature that falls into this category? PREP, for example, was certainly a highly-lauded work, by the people who laud such things. And there are plenty of works meant for older readers that are pure fluff as well.

    I don’t think YA is called YA because it is written for minors. After all, there are many works that would now be published as YA that were certainly NOT written for minors — like Huckleberry Finn or Catcher in the Rye. YA as a marketing category — because that’s what YA is, a marketing label, not a genre, because YA books are in every genre that adult books are — was invented because people realized they could sell more books to that group of readers if they separated them out in the bookstore and said “here, here is where you can get all your stuff.” That’s the same argument behind any separating out of a bookstore shelf. Here, romance readers, come and get it, etc.

    SMP is saying exactly what you think they should be saying — stop with the revision of college kids into boarding school! WE will look at this age of books. How much more organic can it get?

    Whether or not it will succeed is another question entirely.

  6. Diana says:

    Also, read the editorial assistant’s new post on the subject: http://sjaejones.com/blog/2009/marketing-new-adult/

    Finally, keep in mind, this is ONE contest run by ONE editorial team at ONE publisher. When the books come out, the reader at large will likely not know at all that they are calling it “new adult” in house.

  7. MaryK says:

    “But I don’t think “not serious literature” is accurate either. Who is to say that there is not serious literature that falls into this category? PREP, for example, was certainly a highly-lauded work, by the people who laud such things. And there are plenty of works meant for older readers that are pure fluff as well.”

    Oh, I agree. I think it should be some kind of “youngish adventure-ish” label and that’s the best I could come up with. There’s a reason I’m not in advertising.

  8. MaryK says:

    “When the books come out, the reader at large will likely not know at all that they are calling it “new adult” in house.”

    Good point. Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy just seemed to appear on the shelves. There was probably plenty of this kind of thing beforehand if someone knew where to look.

  9. Diana says:

    Ha! Me neither! Did I mention I’m also title impaired? That’s okay, Mary, I’ll pop some popcorn and we can settle in and see how this all plays out.

  10. JJ says:

    I don’t recall if I ever said “full on adult” stories–if I have, that was my mistake. However, I don’t think I said anything about “new adult” (which was meant to be a temporary label but, ah, internet seems to have stolen it from me) being “not adult” or not “full on adult”. Other people have described it as such but not SMP.

    The biggest problem with this category, I think, is its name. But “new adult” was the best we could come up with since “young” adult was already taken. At least we didn’t call it “Twixters” like Lev Grossman did at Time Magazine.

  11. Diana says:

    Ah, my bad. I should have clarified that I didn’t know if you’d said that. I don’t recall reading it.

    Twixters to me sounds like a sex kink. But I’ve got a dirty mind.

  12. JJ says:

    Honestly, I think “new adult” is less insulting than “kidult”, which was another term in that article.

    Oh good, I thought I was the only person whose mind went to a not-so-appropriate place when I read “twixter”.

  13. Diana says:

    Kidult sounds REALLY bad, and also highly inappropriate.

  14. Patrick says:

    Twenty-something.

  15. Pingback: African Mask – Adult Baseball Cap | The African Art Store

  16. Lisa S. says:

    I wanted to comment on Tiff’s comment:

    “Reading for fun becomes a kind of foreign concept … It’s [perceived to be] better not to have read anything at all than to have read something “trashy” or something off the bestseller list/front table.”

    I completely agree with her. I read for fun and I CONSTANTLY get criticized for it. I try to talk to people about books that are considered not ‘important’ and I get looked down upon. So I don’t talk about books for the most part and when my husband tells people I love to read, I list ‘important’ books that I have read – classics, nonfiction, ‘deep’ books – so people won’t look down on me. It’s sad really because I can honestly say that some of the bestseller/popular books that I have read have been better than some of the ‘important’ books I’ve read. They have been better written, more interesting and contain deeper subject matter.

  17. MELISSA GROGAN says:

    At basically 40 yoa (shudder) I picked up Secret Society Girl in the mystery section of the library. I LOVED IT. I personally hate labels. As a former English teacher, and now a counselor, I read books for work as well as enjoyment. I own all of the books, and need to buy Rampart now. I wish the world would go back to reading for fun. There’s so many good books out there that deserve more than to just be labelled. Amazingly enough, my 11 yoa daughter loves your books just as well. She liked you better than Twilight. 🙂

  18. I tend to think my daughter, off to college next year (she’ll be 18) will be a big-time reader of ‘New Adult’. She still reads the odd YA but definitely wants to read about people in college, starting out in jobs, etc. Everybody reads up…

  19. Pingback: Diana Peterfreund Blog | More on New Adult « Blogging

  20. Pingback: New Adult Link Roundup | Reclusive Bibliophile

  21. Pingback: Diana Peterfreund Blog | New Adult, the 2012 Edition