What Ever Happened to New Adult?

Over a decade ago, readers, authors, and publishers alike started to recognize a widening gap between the young adult and adult fiction genres. While the young adult genre tends to encompass stories targeted towards readers ages twelve to eighteen, adult fiction almost always features thirty-year-olds and older. This left out an entire market of twenty-somethings who wanted their stories told as well. Hence, in 2009, St. Martin’s Press coined the term “new adult” to describe this subgenre of fiction that bridged the gap between YA and adult.

In the following years, the new adult genre saw a surge in popularity, especially in the self-publishing community. However, it was almost immediately written off by major publishers as a marketing gimmick and dismissed as a credible genre. Publishers believed that readers’ needs were already being met through YA and adult books. This led best-selling authors such as Cora Carmack and Jennifer L. Armentrout to go down the self-publishing route in order to get their new adult fiction into readers’ hands.

Although this new genre proved promising in the early 2010s, and even started to become more and more accepted in traditional publishing and bookselling, the genre has fallen off in the last five years. Mentions of the genre have all but disappeared, even though books that technically fit the requirements are still being published by major publishers. Take Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, or House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas, both published in the last year. Both feature characters in their early to mid-twenties, and both pull elements from YA and adult fiction. Reading them, it’s clear that they don’t quite fit into either category, and instead lie somewhere in the middle. And yet, in both cases, they are marketed not as new adult, but just as adult fiction.

Some of the resistance to using the new adult label has come from the way the genre has been portrayed over the years. When new adult had its first surge of popularity, the majority of books being published and marketed in the genre were romance or erotica. This led to the stereotype that new adult was just “YA but with sex,” and prevented it from truly branching out into other subgenres such as sci-fi and fantasy or thriller and horror. Without being able to break out into other subgenres as YA and adult fiction have both accomplished, new adult is stuck being seen as a small subgenre of adult fiction that encompasses romance books for the twenty-somethings. This failure of the genre is the main reason why it just can’t seem to rise to the same popularity as a genre like YA.

Despite there being a proven market for new adults that are seeking stories about people like them, the genre seems to have failed to truly establish itself as a staple in publishing. Books continue to be published that fit the category, but they are still few and far between, and are refusing the label “new adult.” It is hard to say what the future of this genre looks like, but it seems that for now, the new adult revolution has officially flopped.

Pitch Workshop and Roundtable with Ooligan Acquisitions Team

As Ooligan’s Acquisitions team, we were honored to be asked to conduct the pitch workshop and participate in the pitch roundtable during this year’s Write to Publish. Authors are often confused about what is expected of them during the pitching opportunities at many writing conferences or other networking events. Though we designed the workshop to be a straightforward presentation on the things an author needs to be aware of when they consider pitching their manuscript, it was important that this also be a time for attendees to practice what they’d learned.

The workshop began with a short presentation that asked authors to place themselves in the shoes of the person to whom they’re pitching. If authors can learn to think about the things agents or editors are thinking about when they listen to a pitch, they can prepare a pitch that has that much more potential for success. This means considering things like the market and how the manuscript fits into it, as well as the timeliness of the subject matter.

After giving authors advice that boils down to “do your homework,” we broke down how to conduct two different types of pitches. The first is a longer-style pitch like the type authors would need in a five-minute pitch session, much like the one many of them would attend later during the pitch roundtable. The second is a short, one-sentence elevator pitch to have on hand when authors find themselves being asked, “What’s your book about?” by agents or editors they might find themselves mingling with during a conference or networking event. The examples we worked from were based on Ooligan’s recently acquired title, A Series of Small Maneuvers by Eliot Treichel.

Smoothly integrating the setting and setup, the conflict, a resolution, and a nod to the book’s potential audience is a difficult thing to do in one sentence, or even three. It takes time, patience, and a willingness to pare down an entire narrative to what is essential. To that end, we felt it was very important to give attendees ample time to practice. Everyone broke up into small groups to work on their own pitches and to offer feedback to their group mates. We made the rounds to answer questions and offer advice. It was encouraging to hear the constructive criticism that the authors offered each other; the opportunity for feedback from fellow writers is not one that comes around as often as many would like. That’s why we wanted to be sure authors had enough time to give thoughtful advice and gain confidence in their ability to present their manuscripts in the best possible light, no matter the circumstances.

The opportunity to host a pitch roundtable is also a rare one. It’s not often that we have the privilege of sitting down with authors, face-to-face, to hear their proposals. Although digital submissions are a godsend in the mere fact that they create a much-needed organizational system for a busy acquisitions editor, they unfortunately often contribute to a lack of transparency between publisher and author. Many writers spend countless hours crafting their proposals and cautiously weighing each and every word in a query letter only to send it out to some editor they know little or nothing about. The digital surface strips us of human connection and provides few opportunities for conversation to take place. It is also often not the most appropriate forum for an extensive conversation about expectations or the best space for extensive feedback to take place.

As much as many acquisitions editors would love the chance to engage in a lengthy conversation with each author, this quickly can get out of hand as the editor often has other functions in the publishing house as well. It is with efficiency in mind that we, like many other businesses, have certain guidelines and regulations in place when it comes to digital communication. In this light, conferences such as Write to Publish are things we look forward to every year because they allow us to shed our digital skins and appear in our rare human form to connect with local writers and authors.

As we sat down to listen to a variety of pitches and proposals, we noticed an overarching theme in our interactions—a desire for the elucidation of certain publishing practices and guidelines. Many authors, when finished pitching and listening to feedback, were curious about the internal workings of the industry and were able to freely ask any lingering questions they might have about the business, questions that never really properly fit in any window of query. Aside from being a great opportunity for prospective publishing, we think this observation speaks volumes about why writing and publishing conferences are great and important places: you get some face time with publishing professionals, and they are often very eager to demystify publishing. We had a great time at W2P, and we hope you did too!

The New Adult Revolution: A Recap

After an entire calendar year of work, Write to Publish finally happened! This past week has possibly been the longest and most stressful one I’ve spent in the program—and that includes any previous finals week.

As with all events like this, there were a certain number of hiccups and a few last-minute problems that popped up. And then of course the general fear that any event organizer has the days leading up to such a huge event, that no one is going to show up. I had several of those nightmares, several nights in a row. None of them came to fruition though.

Everything ran smoother than Sarah and I could have expected. All of our amazing panelists were excited and friendly and happy to get to know everyone in the green room, in the classroom, and at lunch. We could not have picked a more wonderful group of people to give advice to those looking to break into the business.

In addition to all their experience and advice, they offered glimpses into their own personal lives that allowed their audience to connect with them, like Stacey Wallace Benefiel revealing that she has “Write Free or Die” tattooed on her arm. She is now officially one of my personal heroes.

Kelly Williams Brown offered a crowded workshop on how to pitch one’s story to editors or agents; lessons that anyone who wants to get their book out into the world could benefit from. I hope all of our guests found someone to connect with during the course of the day and, if not, were at least inspired by Allison Moon’s excellent keynote speech that wrapped up the day. She spoke to heart of why we write—to communicate and to connect—and how the fear of “sucking” can block that. Instead, she urged, show people the scariest thing you’ve written and maybe go howl at the moon.

Come to Write to Publish!

(You Gotta) Fight for Your Write (to Publish!)

Ooligan Press Invites You to Learn How to Publish Your Story at Our Annual Conference!

Are you ready for Write to Publish? Our sixth annual Write to Publish conference is coming up on February 15th at the PSU Native American Student and Community Center from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. This year’s theme, The New Adult Revolution, will feature a variety of authors and publishing professionals, including Kelly Williams Brown, Jamie S. Rich, Allison Moon, and Chris Roberson, talking about publishing and discussing the twenty-something demographic and how their stories can be told authentically. Lunch and snacks will be provided by Anna Bannanas Café, California Pizza Kitchen, and KIND Bars.

