Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mind the Gap: College-Aged YA Lit & Beyond

The end of series, but a great i.e.
A couple if months ago, I sent out some feelers over Twitter about wanting to post about the lack of post-high school young adult literature.  I love my high schoolies, but I find a particular resonance with the older set of young adult lit.  I was so gung ho on writing a post.  I even went so far as to ask a few publishers (by 'few' I mean 'many') for their opinions.  Unfortunately, I only got back one response, and it didn't really address the main questions of post-HS YA lit.

Features 19-year old, college dropout..
So, I was thrilled to see Nic from Irresistible Reads recent listopia on GoodReads for 'Favourite Older YA Reads - Contemp fiction'.  And then there was this wonderful post from Kristin Briana Otts over at YA Highway, "New Adult: The Misfit Genre".  In it, she talk about how she beta read a new, amazing manuscript with a freshman-in-college protagonist, but that publishers were telling the author that they can't sell YA with college students.

A top post- HS pick.
Personally, I am begging for older YA!   How many of you love reminiscing about your college years?  I think a person can certainly make the argument that one's character and life go through the MOST development during your late teens through your mid-twenties.  Plus, there's that whole 'boomerang generation' phenomenon going on (see article links below).  The kids in their 20s, either during college, post-college, or no college, are moving back in with mom and pops.  A lot of us can't get a job that affords us to live on our own, pay our school loans, pay our car loan, etc.  Being scared and unsure of your future, traversing the hazardous dating world, going through friendship shifts and dealing with the family?  Ummm, any of this sound familiar?  Trust me, feeling like that particular brand of loser is a very lonely place to be in, mentally speaking, regardless of whether you are 16 or 25.

Rare male protag in his early 20s.
Your audience is already here, dear publishers.  We just need you to sell the product.

I conferred with a few cohorts, and here's what they had to say:

"I would definitely like to see more books with college-aged protagonists and subject matter. In college I noticed that there was a severe lack of books with protagonists my age: I could either read about high school girls or twenty-something girls who always seemed to live in a city and had crazy hijinks with boys. I don't think I ever found a book in college that described what I was going through. . . .  I think that there's a pretty big market for books with college-aged protagonists because college is a time when everything begins to change. My life changed dramatically in college and I made some huge decisions about what I was going to do with my life. I think 18 to 22 year-olds are looking for guidance during the college years (or post-high school years) but not in the form of parents, advisors or self-help books, and I believe that novels geared toward that age group would be awesome.

I'm not exactly sure why we don't see much college-aged YA lit. I think that part of it is a lot of people want to read about characters in the next stage of life than they are in and so people think that college-aged people want to read about adults beginning their professional lives. That may be true to some extent, but what about high schoolers who want to read about college life? There often seems to be a huge disconnect in expectations people have for teenagers: we don't want them to read about drugs, sex and alcohol because that might harm them in some way, but then we send them off to college where they will likely encounter those things very regularly. Personally, my parents kept a pretty strict eye on the books I was reading and in high school, they would not have wanted me to read about college goings-on even though I went off to college several months later and saw them all firsthand. There's also the expectation of college students to act like adults, which includes reading adult books and other literary materials. That age group seems to have been left out of books and I'm really not quite sure why."
 -Katie Cooper, English teacher
Adam & Mia in their 20s

"I almost feel bad for those at the "in between stage" of life.  Not a teenager anymore, but not quite an adult yet either.  It's a crucial time in anyone's life & I think it's important for authors to touch upon this.  I would like to see more books written during that time frame.  I know for myself, I would be able to read it & still get a reaction from it.  There are a lot of readers going through that stage right now that do read YA & I am sure they could benefit from some of these stories too.  It's always important to connect with your characters."
The Infamous Gap Year . . 
-Ginger, GReads!

Boomerang Generation articles - Check'em out: 
 *New York Times' The Opinion Pages, "Educated, Unemployed and Frustrated" by Matthew Klein
*Newsworks, "Adolescence, now twice as long" by Maiken Scott
*The Fiscal Times, "The Boomerang Generation: More Reasons to Move Back Home" by Michelle Hirsch
*Reuters, "More young U.S. adults live with parents: study" Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr., editing by Patricia Reaney

So, what's your take?  Would you like to see more post-HS young adult literature?  Do you have some suggestions that you would like to share?


  1. Such an interesting post. And what astounds me is that the publishers thinking it's not marketable.

    Such a dramatic time in people's lives, surely there are many stories to tell.

  2. I'm begging for more too! I just finished reading Psych Major Syndrome yesterday and the MC is a freshman in college, LOVED IT! Any YA book I read where the character is college age I feel like I have to mention this and that I wish we saw it more! Great post!

  3. I never really thought about it until now...You make a great point! I'm 22, but not in college. I would love to read more about kids my age, because let's face it, most 22 year olds are still kids. I guess when I read I almost forget the teens I'm reading about are kids.

