Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Post New Adult: Keeping up with Publishing Trends

The publishing world is an ever changing industry. It's a beast in itself with all of its rules, needs, and quirks. Yet this wonderful beast, like a magical being from a fantasy novel, morphs and acclimates with changing trends, economies, and demands.

As authors, agents, publishers, and readers, we must all know this beast as if it were our very own pet. We need to learn to nurture it, figure out what makes it tick, and how to satisfy it when it goes on a whim. 

Sometimes these whims however, aren't  just a hot trend like vampires and dystopian novels. Sometimes they are actually growth changes and demands that develop as markets grow and readers become more sophisticated. 

A few years ago, a cute young adult vampire novel was published Stephanie Meyers titled Twilight... you may have heard of it. Yes, of course you have! The book became a sensation, changing the way we look at Vampires for ever, and pretty much blowing the roof off the YA market.

This book became so popular that not only did it attract the attention of readers of all ages, something we started calling cross over, but it also inspired millions of people to write within the genre. 

Next thing you know, the genre became so saturated that

authors and publishers needed and wanted a 'little more'. Fans also became older, and wanted a little more in way of spice, or sexy, if you will. Everyone started pushing the envelope and writing and publishing these more mature novels... Still calling them YA cross over. 

Long story made short, we started calling these 'cross over novels' New Adult works, and targeting them to the age group that immediately follows Young Adult, ages 19-25. And even though many fought against it, and questioned it, it made complete sense. This, I think is brilliant actually, because this college age, often coming of age group has a huge readership. A readership that was being over looked, and often not properly targeted. (Including the age of the characters in descriptions and meta data just wasn't enough.) 

Readers this age want to read about people their age, and what they are experiencing, and be able to relate. I'm not saying that we don't all relate to different age groups, because many of us actually look for these reads and love them. I'm saying that there was this unmet need to make it easier for this age group to properly find great books about characters their age, and life events, or experiences and decisions that happen during those times. Now we can all easily find them when we want them. 

As wonderful as this all is, I personally feel that there is still a gap, very much like the picture to the right. The bridge is complete, but we don't quite see all of it. The gap represents a target age group of readers, and books with characters of the next age post New Adult, ages 26-30 maybe even 35, that isn't properly targeted.  Many books are shunned from the NA category if the main characters are even a year or so older, clumping them all from ages 26 and up into Adult books. This is especially true in the Romance genre where age matters quite a bit. So it seems to me that an important distinction is overlooked. In my opinion there should be at least a Post New Adult category for readers ages 26-30. 

Okay, okay so now I'm going to age myself, but I think that these were very important years. They are in ways still formative years. We often use the phrase "coming of age" to mean many things- finding oneself, discovering sexuality, finding their path, etc. But honestly, I think that many of us don't really come of age in a sense, or really truly find our calling, until we finish college and 'start our lives in the real world', meeting responsibilities, starting jobs, and really finally settling down. 

So what am I saying here? Basically, I think that we need to carve out the Post New Adult age group, ages 26-30, from the Adult category and distinguish these years to properly market them to the right readers. This will allow more mature content, which means more realistic coming-into-their-own experiences for characters; and stop boring that readers who are past college stories, relationships that are not likely to last, and give them realistic expectations of what its like to be that age in today's society (by realistic I don't mean do away with HEA... because we all still want that.) Maybe then, it will be easier to for them to find the right books for them, the sales for that age group will increase because they will be more satisfied, and perhaps we will even spare them reading about the two time divorce, or the mother sending her son off to college and falling for the kid's hot professor (someone please write this for me! lol), with whom they won't be connecting with for another few years. Believe it or not, it also works the other way. It will also be great for readers of other age groups to find these stories if they want them. I love to read Middle Grade and Young Adult books, which are clearly not my age group, but I love having the option of knowing where to look when I want them. 

Why do we need to do this? Some may argue that adults are adults, and we can't carve out all of the age groups and have so many categories... and that we are bottle-necking readers. I would wholeheartedly disagree with anyone who says this, because clumping books into the Adult category from ages 26 to 105 is just a bit TOO broad. I just see no reason why not organize our bookshelves provide more information to the market. 

I represent and consult with many YA and NA authors, and authors who just write for Adults. All of these authors enjoy the guidance of knowing their target market and their demands. They are all equally frustrated however, when they have a story for or about someone who is in the Post New Adult age group and they have to make the person younger or change the plot to make it fit into NA. Alternatively they have to just sell it as an Adult novel, and they worry that it will get lost in the shuffle, and often does, with all of the other more mature audience stories out there. 

I think that just in the same way we classify children's books into age groups, and for the same reasons that we have distinguished Middle Grade, Young Adult, and New Adult from other age groups, we now also should separate Post New Adult and perhaps even the next age groups (Mature Adult) to enable readers to better find what they are looking for, to avoid pigeonholing authors to the New Adult category, or get their work lost in the proverbial haystack when labeling them all Adult. 

Since we have already started categorizing so many books by age, and have accepted New Adult as a category, I think that the flood gates are now open. Why not break down the rest of the Adult category accordingly and let readers and writers reap from the benefits. 

There of course will always be the hybrid books, and the out of the box plots that intentionally don't fit into just one category or genre. And that's perfectly great, and acceptable. I'm not suggesting that we categorize everything militantly. Not at all. I just like the organization and the benefits it provides.

I'm a huge fan of mixing genres and categories as applicable.  It's all good... as long as we properly describe what the book offers and for whom, so that the readers know exactly what they are getting and where to find it. So why not do it as a standard and organize the book shelves, instead impracticably of just skimming the surface with book descriptions. 

If PNA is set as a standard category, books can be properly shelved and metadata will be more efficient. This is also a lot less tacky and more efficient than including the heroine's age in the book jacket. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Please do share your comments. 

Happy Publishing!
~Marisa