Write to Publish is a unique writers’ conference focused on publishing. This year, acclaimed author Kelley Williams Brown (Adulting: How to Become A Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps) is facilitating a workshop that will cover the basics of getting published—including how to navigate the industry as an author, how to pitch a manuscript, and how to speak with agents, editors, and publicists. This year’s keynote speech will be made by Allison Moon on taking charge of your story and self-publishing your book. Eight different panels will feature writers and professionals speaking about their personal experiences and giving advice; these panels will explore a variety of topics, such as the writer-editor relationship, transmedia marketing, and breaking into the comics publishing scene. In addition, local vendors from the publishing industry will contribute their knowledge and services to attendees. We’ll feature representatives from MindBuck Media, Gertrude Press, Cogitate Studios, MacGregor Literary Agency, the Portland Review, and more! As in years past, Write to Publish promises to help demystify the publishing process by offering insight, resources, and encouragement for burgeoning writers.

For a full list of panelists, speakers, and vendors, as well as a day-of schedule, please visit our website. Tickets are available online or at the door at $35 for students and $80 for non-students.

Do you have a story within you, waiting to break free? Have you always wondered how to get your foot in the door to the publishing industry? Would you like to meet a whole host of awesome writers, editors, agents, and marketing professionals? Come to Write to Publish! It’s just around the corner, and we can’t wait to see you there!

Come to W2P 2014!

We want you at W2P!

A Bestseller Reviews Write to Publish

If you’re reading this blog, you’re either interested in publishing or you’re a writer.

Or maybe you just want another look at this steamy picture (that’s the one, isn’t it?).

Whatever the reason, you’re about to read the happiest news you’ll hear all day: Write to Publish is this weekend! You’ll love this conference—if not for our expert panelists or bookish vendors, then at least for the catered lunch. Write to Publish does exactly what it says, teaching writers how to get published.

Case in point: Romance author Joanna Wylde attended our 2012 conference and has since published two popular books. Her latest novel, Reaper’s Legacy, currently ranks #20 on USA Today’s bestseller list and #9 on the New York Times bestseller list for fiction e-books (#10 for its fiction e-book/print sales combined). Ooligan Press was pleased to interview her via email about her experience at Write to Publish.

Ooligan: What did you like most about Write to Publish?

Joanna Wylde: I attended Write to Publish in 2012, when the theme was genre fiction. As a romance writer, most of the conferences I’d been to were all romance oriented, and I really enjoyed how this one crossed genre lines. I loved talking to science fiction, mystery and horror writers about their work. While the conventions of each genre are different, the actual business of writing is very similar. Their perspectives were incredibly helpful. I think the best part of the conference was the small size—I actually got face time with the presenters.

How did Write to Publish influence your career?

JW: I’ve been a professional writer for nearly eighteen years but had only written fiction for a short time in 2002. While I found moderate success, it wasn’t enough to justify turning down other work opportunities. By 2012, I had a successful freelance business doing ghost writing and communications consulting, but I was getting bored. I wanted something more creative. Attending the Ooligan conference got me excited about fiction again. There’s nothing like being surrounded by creative people to spark your own sense of wonder.

Ultimately, Write to Publish was most valuable as a networking opportunity. At that point I didn’t know many working fiction writers, but I met several there. Jason V. Brock was among them, and he’d told me to feel free to stay in touch and ask him questions as needed. Nearly a year later (January 2013), my breakthrough book came out and I started getting offers from New York publishers. As exciting as this was, it was also intimidating. I knew the publishing business was full of sharks and didn’t want to make a stupid mistake. I contacted Jason and he chatted with me one night on Facebook, helping me craft a strategy to move forward. One thing led to another, and suddenly I had an agent who was negotiating a good deal for me with Penguin.

For all the wonderful information I got at the conference, ultimately the reason I feel so thankful to Ooligan has nothing to do with the content of the presentations I attended. It was the passing connection I made to one person, leading to a conversation on Facebook. It sounds so small, but when I needed advice, I had someone to ask.

What is something most unpublished writers don’t know about the publishing process?

JW: Everything? That’s a hard question to answer. There’s so much more to it than writing a book… Probably the most important thing right now is to realize that ebooks have changed how publishing works, and nobody quite knows what will happen in the next few years. That means you need to watch your market and be flexible in your approach. Strange things change the landscape, and they have nothing to do with the quality of writing in any given book.

For example, this past fall Facebook reconfigured how they display posts from author and blogger fan pages. Instantly, one of the most powerful marketing tools we had as writers stopped working effectively (on my own page, posts that once got 10,000 views are now getting 2,000—that impacts sales very directly). No warning, no appeal. A new author in such a volatile environment has to be ready to deal with incredible uncertainty and the knowledge that simply writing a good book is not enough to be successful. The actual production of the book is the least of our concerns.

