What is “New Adult”?

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Last weekend, while at the PNWA writers’ conference in Seattle (which I highly recommend), I inadvertently found myself at the heart of a pretty fascinating debate. Namely, what exactly is “new adult” literature? What started off as an innocent question by an attendee quickly turned into a point of keen interest for industry professionals and writers alike.

And little old me was one-half of the inciting incident. Oops.

But while the conversations that arose from the kerfuffle were accidental, they were a great way to discuss something that is still rather tenuously defined. New Adult has been a largely confusing label for a while now — is it a genre, or a marketing category? Is it a legit thing, or was it a passing trend that’s already died? No one seems to know, and the answers will vary drastically, even among industry pros.

The History

Originally coined as a marketing category by St. Martin’s Press in 2009, the idea behind New Adult has always been that of any literature category: connect readers with the type of books that resonate with them. So why all the confusion? Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

Well, the confusion seems to have stemmed from both a lack of bookseller and sales support (stuck somewhere between YA and adult literature, booksellers weren’t quite sure what to do with NA titles and readers weren’t aware of them) and a surge of genre-specific entries spawned in part by one very infamous title. So, while traditional publishing tried to figure out what to do with NA, and whether or not there truly was a need for it, independent/self-published writers (particularly romance writers) adopted it wholeheartedly.

From there, it sort of became synonymous with steamy, college-aged contemporary romance, to the point that it started to be known as a romance sub-genre rather than a market category. Now, I believe the reason this happened is entirely because of sales. Romance readers are voracious (seriously, there’s a reason this is one of the best-selling forms of literature out there), and indie publishing moves at light speed when compared to traditional methods. So not only was there suddenly a flood of titles in this specific genre, but the sales figures were there to support it. Making it seem like a viable sub-sect of romance, and not much else.

The Present

Which brings us to today, where you’ll hear people say that NA is “contemporary romance only,” and then turn around to hear people like me say that NA is a market category and does in fact exist in speculative fiction too. (This is the heart of the kerfuffle I referenced above, by the way.)

But where does that leave querying authors? If the industry itself can’t decide whether or not NA is a thing, what are you guys supposed to do? Well, I may have stumbled on the answer. But before I elaborate on the conclusion I came to over the course of the weekend, let me talk about NA as a market category in general. Because trust me, it is still very much a thing — in certain circles.

As you all likely know by now, I work for REUTS Publications, a boutique publisher specializing in YA and — you guessed it — NA fiction. And all three of our current top-sellers are NA spec-fic. So we’re fairly confident in our stance that NA is still a marketing category and that there is a readership out there for non-romance NA.

Part of the reason we feel that way is because REUTS, and many other small/independent publishers, have heard readers ask for it. We’ve heard people complain about the lack of non-romance NA, heard them wish for books that contain characters more like them: people who are crossing into that post-adolescence stage of life and want to see their struggles reflected in the fiction they read.

There is an entire sect of readers who are more or less aging out of YA, but feel left adrift in adult. Too old for the high school shenanigans and angst of YA, but too young to identify with the 40+ mature characters often found in adult (and speculative fiction especially), this is a category of readers with nothing to read. And more importantly, they’re a group who grew up loving books and who are used to having an entire section of bookstores and libraries cater to them. Are you really going to tell me that those people aren’t prime material for a category like NA?

The Definition

So now that we’ve established the backstory of the debate, let’s answer the original question. What the heck is “new adult” literature?

REUTS defines it as a marketing category targeting readers aged 18-25 (I’ve seen it go as high as 30, but that’s really just adult at that point, don’t you think?). It can be any genre, but much like YA, it has to revolve around themes which resonate with early twenty-something readers. This includes things like leaving home for the first time, discovering/exploring sexuality, establishing a career, forming serious relationships, having children, and otherwise transitioning from being an adolescent to an adult.

You’ll notice that some of those themes are also covered by YA, but the difference between the two is that YA is very insular. It focuses on the internal growth of a character coming into their own identity and independence. NA is external; it’s about that character finding where they fit in the larger world. Their sense of identity is a little more fully formed, and now they’re stepping out into the world to make their stamp on it. So yes, the two categories are very similar, but they’re also different enough that readers yearn for the added maturity NA brings to the table.