  4. I am saving your post so that I can use those links in my thesis wheeee. Nic and I were talking about this New Adult lit genre, and my opinion is that it will happen. A hundred years ago the concept of adolescence didn't even exist. I learned recently that a lot of age-related terms we consider almost common knowledge now--toddlers, tweens, teens, young adults--were actually marketing tools. So, once publishers figure out that there is a demand for NA lit, the genre will form. The age range of people who read YA lit is getting bigger and bigger, covering readers between the ages of 10 and 35. Of course the 10-year-old and the 35-year-old will gravitate towards different types of YA, though. So I'm excited to see where the future takes us. :)

  5. Not marketable? Are you KIDDING ME?
    I'm dying to read books that have people in their early 20s, very late teens, people my age.
    Whether or not they're in college, stuff happens in these years. In fact, I'd say these years that I've had after high school have changed me more than my high school years ever did, and my life is actually way more interesting than it was in high school.
    I've talked about this with my friends for quite some time. And we always come to the same conclusion - we need more books about these years.

  6. @MR - I completely agree, and it's so much more dramatic than HS because you can't fall back on the comforts of home in the same - it's the start of knowing whether you are worth your salt.

    @Jacinda - I've seen really great reviews on that one and hope to read it myself soon - I know what you mean - anytime I read an older YA book, I want everyone to know about it!

    @Jasmine - You are right - it's not just the college kids, although I used that term "college-aged" so I could roughly define the age group I'm talking about. I think it's easy to forget that they're teens, esp when the author is an eloquent writer.

    @Steph - Yay - glad it will help you out! I've read about that, too, how there really want's a children's market for ANYTHING until roughly the Victorian era, and then when the boomers came along, they suddenly became a 'market' - fascinating, isn't it? Hopefully, we can show that there is enough demand for them to publish - it's good stories that should matter, not necessarily the age group.

    @Kiaya - YES! You are absolutely correct - and the stakes and risks are so much higher during that age, too! Not as many people to pull you back and say, "nonono!" Not that that's a bad thing, but I think it makes it just as compelling an age to write about, if not more so.

    Thanks for the input, everyone!

  7. I would definitely love to see more college ages books. I think that area is always skipped. Great post!

  8. YES I desperately want more. I am trying to make a list of them all out there but I am having trouble finding titles.

    I think YA is all about firsts. And there is a lot of first experiences in your college years :)

    Wonderful post Linds :)

  9. Yes, there is a (small) demand, but if publishers feel like they can't sell something, then in there eyes, that is all that matters.

    I work with college students. Everyday I ask them what they are reading. If it isn't 'required' reading for class then they aren't reading for fun. And the books they do have to read are all classics or text books. I think that plays a big part of why there isn't a large demand.

    Yes, it is fun to reflect on the good old days. I agree, and I wish there was more of a variety, but if the "target" market can't be reach, then we are looking at facing a fruitless effort. :(

  10. Missie definitely makes a good point about college age students primarily reading text books and things related to schoolwork. I know when I was in school if I didn't have to read for class, I didn't want to read at all, so I can see how the college-age crowd would be a tough market to sell to.

    That being said, I would love to see some slightly older YA protagonists. Since I think a large part of YA readers are older, out-of-their-teens women, it would be nice to have a protagonist a little closer in age to whom we could relate:) Usually I just switch over to the adult genre when I tire of the teen angst though, and that way I have the best of both worlds:)

  11. @Savy - I agree!

    @Nic - You are AWESOME for making that list!! It's a HUGE help! You are totally correct - there are so many firsts in college - I just think it's so overlooked - a shame!

    @Missie - Yes, I agree with that they are not going to seell something that they think won't turn a profit, but I would argue that the market for post-HS YA lit is bigger than the college population - just look at the wide and varied readership of more traditional YA lit.

    @Jenny - Hahah, I know exactly what you mean - I've been having one of those weeks where I really needed a PNR/UF fix. Haha, Cat and Mac are at the exact ages we are talking about, too!


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  13. Gosh, I really wish we could edit posts!

    Yup, it is bigger than the college population but it affect market research when publishers are are looking at stats. Steph makes some good points.

    All genres have gone through explosion periods. There is a craze, everyone frenzies over it, then it fades and a new one emerges. Older YA. It's coming, it's just gonna take a while. It starts with discussions like these.

  14. But how many of the bloggers today are college age? I know plenty and they aren't reading textbooks or class reads. They are reading YA so I really think there is a market for college age YA.

    This is a great topic Lindsay (I don't know how you spell your name). And a whole new age group to write for, though I think it would have to be called something different than YA because sex wouldn't be taboo like it is in most YA. Relationships would be totally different with parents, with friends, with boyfriends,girlfirends no subject would be off limits.


  15. I think you should write one. You really seem to understand the issues well. Have you given thought to it?

  16. Someday, when I have the guts and the time, maybe I will give it a go - thanks, BookBelle :)

  17. I only know of one publisher looking to expand this niche -- "New Adult" they call it, since "Young Adult" is already taken. That's St. Martin's Press, and they ran a contest a couple years ago to find some books for the post-college set. One of our contributors, Kristan Hoffman, was one of the winners, and they almost published her web series about 3 twenty-something girls exploring life after college and across the globe. Now she's selling it on Amazon as an ebook, and it's doing fairly well: