Sailor Boy and I have an old joke based on something we once saw on Felicia Day’s blog, or perhaps twitter feed. Day said something to the effect of “Saw an audition announcement looking for ‘a Felicia Day type.’ Guys, I am a working actress.”
Which I was reminded of this morning when I discovered (via The BookSmugglers) that a discussion had been raging this week throughout the YA world about St. Martins Press’s invention of the “new adult” marketing niche and their contest to recruit writers to write it. What is New Adult, you might ask (and many writers did, on the St Martins Press’s editorial assistant’s blog, on a #yalitchat Twitter discussion dedicated to the topic, and on blogs and forums all over the internets)?
Let me show you some:
So according to all those Q&As, which time after time name-checked Secret Society Girl, I’m New Adult.
I’m intrigued by the team at St. Martins’ new mission. Intrigued because my standard answer to the dozens of emails I get every year from aspiring writers frustrated by all the rejections they’ve received from editors and agents calling their college-set books too old for YA, not of interest to adult readers and how did I do it is: it’s not an easy sell. The fact that my book sold in a week and a half after submission in a six way auction is a bit misleading and more a factor of the time period in which we sold the book (YA heating up, adult chick lit winding down, my book straddling the fence) and the subject matter of the book (not just “college” but “secret societies” in a year that The Da Vinci Code was king, and a short six months after 2 Skull & Bones members were vying for the US presidency).
Most of these writers end up revising their books down to high school and selling them as YA. I know one who revised it down to middle school and has a crackerjack MG series going on right now.When I sold SSG, we got rejections from YA houses for being “too old.” Some YA houses offered, and one even offered upon the condition that I rewrite the characters to be 18 year old college freshmen.
Those of you who have read the SSG series (oh, and I wholeheartedly recommend that each and every one of you who hope to write New Adult for St. Martins run out and buy the entire series right away — you know, for research purposes. I only have your best interest at heart) know how vastly that would have changed the tone and storyline.
When I wrote the proposal for SSG, I thought (like all those people who email me) that it was young adult. My agent very wisely realized it could go either way, and the rejections we received from young adult houses bore that out. After we sold it as adult novel, it was developed as such, completed as such, and the series was written with a slightly older audience in mind. If you recall, PREP was really big then. It was a story about a high school girl written for adults.
When SSG was sold and then came out, we were living in a very different literary marketplace. Young Adult as a marketing category to be reckoned with was just starting to heat up. Twilight came out late in 2005 (I sold SSG in April of 2005) and though a bestseller very soon after its release, was not the market juggernaut we know today. In the adult writing community, you were just starting to see established writers jumping the chick lit ship for YA: folks like Jenny O’Connell, Sarah Mlynowski, and Ally Carter. YA was still pretty young. You didn’t see quite so many –if any! — plotlines revolving around marriage and motherhood (hello, Breaking Dawn, Impossible, Ice, A Curse Dark as Gold, Madapple). It was an entirely different landscape.
Chick lit, which has enjoyed an enormous popularity for the first part of this decade, was also just fizzling out. The summer my book came out, marketed as chick lit, Curtis Sittenfeld (author of the aforementioned Prep) called chick lit writers sluts in The New York Times and participated with several other women writers in an ill-tempered anthology mocking and degrading their fellow writers who did write in that genre. Urban fantasy, which has now stepped in as the genre of choice for 20-something women, was barely a blip on the radar. The backlash against “pink books” (my hardcover was pink) was intense, and intensely disturbing for a baby debut author who got shoved into the middle of it and was asked at every interview to respond to the allegations that I was single handedly destroying the face of literature as we knew it. A New York Times bestselling author who gave my book away on her blog on its release date admitted it looked good, if you liked books about shoes. (Though my characters wear shoes — a common trait of characters in books of all genre — I don’t think they ever mention the fact.)
In passing, it’s interesting to me the way that urban fantasy has become the new chick lit. You’ve got the same, young, usually first person, almost always snarky, female voice. You’ve got the twenty-something character usually stuck in a scut job (before she realizes she’s the last in a long line of vampire slayers/werewolves/fallen angels/what-have-you), you have the romantic subplot, and you have the mockable/interchangeable covers (instead of candy colored headless chicks wearing high heels, you have magenta and indigo colored headless chicks in leather pants with swords).
Anyway, Secret Society Girl came out, an adult book in the adult section. Adults read it. And teens read it. Lots more teens, I htink, than anyone expected. It got named in the NYPL’s Books for the Teen Age list. My publisher looked at how well YAs like Gossip Girl and Traveling Pants were selling to the adult market (see, it was heating up) and rebranded my paperbacks with Gossip Girl style covers, hoping to hit a crossover market. They set the price of the trade paperback at a teen-friendly and “I’m living in a fifth floor walk up closet with three friends and eating ramen” post-grad-friendly $10 (except for the fourth one, and that’s a whole other story). Young, post grad, ramen-eating young adults read it. More teens read it. Some adults read it and were totally disgusted that it was not marketed to teens. Some adults read it and were totally disgusted that they thought it was marketed to teens.
In some places, it is. Many of my foreign rights sales were to teen imprints, and the books there are released as young adult novels. This is not unusual, in either direction. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is published as teen here but adult in Australia. Ditto Graceling and Fire (teen here, adult in the UK). Some independent stores here in the U.S. (as well as a few chain stores where they know me) cross promote the books in the adult and YA section. I watch with interest the rebranding of Maria V. Snyder and PC Cast’s old adult novels as YA novels in the new HarlequinTeen imprint, and wonder if that would benefit the series.
And I watch with interest the creation of this new marketing category. “New Adult.” As with the explosion of chick lit in the early part of this decade, there are some YA titles out right now that probably shouldn’t be classified as such. Fire of Fire is a teen, I guess (barely), but I read plenty of “adult” romances where the heroine is nineteen as well, and they aren’t YA for all that. The ubiquitous talk of taking lovers and controlling one’s own landed property and armies and who sired who else’s illegitimate bastard children in Fire just didn’t have a YA feel to me. I mean, Hamlet’s a teen too, you know? (Cf. with Graceling, where you got the sense she was a child under the thumb of her uncle and how the book was about her escaping that). Fire, note, is not published as YA overseas. There are other books out, especially of the “I’m a successful UF writer doing YA UF right now” variety that read just like the adult versions of those authors books, except they say the protag is 16. There are “adult” UFs, like Rachel Vincent’s bestselling STRAY books that read younger to me than some of these new YAs. Faythe starts her journey from grad school.
I suppose that would fall under “New Adult” too.
I am curious to see how this does. I’m curious if, when there’s a place that the target market can go to for books, if it will increase the sales (much like creating a YA place did with YA). (however, it didn’t work for Dorchester’s Shomi line, though that might have been too focused on the niche market of futuristic cyberpunk, and did not have the leather-clad covers that were selling so well for the UF crowd).
I like that when people email me now I can tell them that there is possibly a place for their college-aged protag at St. Martins. Many of their strategies seem familiar to me: lowering the price point on the paperbacks to YA-friendly/ramen-friendly levels, marketing to a crossover audience while shelving in the adult section and hoping teens read up. And hey, if this becomes a thing, perhaps it will widen the audience for my SSG books. I’ve already seen folks going out to buy it because of the online discussions (thank you, St. Martins and everyone else, go check them out!)
And thank you also for making me feel, even for a moment, a little bit like Felicia Day.