What advice would you give writers looking to publish their first book?

JW: Well, first you need to write the book, which should be obvious… But it’s not. I’ve met so many writers who spend hours debating query letters and pitch techniques when they don’t actually have a completed manuscript. So what I have to say about publishing is based on the assumption that you’ve already written a decent, somewhat marketable book.

If you’ve written the book, unless you have very good connections to an agent or acquiring editor, I think it’s well worth your time to consider indie publishing. Anyone can throw a manuscript up on Amazon and call it published. Many do, and some even hit the NYT list. It happens to real people. But you’re more likely to get somewhere with an editor, good art and a marketing plan. Don’t skimp on any of these, particularly editing. Even if you’re interested in a traditional publishing deal, it’s still worth your time to look into indie publishing. The very best way I know to get an agent or a contract offer worth considering is to prove your marketability. Nothing says “people will buy my book” like thousands of people actually buying your book.

The other thing I’d warn you about is getting good legal advice. Don’t sign any contract with a publisher without having an experienced lawyer or agent look it over for you. A reputable agent doesn’t require any money up front—they earn all their money on commission. If you’re offered a contract and you don’t have an agent, that shouldn’t be a problem. If the contract has genuine potential, it will attract an agent. If you don’t have people offering you contracts based on your sales performance, or your contract isn’t lucrative enough to attract an agent, I’d rethink whether traditional publishing is the right path at this time.

For better or for worse, publishers are no longer the gatekeepers, and writers who have the potential to really sell books don’t necessarily need them.

Follow Joanna on Facebook and Twitter and register now for Write to Publish to learn more trade secrets February 15th at 9 a.m.

Learn the publishing process, make contacts, ask questions, and be the next Write to Publish success story!

The Other Side: Write To Publish

Shout the news from the rooftops, my friends, because I bear spectacular tidings for writers: Ooligan’s Write to Publish Conference approaches!

While writing conferences may be abundant, publishing conferences are scarce as hell. Enter Write to Publish, a forum that originated as an open house for Ooligan Press and Portland State University’s publishing program to collect donations. Write to Publish is now one in only a handful of conferences in the nation that educates authors on what to do with their writing.

Even writers with degrees in English will benefit from this conference. As an English graduate myself, I know most programs mainly include writing workshops and literature classes. Students feel lofty pondering the symbolism in Beowulf but know nothing about getting published, writing query letters, finding agents, or copyediting. Instead, students sink money into classes that primarily develop writing and interpretation skills, which are necessary but not very marketable when sold alone.

I’ll say it: no one wants to be a penniless, unpublished writer slinging lattes. Write to Publish is the writer’s ultimate resource, providing information about The Other Side—and even other day jobs in the field. The book publishing industry is packed with positions, from editors to agents, and they’ll all be represented at Write to Publish.

In previous years, the conference has hosted esteemed authors like Ursula K. Le Guin and Chuck Palahniuk and provided access to industry professionals from editors and designers to agents and publishers. This year’s theme is New Adult, and topics included digital publishing, series publishing, editor-author relationships, working with an agent, Young Adult genre writing, and more.

And if you thought it couldn’t get better, Anna Bannanas is catering!

Don’t miss this unique conference, happening one day only on February 15th, 2014, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Read Kyra Hearn’s blog post from November 12th for a full list of 2014 panelists, and check back at http://ooligan.pdx.edu/write-to-publish/ for more registration information coming soon.

Write to Publish logo

The New Adult Revolution

What is New Adult? Why should you care? I hadn’t heard of New Adult until I was assigned to work on Write to Publish, a conference about the publishing process hosted annually by Ooligan Press (the next one is happening on February 15, 2014). The theme of Write to Publish this year is New Adult, so it’s high time for me to figure out what it is.

The first thing to note about New Adult—there is no concrete, established definition. Some critics don’t think it’s a genre at all, just a new attempt to market books. Many blogs have written about New Adult, Ooligan Press included, so I’ll try not to get too repetitive.

St. Martin’s Press coined the term in 2009, when they ran a contest looking for “great, new, cutting edge fiction with protagonists who are slightly older than YA [Young Adult] and can appeal to an adult audience. Since twenty-somethings are devouring YA, St. Martin’s Press is seeking fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult.’” The New York Times described New Adult as “books that fit into the young-adult genre in their length and emotional intensity, but feature slightly older characters and significantly more sex, explicitly detailed.” So is New Adult just sexed-up YA? Not quite.

The general consensus is that the age of New Adult protagonists and target reader age is between 18–26, that weird time in life where you’re either in college, working, living at home, striking out on your own (likely for the first time), or some combination of the above. I think this age range is the key to understanding what New Adult is all about: stories with characters transitioning from teenagers to adults that explore all the new experiences and responsibilities that come with that process. The protagonists may technically be adults, but they may not feel like adults. NA fiction captures that period of change.

What I find most interesting about New Adult is its correlation to the rise in self-publishing. Authors saw a need in the market for stories with college-age characters, so they wrote those stories. When publishers were reluctant to acquire manuscripts that were not-quite-YA and not-quite-adult, the authors turned to the internet and self-published their manuscripts as e-books. As with any other genre of self-published e-books, some of those sell incredibly well and have been bought by larger publishers, while some of them have faded or will fade into the smorgasbord of other e-books. In any case, the target age range for New Adult coincides nicely with the age range of technologically savvy people. I expect the number of New Adult e-book titles will continue to rise steadily as the genre becomes more defined.

Though you may not see a New Adult section in your local Barnes & Noble, there is clearly a market for NA stories. Millennials have been labeled as the narcissistic (or “selfie”) generation, and there is some truth in that. Many people of that generation want to see a piece of themselves in the media they consume. They want to know how other people their age are coping with living at home while trying to be independent. They want stories of people who work for themselves because they can’t find work anywhere else. The sexy bits are just an added bonus—what will drive the success of New Adult are authentic stories about transitioning into adulthood.

So my one sentence summation of New Adult is this: genuine and authentic stories about and targeted towards 18–26-year-olds experimenting with identity and transitioning into adulthood. If you want to know more, I’d recommend attending Write to Publish!

Coming Soon: Write to Publish

The second annual 10-day Portland State of Mind celebration has come and gone. This year, Portland State University hosted more than fifty events, kicking off with a downtown Portland scavenger hunt and ending with a day of community service. The Simon Benson Awards Dinner, Alumni Beer Launch Party, Food Week Carnival, OIT Technology Talks Series, and Viking football were just a few events that took place, including a preview of the upcoming 2014 Write to Publish conference.

People of varying ages attended the hour-long, informational presentation of Write to Publish at the Smith Memorial Student Union on October 23, 2013. Write to Publish is a writing conference that demystifies the publishing process for writers and others interested in the publishing industry. In the past, Write to Publish has focused on genre fiction and non-fiction, and has offered workshops that broached topics such as self-marketing and small-press publishing. Held at Portland State, the forthcoming, sixth-annual conference will focus on the New Adult genre, a recently emerged area of publishing that targets the 18–24 age demographic and addresses the issues faced when becoming an adult. The conference invites all ages of the public to explore the meaning of new adult, listen to authors, share in their experiences, and gain information about an industry that is ever-changing. This year, Write to Publish will feature several prominent authors and publishing professionals. Authors and professionals in attendance include:

Write to Publish will present key-note speakers and offer workshops. Various vendors will be in attendance and the conference will provide catered food from Anna Bannanas Café. The conference will be held February 15, 2014 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; registration for the all-day event will open December 1, 2013 For more information, visit Write to Publish’s website at or stay up-to-date with their Facebook page.

