Adventures in New Adult, Part Two: Lessons from RWA

The weekend before I was supposed to leave for Atlanta, I finally sat down and did my workshop schedule for the conference. I knew there were going to be a handful of New Adult authors attending (Jay Crownover, Cora Carmack, Jennifer Armentrout, even Rhonda Helms as her alter ego, Olivia Mayfield) but I was excited to see there’d be a panel on New Adult, specifically New Adult romance.

I really owe Cora Carmack a huge thank you. A HUGE thank you.

In a sea of New Adult novels featuring characters with histories of abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, neglect, and even rape, Carmack said her college years were relatively angst-free, and she wanted stories about mostly angst-free twenty somethings finding their way and finding love. Jennifer Armentrout echoed her sentiments.

Basically, after that statement, I could have left the panel and felt it’d been worth it to attend. See, I’d planned to read a bunch of New Adult titles. I have been reading them. I reorganized my Kindle recently and found I actually had 20 New Adult titles waiting to be read, and that didn’t count the three I’d requested off NetGalley for review. But they all just seemed like such huge downers that I kind of looked at my Kindle and had a WTF moment-why had I bought all those books? I mean, I love a good depressing read, but some of them were just…seriously, what was I thinking?

The panel obviously didn’t end there. There was a short debate over whether New Adult deserved its own section on bookstore shelves, necessitating the redesign of the ordering system bookstores use (some panelists said yes, others said no) and more assertions that not all of New Adult was about pain and trauma and angst. Tessa Woodley, the editor who acquired both of Jennifer Armentrout’s NA titles for HarperCollins, talked a little about how the whole acquisition process had worked.

The other impression I came away with? Agents and Big Five editors are willing to find a way to make this new category work, despite not quite knowing where to slot them in the bookstore.

I chatted briefly with Rhonda Helms in the bar the day she arrived (though I doubt she remembers that) and when I asked her about New Adult, she was quite adamant about wanting New Adult paranormal. Whether this means New Adult paranormal romance, I don’t know. I didn’t think to ask, though I probably should have. Paranormal doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic. Yes, she’ll look at contemporary still, but she really wants paranormal. There seems to be a lot of this going around-wanting something other than NA contemporary romance. Agents and editors want variety. We, as the writers, need to give it to them.

I had a blast talking to Stacy, Jennifer Armentrout’s assistant. We talked about the NA Alley Crush Tourney (similar to VBC’s Alpha Showdown). She mentioned Cam, from Wait for You, had lost out to Remy from Katy Evan’s Real. Then she complained Remy didn’t talk enough. Talking to another reader about New Adult was awesome; getting to hear what she liked and didn’t like, what she thought of all the self-published NA titles was totally worth the $12 glass of wine I downed while we talked (seriously. Twelve fucking dollars for a glass of wine.) She asked if I’d thought of self-publishing. I told her the truth: I can’t afford an editor. I will not put my stuff out there for public consumption without having a professional go over it first.

Possibly the biggest validation I heard for New Adult as a viable category came from Nora Roberts. In her chat session, someone asked her what she thought of NA. Her response? She hates the term. Hates it. But she’ll support anything that gives readers more choices.

And I think that’s the biggest lesson of all. Having the choice to read a New Adult title is huge. You’re not stuck in a weird limbo between having outgrown the stories meant for young adult readers but aren’t quite ready for the seriousness that sometimes comes with adult fiction. You can choose stories with characters that are easier for you to relate to. That, my friends, is what I think makes all the difference.

Next up: New Adult reviews!

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