This maturity also translates to the writing styles seen in YA and NA. YA features simplistic, to-the-point narration, with mature content being carefully administered as necessary. (Mature content = sex, swearing, etc.) NA takes the character-driven narration of YA and layers the more sophisticated, sometimes wandering sentence structure of adult over the top. Swearing is fine, sex is definitely present and often very explicit, and the prose just has a more mature feel than its YA counterpart, which, again, points back to this idea of NA being a bridge for readers graduating from the ranks of YA and moving into those of adulthood.

But that’s not the definition many in the industry will tell you. Which brings us full circle to the conclusion I came to — NA is largely a small press, indie-publishing thing.

So, Now What?

The consensus from agents is that the Big 5 presses have more or less given up on NA being a lucrative category, with the exception of contemporary romance. But NA is doing well, and even sort of thriving in the ecosystem of small press, indie-publishing. There is a readership demanding these kinds of books, and authors can find homes for them. But, as with all things publishing, it comes back to understanding the industry and which of the many publication paths is best for your particular project.

If you’re targeting agents with something other than contemporary romance, don’t mention “new adult,” unless they specifically say they represent that in other genres. If you’re targeting small presses or self-publishing, slap that NA tag on your work. It won’t be a deterrent. But understand the difference. Publishing really is an ecosystem. There are many layers, many ways to find publication. Figure out which is the right fit for you, and adjust your approach accordingly. And who knows, maybe NA will eventually become a bookstore staple. After all, I remember the days before YA was a legitimate thing too. 😉

 

The Types and Importance of Queries

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Queries. Pitches. Synopses. Three words that strike fear into every author’s heart. And rightfully so — selling your book to an agent or editor depends on your ability to encapsulate your story’s heart into a few simple sentences. For most people, that’s a nearly impossible challenge. But perhaps if we look at why this practice is necessary, it will help you understand how to do it. So, I’m going to show you what I look for in a query. Keep in mind that these are solely my opinions, and other agents or editors may look for something else, but if you plan to follow along with #REUTSsubs in the near future (I’m currently working on resurrecting that feature), this will give you a glimpse at the thought process behind my decisions.

Let’s start by looking at the three potential ways you go about introducing your work to an agent or editor. They are:

  1. The Traditional Query Letter & Synopsis
  2. Pitching in Person
  3. Elevator Pitches on Social Media

All three serve the same purpose — hooking your audience into asking for more. That’s a phrase I’m sure you’ve all heard thrown around in writing seminars, but what does it actually mean? In essence, it means you break through someone’s focus enough to grab their full, complete attention and get them to react. In other words, it’s a sales tactic.

Now, I know many of you just groaned. Sales is about as far from writing and creativity as you can possibly get. But the truth is, publishing is a business. There are bottom lines to be met, production costs to worry about, returns on investments that have to happen, etc. So when you send in a proposal (which, let’s face it, is what these things really are — sales proposals), what you’re really doing is arguing why we should become your business partner for this venture. And you’d darn well better be convincing. Don’t you think?

So, how do you achieve that? What makes a sales proposal appealing to the potential buyer? How do you turn indifference into “OMG, yes, I must read this”? Well, I look for a couple of key ingredients:

  • Interesting concept and premise
  • Unique attributes
  • Market potential

That’s it. Every time. Seriously.

Whenever I’m reviewing a pitch/query/etc, I ask myself the same three questions:

“Does this make me excited as a reader?” (This is more of a visceral reaction than a true question. Basically, I’m looking for that internal pique of interest, that “oooooo” factor.)

“What makes it different from everything else in its genre?” (The more specific the better on this front. Diverse cast? Unique twist or angle on the familiar? New setting?)

“What is it similar to/where would I put it on a shelf?” (This is ultimately the most important because it tells me A: where it fits within the REUTS catalog, and B: where it fits in the larger market and who its readership might be.)

All right, now let’s look at how you apply that insight, shall we? Because each type of pitch listed above is a slightly different opportunity to sell your work, and you shouldn’t use the same blanket strategy for each.

The Traditional Query Letter & Synopsis

First off, a query is not a synopsis and vice versa. They’re two separate entities used to achieve the same goal, but one is the lead singer, and the other is the band. You need both, but they serve completely different roles in the process.

Your query letter should be no more than 3-5 paragraphs, and its sole job is to pique the reader’s interest. It has to fit that criteria I listed above. It needs to give just enough information for me to tell whether or not it could be a fit for REUTS. So focus only on the most important aspects — the conflict and stakes that drive your story, sprinkled with a little info on the world/character and just a hint of what makes your manuscript different from the rest. Give me the heart of the tale; I don’t care about the rest yet.

Other things I need to know are genre, target audience, and comp titles (comparable books that might bear similarity to yours). Genre tells me where it fits in the bookstore and who it might appeal to, target audience tells me who I’m going to get to read it, and comp titles give me an instant snapshot of what to expect in terms of feel/tone/theme/style, etc. (One caveat on choosing comp titles: aim for ones that aren’t genre heavy-hitters, but that are prominent enough I’m likely to have heard of them. Also, the more unique the mash-up, the quicker I’ll be able to pin-point my expectations as reader.)

And that’s it. 3-4 paragraphs should easily be enough room to capture all of that, once you isolate the key things an agent/editor looks for. Your final paragraph should be about you, what you bring to the table in terms of experience, etc. Honestly though, most of the time, we kind of skim that info. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it to us, just that more weight is placed on the content of the story than your particular pedigree.

IF you’ve achieved your goal and hooked my interest, I’ll dive right into the sample pages (because a great pitch does not always mean great execution), and if those pass the quality test, I’ll check out the synopsis. A synopsis is a glorified outline. It tells me the highlights of your story in 1-3 pages. It should capture the emotions, the main conflicts, some of the character motivations, and the entire narrative arc. The details of your world, sub-plots, supporting cast, etc, aren’t as important; the structure of your overall story is.

Manage to hold my interest through all of that, and guess what? You’ve just earned a full manuscript request. (I’m pretty sure this is the process most agents/editors go through, but some of the particulars may vary a little.)

Pitching in Person

Ah, now, this is a whole different game — one part speed dating, one part American Idol audition, all rolled into a giant ball of anxiety for everyone involved. But it’s a very viable option if you have the chance. Out of 55 total pitches I heard at the Willamette Writers Conference last summer, I requested samples (and even some fulls!) of 48 manuscripts. The idea behind this is much the same as the process above, except you only have 4-10 minutes, if you’re lucky, and have to talk to an actual person. Terrifying stuff, for sure.

So what’s the key in this scenario? Be a human. Don’t stiffly recite your memorized query letter while you stare at the table. Engage with us! Take that query you wrote above and hone it even more. In a 10 minute pitch session, your pitch should take up no more than 2-3 minutes, max. Give us the bare bones, the core of your story, and then let us come to you. Think of it like baiting a wild animal; you don’t give away the whole dinner up front, you toss out some crumbs and lure us into the trap. Or, in other, less poetic words, give us time to ask questions.

A face-to-face pitch session should feel more like a conversation, and every agent/editor will hone in on something different. So leave yourself room to answer those questions. If you don’t, and you babble through all 10 minutes, you might end up not getting a request at all. Because that tidbit in the middle that you glossed over? Yeah, that was the one thing that agent/editor was looking for, and you didn’t give them time to find that out.

Your mission in an in-person pitch is simply to get that business card (See? American Idol golden ticket, right?) and a request to see more. That’s it. You’re not going to be signed on the spot, and you’re not going to give us your entire book on a silver platter. It’s simply the first step to a longer conversation.

Elevator Pitches on Social Media

Have you guessed the reason behind this order yet? It’s because they get progressively shorter and shorter. Much like pitching in person, an elevator pitch on social media should comprise the basics of your story. It should only contain the hook, the thing that is most likely to get people to stop and say “ooo, that sounds good.” You have 140 characters, so every letter has to count. Which is why you really only want two things (aside from genre/audience): the stakes/conflict, and what makes your story different. Again, you’re not trying to cram your whole book into 140 characters; that’s madness. You’re only trying to get us to want more. Which is why including that unique-factor is crucial.

To win this round, all you have to do is get a favorite from one of the stalking agents/editors, which then results in a submission of what? The first type of pitch: a traditional query letter and synopsis. It all comes back around to create a massive circle of Submission Hell.

