Thursday, July 9, 2009

College Fiction: The Orphan Genre?

Got a question for my lovely readers.

I've seen this question posed on AbsoluteWrite a few times in other forms. Like "What is the cu off age for YA protagnonists?" and such, but I'm going to put it in a different way. This is actually to help out an AW friend, Laurie, who is writing an intriguing book called Southern Hostility--a book I am privileged enough to be beta-reading! Anyway, Laurie and I just had a discussion about this book, and we were both left with a similar question.

Where does college aged fiction belong?

The characters in Laurie's book are in college. The plot takes place in college. In fact, the college is somewhat central to the story, in my opinion.

But it isn't YA, is it? I think not. From what I've been told, the characters for YA most usually have to be in high school or just out of high school--as in summer break--in order to fit the genre.

But is it adult? Laurie doesn't think so. She worries (I do not share thsi fear, I might add) that adults won't be interested in her 19 or 20 year old characters and their college drama.

So where does it go?

Where does any college age fiction go?

In some way, I feel like it could and should pass for either. I'm seventeen, for example, and I'd love to read this book. I know college kids who would LOVE this book. But are college kids young adults or adults? Where is the line drawn? What market do college students buy in? I JUST DON'T KNOW!

And being that i"m about to start college, I'm interested to find out.

So I'm posing this question to you, my readers. Where does college fiction belong? YA or adult? If you don't have an answer to that, maybe tell me if you've read books taking place in college and, if so, what genre was THAT book marketed in?

This isnt' just to help Laurie. Its for my personal interest, too. I'm about to start college, and if I want to read about someone my own age, where do I look????

Tell me, friends! Tell me!


Amanda J. said...

Hey there!

I'm a Junior in college and I have to be honest, almost all of my friends and I read YA. We love it.

I think that most of the college aged fiction though doesn't really tell you age or doesn't put much weight on it. In Paolini's books, I don't think he gives you ages or if he does, he doesn't beat you over the head with it. I'd have to double check that, though.

But my point is we read whatever we like, it doesn't matter what age- I personally haven't seen any college fiction but I haven't exactly been looking either. And sometimes the age isn't obvious, I usually feel like those are the ones who have slightly older protagonists but don't feel that a specific age is that important.

I really don't know if that helps you at all haha, but there's one opinion for ya.

La-La-La-Laurie said...

Hmm, you think the college is central to the story? Because Devon and friends are getting closer and closer to becoming high school students. I'm not making any rash decisions, but it is definitely up there in my head. I'm curious to see opinions though.

And, dude, I feel so important to be on your blog. I mean I get to be the follow-up to the post about you selling The Duff. WHAT?!

rosepddle said...

I'm probably a little biased here because the ms I'm submitting to agents feature protag's ages 18-20. I for one think that YA should go to 21. I think it should include college aged MCs. I've heard agents say that YA has a feel to it. If your friend's story is more so about those first time experience, coming of age in college then I certainly think it could be YA and adults will read it too. I'd really hate to think that all YA has to revolve around highschool.

Amanda J. said...

I agree. YA is more about the feel.

I just took a YA Lit class (which by the way was totally awesome) and we talked all semester about age and how everyone thinks it's different. It can be any teenager or tweens to twenties or 13-21.

Everyone thinks of it differently so don't worry about it just yet, if you have an age and a setting you think are vital, go for it. If it's a good story then it won't matter what your age is.

Hi, by the way lol, I know none of you know me. :)

Kaitlin Ward said...

College age characters are definitely in a little lost zone, but I don't know why! I'm on the brink of turning 24, and I read both YA and adult fiction. And honestly, I read more adult fiction when I was younger and more YA now. None of my friends seem to discriminate, either. Everywhere else except when it comes to literature, it seems, the term 'young adults' refers to people who are around college age up to maybe mid-twenties. So it's frustrating. I actually have a story that I'm currently rewriting because I tried to force my MCs to be teens, and they just weren't. So now they're in college, and I'm just not going to try querying it.
This is getting long, so to sum up: I really wish that YA could include college, because honestly, you have such similar problems in college as you do in high school, at least with the social scene. You're still having 'coming of age' problems, still growing, still maturing.
But I've read some pretty awesome books that had college students, so it can be done!

Joanna said...

This is a very tough question.

There have been a few attempts at college-aged characters/college-themed YAs, but none have of them have been succesful thus far.

Unfortunately, I feel the problem really lies in marketing. YA is very specific. There's 12 and up, 14 and up, and in some cases, 16 and up and that's where it ends. As it is, YAs with a lot of sex, drugs, and other "edgy" issues are a tough sale, but when you put characters in college, how can you possibly avoid those issues?

You also have to take into consideration where the books would be shelved. 12+, 14+ and 16+ are all shelved in the same spot. What would the next step be? 18+? And where would that be shelved? Would it be smart to place it next to a 12+ and hope that the reader (who may be as young as 10 because I know I was reading way older at that age)is wise enough to tell the difference?

I have to agree with Amanda J though--if the writing is good, you will catch an agent's attention. But I have to admit that when I receive a query with the characters in college, I think adult, and not YA.

Lunar Amyscope said...

When I first decided to write ToB, I had no idea or any knowledge whatsoever on genres and what YA really was.

My characters were all in college. When I finished and started writing the query, (saying it was a contemporary adult...LOL) people started hinting that it looked YA. After research on the genre and realizing ToB definitely sounded like YA, I simply changed the genre on my query.

It got NO bites, and an agent was nice enough to tell me that the problem was in the age of the protagonists. I changed the entire story to be at a prep school instead of college, and I finally got 'the' bite.

I really like how it turned out, I just wonder why there arn't more specific rules for College Fiction. It really is like, impossible to sell apparently. Maybe they should just make a new genre altogether...I bet it would explode!!

Sarah said...

I am so glad you posted about this. This is such a struggle for me. My novel contains 4/6 main characters who are eighteen plus and have graduated high school. It would kill me to change their ages just because their maturity level is above high school age. So what do I do? Do I sacrifice my characters just to fit my book into YA? I think I would rather self publish my novel than do that. It's not fair to college writers or readers that a college genre does not exist. It is about time that changes. The majority of people I know that are obsessed with reading are 20 to 21 years old. I've asked many college aged readers about this and they've pretty much said that they would kill for this genre to become more prominent. I hope for the sake of the readers I know, my readers, and my art that this happens.

Race said...

I personally feel that there should be more college-aged MCs. I'm in college now but I remember the days when I was not, very well. ;) I, for one, was fascinated with college life. I wanted to know everything there was to know about it... and this was in younger years, such as 13+. But at the same time if the whole plot was about college I think I would have seen things I didn't understand and felt a little left out because of it.

It probably isn't a matter of being college-age as much as a matter of how much emphasis is placed on it. If the plot is central to college then I don't think young adults will be able to identify with it.

Read "I know what you did last summer." The kids in this YA book are college-age, but the plot is not about college.

Leah Michelle said...

I agree with Rosepddle that I personally feel the age should be up to 21 to fit into YA. I originally had my characters at age 21, then upon talking with Sarah, I changed their ages to 17. Of course, this has put a little damper on my writing, and now it leaves me rewriting the first half of my book. I find it incredibly unfair that young adults, which it technically 18-21, aren't considered YA anymore. 15-18 are considered YA in this age, when it should be under another genre, like teens or something.

Tashya said...

This is a really good question. "Chick lit" (ugh, who coined that term?!) takes up where college leaves off, but, yeah, what about college? What are some of the strong titles? In 2010, Harlequin Teen is reprinting a Red Dress Ink book, Caren Lissner's CARRIE PILBY, which features a 19-year-old genius college graduate living on her own in NYC, so we'll see how that is received. We're also publishing several novels based on ABC Family's TV show GREEK, featuring characters in college. They'll be on the YA shelves, probably in the 14-up age group. Ask me next year how that's going!

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