Chip MacGregor

August 17, 2013

What is "new adult" (and other questions from a conference)


I just got back from a writing conference, and I kept track of several interesting questions that writers wanted to ask me…

“What is New Adult?”

A number of people asked me about this relatively new term — we’re using it in publishing to talk about books aimed at the 18-to-25 year old audience. These are basically readers who grew up buying “young adult” books (those aimed at the 13-to-18 year old audience), and they’re ready to move to new topics, but perhaps are looking for books that explore the transition from “young adult” issues to standard “adult” themes. So most of the “new adult” (or “NA”) titles focus on that transition — relationships, independence, identity, sexuality, empowerment, moving, career choices, etc. It’s a growing category in publishing, even if you may not have heard the term yet.

“If a publisher expresses interest in my manuscript at a conference, does that change the way I approach another editor or agent?”

I doubt it changes the way you approach other editors at a conference (and the words “another editor asked me to send it” tend to mean little, since every experienced conference faculty member can tell you that new writers tend to take ANY encouragement from an editor as “they love my book and are going to publish it!”). Most agents won’t be swayed by the thought that an editor asked to see your proposal, since the agent has to like it personally (I’d never agree to represent someone based on the fact that an editor liked the manuscript). So no, a publisher expressing interest at a conference, while certainly fun and encouraging for you, probably doesn’t mean you should change the way you approach others.

“If an editor asked me to send my manuscript at a conference, should I mention that in the query letter?”

If an editor asks you to send your manuscript to him or her, by all means mention it in your note to that editor. “We met at the XYZ Conference, and you asked me to send this to you” is certainly appropriate. But I wouldn’t mention it to OTHER editors you send it to. The words “Bob Smith at Mega Publishing has already asked to see this” tend to just cause other editors to roll their eyes. The thinking goes something like this: “This sounds like you’re threatening me to decide quickly. I won’t be deciding quickly — I’ll read your proposal, and make my decision based on its own merits.” Does that make sense?

“Could you point me to a list of criteria used by CBA publishers that details what they require in terms of acceptable content?”

Um… nope, I can’t. I don’t know if such a list of criteria exists. Every faith publisher has its own set of things they like to see — and while it is sometimes unwritten, it’s not hard to figure out. A Southern Baptist publisher is looking for a manuscript that fits neatly within Baptist theology, so if it smacks of Roman Catholicism or Charismatic theology, they’re going to reject it. A Catholic press is looking for books that fit their Catholic theology and practice. If you have a publisher in mind, check their website. If they don’t have clear guidelines, a quick check of their authors and titles should give you some clear guidance.

“Do you think it’s healthy for up and coming, starting out, not yet published authors to always think in terms of series?”

Nope. Publishing is always changing — so sometimes a multi-book series is all the rage, other times everybody wants stand-alone titles. In my view, it’s always best for a newer author to think about selling ONE book (since selling a car is easier than selling a fleet of cars). You can still reference some series ideas on the back page, briefly, but keep the proposal based on one book.

“Is there research to tell us what the market is doing in publishing?”

There is — the Book Industry Study Group is always looking at trends and research on the world of publishing. And, if you check out sources, you’ll find fascinating tidbits like this, about what readers want to see in their ebooks:

I should note that one person, after my stating that I was pinch-hitting for another speaker, asked, “What does pinch-hitting mean?”

I tend to forget that’s an American colloquialism. A pinch-hitter is a baseball term, used when one player substitutes for another and hits (that is, uses the baseball bat) in place of the other player. Glad you asked — no doubt others were also wondering where I got my archaic language skills.

And I loved that one writer approached me and asked, “What is your superpower?”

That one is easy: I don’t need much sleep. I can teach in the morning, do appointments with authors all day, take editors to dinner, stop in to have drinks with friends at the bar at night, and be just fine with a couple hours of shut-eye. My superpower, which has served me well at writing conferences.

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  • Rick Barry says:

    Hmm. I think my superpower is simply that I write fiction. I can concoct people and whole new worlds out of my imagination. But to do that I need much more sleep than you, Chip!

  • rachelhauck says:

    Great blog, Amanda!!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Should I feel slighted that my favorite author in the world (Rachel Hauck), came onto my blog to praise someone else? Hmmm…

  • Thanks for this post, Chip, especially the section on new adult (NA). I’ve been reading a lot about it lately, so it was good to get your explanation of it.
    BTW, I think you were a bit modest re: your “superpower”. Those of us who know you know your superpower is the grace of God and your love for Him. 🙂


    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks for the kind words, MaryAnn. And yes, NA isn’t hard to grasp, but I notice it’s not been getting explained very often — and when it does, it’s often in terms of discovering sex. That’s a terribly shallow description of New Adult as a genre, in my view.

    • Yes, I agree, Chip. NA offers so many possibilities for exploring the deep issues that face young people of this age range. You’ve given me food for thought re: future stories. Thanks! 🙂

  • laurietomlinson says:

    Great post! Thanks for the shout-out to the New Adult genre. I’m hoping the number of blank stares I get from CBA authors will soon dwindle.

    Also, your particular brand of straightforward honesty is so valuable to unpublished authors. We need someone to tell us the facts wading through the sugar coating. Thanks again!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      That’s nice of you to say, Laurie. Thanks very much. Glad to hear you’re tackling New Adult in the CBA.

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