Reading Literary Fiction Boosts Powers of Social Perception

This past Friday, October 4, NPR’s All Things Considered reported on research findings from a Science journal study, which concluded that reading “highbrow” literary fiction (as opposed to popular fiction or nonfiction) gave individuals greater powers of social perception. Put simply, people who read Louise Erdrich instead of Danielle Steel have a better chance of
being able to “read” people as well. Scientists reviewing the findings suggested that this may be the case in part because of the character-driven narrative arcs of literary fiction, as opposed to the plot-driven narratives present in popular fiction. When you read popular fiction, you keep turning the pages to see what is going to happen next; when you read literary fiction, you keep turning the pages to learn more about conflicted and complex characters.
While the findings of the study itself were pretty interesting (not to mention a bit of an ego inflater for those who do choose Erdrich over Steel), what really caught my attention was the specifications of “literary” and “popular” fiction. Even the scientists who conducted the study admitted that “it’s hard to precisely define ‘literary’ fiction.” Sure, it’s easy to pick out some key differences between the two writers featured in the study, but when you put any two works of fiction side by side, the task will likely prove to be more difficult.
This is an issue that we debate with every new acquisition at Ooligan Press, something that publishers everywhere have to think about. One of our most recent acquisitions, a currently untitled work by Karelia Stetz-Waters, proved especially tricky to categorize, with students going back and forth between literary fiction and young adult fiction (and what about that ambiguous “new adult” category we keep hearing about?) for months, and although we have tentatively decided that the manuscript is young adult, we are still debating.
And that’s what I guess my point is: for the most part, these categories are primarily a marketing construct. Just because a work of fiction is popular doesn’t mean that there aren’t some elements of higher literary writing at play, and vice versa. Categories are fluid, subjective, and sometimes arbitrary, based on how a publisher chooses to market a book. What might not speak on a deeper level to one reader may resonate very strongly with another. While the works employed in the aforementioned study (Erdrich’s The Round House and Steel’s The Sins of the Mother) have some fairly stark differences, it’s important to remember that if a piece moves you, you’ll probably garner some benefits from having read it. And, of course, the sheer pleasure of reading is its own reward. Even the scientists conducting the study make clear that they did not want their results to be seen as a condemnation of so-called popular fiction. Ultimately, maybe what you read isn’t as important as the fact that you choose to read at all—so whatever kind of book you’re working on right now, please, keep reading!

What the Heck is New-Adult Fiction?

by Rebekah Hunt
If you’re getting old like me, you’re probably feeling more and more confused by what all the young people are up to these days. Now, that’s a joke, and I know I’m not anywhere near getting old, but sometimes I happen across a whole new cultural phenomenon that makes me feel like I’m getting old and out of touch. The new-adult category of fiction is one such phenomenon.
I am familiar with the different age categories that books are marketed to. At least, I thought I was. Then one day I saw the term “new-adult fiction” on a website, being applied to the demographic that the book in question was intended for. I had never heard of this, so I thought it was an affectation of this one particular book reviewer. When I googled the term, however, I found it all over the place. It even has a Wikipedia page. So, what the heck is it and where did it come from?
According to the aforementioned Wikipedia article, NA is “a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18-25 age bracket.” So, the most important distinction of new-adult fiction (NA), apparently, is that it is not exactly YA, but not exactly general adult fiction. It sits in the twilight zone between teen and adult audiences. Which is fairly appropriate, since Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series is a prime example of the genre. But it didn’t start with Twilight.
The term was coined in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press, when they put out a call for fiction submissions, saying, “Since twenty-somethings are devouring YA, St. Martin’s Press is seeking fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult.’” And thus, NA was born. Though initially seen as a marketing gimmick, publishers have been rushing to sign authors of NA books in an attempt to capitalize on the emerging market.
In a recent article for the New York Times in the Books section, Leslie Kaufman describes the appeal the new genre holds for publishers. “The goal,” she says, “is to retain young readers who have loyally worked their way through series like Harry Potter, ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Twilight,’ all of which tread lightly, or not at all, when it comes to sexual encounters.”
She explains further, saying, “Providing more mature material, publishers reason, is a good way to maintain devotion to books among the teenagers who are scooping up young-adult fiction and making it the most popular category in literature, with a crossover readership that is also attracting millions of adults. All while creating a new source of revenue.”
While I stand by my earlier statement about Twilight being NA, since it deals with sexual themes, violence, and rape (and I don’t think anyone young enough to be interested in it is old enough to read it); I see the appeal for publishers in grasping the revenue stream NA could offer. Sex sells, and that seems to be the major defining characteristic of the genre. But will T&A be enough to sustain interest in NA? We will see. While time will be the true test of its longevity, it appears for now that NA is here to stay.