But there you have it, a breakdown of both why pitching is necessary and my particular thought process for evaluating them. I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this article originally appeared on the REUTS Publications blog, and I have syndicated it here for a couple reasons. One, I realized I have yet to actually talk about queries over here, and I hate trying to rewrite something I’ve already written. And two, I wanted to bring that blog to your attention, in case you didn’t know we had one. As the Acquisitions and Editorial Director for REUTS, it’s my sometimes job to add helpful articles and info over there too, specifically in regards to a post series titled Adventures in the Slush Pile, which will showcase the query/response process in real time. So if you’re a fan of #tenqueries on Twitter, that might be something you’re interested in. And if not, then don’t worry. I’ll syndicate some of the more helpful articles here as well, when time and permissions allow.

Until next week, happy pitching! 😉

Book Feature: Princess of Tyrone by Katie Hamstead

From the moment I heard about this series, I was excited. It’s got all the makings of something I’m going to truly love — fairy tales, science fiction, and an author whose work I know I already adore. Ready to see more about it? Here you go!

Princess of Tyrone Book Cover

Apolline is happy hunting magical creatures on her pirate infested outer-perimeter planet. She is a fantastic shot, and doesn’t flinch at the blood and guts of her kills. Never once did she consider she could be the missing Princess of Tyrone.

All her life, she has heard the story of the Princess, cursed to sleep for eternity, unless her betrothed, the Prince of Oran, gave her true love’s kiss. Although Apolline knows she is betrothed, she thinks her fairy guardians arranged it out of ignorance of human ways. The thought she could be a princess is inconceivable.

Then Allard appears. Handsome, charming—but he’s not hers to have. He’s betrothed, too. Her guardians warn her against her new found friendship, but she and Allard meet in secret anyway. Despite her rough exterior, he sees beyond her gun-slinging bravado, and their love blossoms.

But the deadline for the sleeping curse is approaching. If Apolline falls in love with the wrong person, she could end up sleeping forever.

A quirky, adventurous retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a less than princess-ly princess!

Doesn’t that sound amazing? I was supposed to give you my thoughts on it today, but unfortunately, life has prevented me from reading it enough to provide a proper review. However, if there’s one thing I know about Hamstead’s work, it’s that I’m sure to enjoy it. I’m exceedingly excited to see what she does with this unconventional twist on a fairy tale we all know and love, and I’ll be sure to post the full review when I’m done. In the meantime, here’s one of the pretty teaser graphics to entice you and the link to the giveaway celebrating the book’s release (below).

Be sure to check it out!

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About the Author:

katie hamsteadBorn and raised in Australia, Katie’s early years of day dreaming in the “bush”, and having her father tell her wild bedtime stories, inspired her passion for writing.

After graduating High School, she became a foreign exchange student where she met a young man who several years later she married. Now she lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter and their dog.

She has a diploma in travel and tourism which helps inspire her writing.

When her debut novel, Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh, climbed into bestselling status, she believed she was onto something, and now has a slew of novels now available, and is published through Curiosity Quills Press, Soul Mate Publishing, and REUTS Publications.

Katie loves to out sing her friends and family, play sports, and be a good wife and mother. She now works as an Acquisitions Editor to help support her family. She loves to write, and takes the few spare moments in her day to work on her novels.

Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble | Rafflecopter Giveaway

 

From the Editor’s Desk: Dissolution by Lee S. Hawke

I’ve been kind of slacking on those book reviews I promised at the start of the year, but don’t worry, I’ve got a great one for you today. From the moment this author approached me about working on Dissolution, I knew I was going to love it. And when I read it, I was blown away by their talent. So it’s been hard for me to keep quiet, waiting for it to release. Thankfully, that moment has finally come and I can tell you all just how much I recommend you go buy this immediately. 😉

But first, here’s a little more info about this amazing novella:

Dissolution

by Lee S. Hawke

Dissolution by Lee S. Hawke

What would you sell yourself for?

Madeline knows. She’s spent the last eighteen years impatiently waiting for her Auctioning so she can sell herself to MERCE Solutions Limited for a hundred thousand credits. But when the Auctioneer fails to call her and two suits show up at her doorstep, Madeline discovers there are far worse bargains to be made.

So when your loved ones are in danger, there’s a bounty on your head, and your entire city might turn out to be a lie . . . what would you sell yourself for?

Now, I know what you’re thinking — yay, another dystopian to add to all the other dystopians flooding the market. But trust me, this one is unlike anything you’ve read. Yes, it does have some shades of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and even a bit of The Giver embedded in it, but the premise underneath those elements is refreshing, different, and thought-provoking. Everything a good science fiction tale should be.

Hawke’s world is dominated by corporations, and a person’s value is entirely dependent on how much they can give — what their productivity is likely to be, how their skills rank against the corporations’ needs. They’re not people, they’re drones, slaves. Licensed IP to be bought and traded and sold. It’s chilling, and a cautionary message to the workaholics of the world.

But while there is a very strong thread of social commentary running throughout, it takes a back seat to the larger tale, which is an action-packed cyberpunk thriller in the vein of Phillip K. Dick.

Madeline (Maddie) has spent her entire life dreaming of escape from ANRON Life Limited, pegging all her hopes on the possibility of being purchased by MERCE, the more technology oriented corporation where she can put her modding skills to good use and where she’ll no longer be a human lab rat. But after years of rigorous trials and tests, competition, and an interview process that feels more like an interrogation than an interview, she finds that there was never any chance for escape. Her life has always belonged to ANRON, and now, they want it back. They’re revoking her license, sentencing her to death in the name of science.

And she’s having none of it. Alone, disconnected from the technology that serves as a lifeline for most of the city’s denizens, and on the run, she learns the true difference between good and evil. And in the process, she discovers that the corporations aren’t as untouchable as they seem.

Brilliant, emotional, and intelligent, Dissolution is a highly satisfying read. It is a novella, but don’t let that scare you off. It’s a complete, self-contained, and moving tale that will challenge you to rethink your own views on corporations and technology in general. It’s a smart, well-written, amazing piece of storytelling and should not be missed.

And if you’d like a little additional incentive to check out this book, the author is hosting a crowdfunding campaign at the moment to help support The Royal Society of Victoria, an organization that promotes science education in Australia. So head on over there if you’d like to support a fantastic new author while also donating to a worthy cause.

For everyone else, here are the pertinent book links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble

Book Feature: Much of Madness by S.E. Summa

Whew! What a week! I don’t know about you, but it definitely felt like February had it out for me, and so far, March hasn’t been much better. But despite the whirlwind of insanity I currently find myself in, I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to a fantastic new indie title by a debut author you’re going to want to keep an eye on.

Much of Madness by S.E. Summa

Seraphina Pearce doesn’t know what’s more frustrating: her magic’s affinity for death, her best friend’s transformation into an albino Sin Eater, or that simply touching a guy she loves means someone’s headed to the morgue.

After a sin-eating job goes awry, she casts a risky spell and butts heads with a handsome stranger in order to win an infamous grimoire.

Marceau L’Argent is the last person she should confide in because the occult cat burglar has a mysterious past, and he’s made it no secret he also wants the grimoire. He recognizes her dark magic and offers his unique help as a rare curse breaker. If all that weren’t enough, Marceau causes butterflies in her stomach—a feeling she’d long thought dead.

Seraphina was only trying to break her curse—not piss off Death himself.

MUCH OF MADNESS is a Southern Gothic Horror story about loyalty, sacrifice, and maintaining hope no matter the odds.

There’s a lot to love about this book, and I’ll go into all the details in my review once I’ve finished reading it, but for now, here’s a tiny glimpse at the awesomeness:

 

MOM Teaser - Cafe'

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’ll be back with my full recommendation soon. For now, I suggest adding it to your TBR or checking it out for yourself. The book links are conveniently located below.

Happy reading! 😉

About the Author:

Shantele-Silly-hat-300x300S. E. Summa lives in Tennessee with her husband and a menagerie of spoiled pets. After her daughter left the nest, she rediscovered her love for writing. Growing up in Nashville, she always felt the city’s unique culture and landmarks would be the perfect setting for monsters to play. A PRO member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA), Shantele serves as the Volunteer and Membership Coordinator for her local chapter, the Music City Romance Writers (MCRW). She graduated magna cum laude with a BBA from Belmont University. S. E. started The Debut Collective, a supportive online tribe of authors (both published and aspiring), editors, formatters, and cover designers working together to foster a new generation of stories and authors. The Debut Collective is publishing a series of five anthologies in June 2016.

You can find her online at sesumma.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes and Noble