Monday, September 22, 2014

Understanding New Adult

The hottest new trend out there in the publishing world is the New Adult Genre. I wanted to take the time to really explore and understand this genre. I do think there are a lot of authors out there that are missing the point of the goal of this style of writing.

To start with, let's talk about how we define specific genres of writing, I think that too many people seem to think it focuses on things such as word count or the topic. For example, many people seem to believe that the difference between single title and category is the word count. For those you who have been here on the blog before, you know that, while word count does have an impact on the story, the real things that make a story single title or category are the voice, the focus on the relationship and the depth. The same thing happens with New Adult.

First of all, we have to understand who the target audience is for New Adult. This is supposed to be readers in the 18 to early 20's age group. This means that the odds are, the protagonist will also be in this same age group. But here is where we leave the basics of character type and focus in on the real idea behind this genre.

It is all about the theme and the message. I have to say, I heard the best definition at the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association conference this last summer. I honestly don't remember which of the editors (although it might have been an agent) said this, but it was pretty much right on the money. "New Adult takes on the theme of Oh Crap, who am I and now what am I supposed to do???

If we think of this age group, they are often leaving the confines of the safety of the the educational world and now have to enter the mean and scary "real world." This is really a tough time. We have all of these things we think we know, and yet we find ourselves realizing we really don't know as much as we thought. This is when we start realizing the mistakes we have made along the way. This is also the time when we start to think that maybe some of the things our parents said might have been true.

But there is also another aspect of this age group. This is when our emotions and senses are really peaking. We look at the world with this thought that "we can change things" and "we believe we can do anything" Emotionally, this is also when we are taking our relationships to what we think are mature levels. We start thinking marriage and long term relationships. We start seeing our "significant others" in a pretty idealized view.

It really hit me this weekend, but the song, COP CAR by Keith Urban really does tap into all of the emotions we should be seeing in this genre. Consider what is going on with the two in the story.

  • They go out on a date to simply watch airplanes, of course they think they are immune and go to a location marked No Trespassing. This is that element of "nothing is going to hurt us."
  • When the cops do show up, he realizes his mistake but now it is too late and the only thing he is thinking is about how her dad is going to kill him.
  • But, he sees this bad thing as a good thing and knows he would get in trouble again for this "perfect girl." Remember, at this age, during the moment, everything does seem perfect!
  • He even refers to this a "surviving the night" as if this really is a dramatic experience. In reality, looking at this in hindsight, most of us would see this as nothing more than a stupid teen thing.
  • In this middle of this crisis, what does he see? Not the crime. Not the criminal record. He sees a beauty in the moment. He is impressed with her craziness as she has a hysterical fit for the cop and wants to run. Later on, he even thinks it is funny when she mouths off about wanting a cigarette.
  • He even moves this relationship all the way to full blown love because of this one moment. 
  • He equates her mouthiness as innocence.
  • He even remembers the whole scene (again in hindsight) as a full date night as they are handcuffed in the back seat of the patrol car. He has them talking, getting to know each other and laughing about this whole thing.
The idea here is that we see an innocent (I used this as more of being inexperienced) and overly dramatic reaction to the world.

Your characters in a New Adult novel are really trying to figure out all of these rampant emotions, feelings and thoughts. In many ways, what the New Adult generation is dealing with is the same teenagers face when the hormones kick in, but on a more mature level.

At this point, I do need to say one thing. There seems to be a misconception that New Adult is simply YA with sex. This is far from the truth. Yes, we understand that the New Adult generation is faced with the new challenges of sexual freedom, but this is not the entire thing.

In an article written by Kelsey Manning titled FEARS OF A NEW GRADUATE she really highlights
some of those concerns.

Fear #1: Not living up to my own expectations
Fear #2: No longer being in a place where learning is an ostensible goal.
Fear #3: A job with no definite end point.

Danielle Kushner read Kelsey's thoughts and went on to add..."I feel that you enter college thinking it is so unstructured – you have all of this new freedom"

Honestly, I couldn't say this any better.

For authors wishing to dive into this genre, I think it is crucial that you take the time to really examine what you are writing about and why you want to write the story. What is the "take away" you want to have for your reader? What is that big life lesson you are trying to instill in your reader.

These readers want the "real world". They too are trying to figure things out and your story, with your characters, might be the guiding force for them.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Success In Publishing Is More Than The Book

Over the years, I have written several posts here, as well as articles for other publications, telling authors the business of publishing is one that takes time. It takes time to write the darn book. It takes time to get responses from editors and agents. It takes time for the editors and agents to read the projects. It takes time to get that book through all of the right channels before it lands on the
bookshelf for the readers. But to truly find success in this business takes even more time and a lot more than the book.

Being truly successful in this business takes a lot more than a single book and sales for that book. It is about building a name and a brand for the products you are selling. It is about making a name for yourself (and yes, it should be a positive name). It is about building a reputation and a connection with your readers so they know they can trust you. They need to believe that when you put a new book out there, it will be good.

We are, unfortunately, living in a world of immediate gratification. We want things now, which, has really resulted in the rise of so many self-publishing opportunities for authors. What I see, however, are authors who might just be missing the point of everything I just spoke of in that last paragraph. One book does not make a brand. One book does not make a reputation. One book does not create that bond between the reader and the author built on trust.

There is a communication theory that states people will remain in a relationship as long as they feel they are wanted. In publishing, your readers will remain with you as long as they feel they are wanted. They will stay as long as they feel they are  important. They will stay as long as they know you are giving them the best you can do with each book. This level of trust takes time and honesty.

There are several publishers and editors that I really love placing authors with because of their commitment and dedication to growing authors and building careers. I know their are others out there that do the same thing so don't get offended if I don't mention these people or publishers. The two publishers right now that stand out for me at this moment, early in the morning with only one cup of coffee are Sourcebooks and Harlequin (and yes this includes the amazing Mills and Boon Team). When an author signs with these two companies, they know they are in it for the long haul and they have an entire family backing them to build their careers.

If we want to look at this from the editor standpoint, you really see that dedication from people such as:

  • Mills and Boon - Jo Grant, Flo Nicholl, Laura McCallen, Linda Fildew....actually, I probably have to mention everyone of them over there since they do work as a team on so many projects.
  • Harlequin - Susan Litman, Gail Chasen, Allison Lyons, Stacey Boyd, Kathleen Sheibling, Mary Theresa Hussey, Paula Eikelhoff... You get the idea.
  • Harper Collins Impulse - Charlotte Ledger
  • Amistad - Tracy Sherrod
  • Sourcebooks - Hats off to the amazing Deb Werksman and her entire staff.
  • Grand Central - Leah Hultenshmidt 
  • Berkley - Kate Seaver
  • again, the list goes on and on.
Although this business is measured by sales and money, success is really so much more than that. If we spend all of our time thinking about making money and only increasing sales, we are really doing a huge disservice to the other major partner in this relationship - the reader. We have to commit to them as well.

Over the weekend, I want to give you all a homework assignment. I want you to think of what you are doing to build that "reputation" with your reader. What are you doing to build your brand? What are you doing to be that person people can say is a successful author? Remember to go beyond the tangible things such as "I have an active social media and I am making a lot of book marks to go out to all of the conferences." If that is all you have, you might be missing the mark. This is about introspection and inward thinking.

And for you published authors out there, especially if you have an editor I mentioned above, make sure you take the time to truly thank them for what they are doing. They are busting their butts for you day in and day out.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

POV Shifts, Head Hopping and the Rules - Question from a writer

I watched your educational video on character introspection and now I have a question. Can more than one character in a scene (meaning the main characters ? hero and heroine) have their thoughts revealed as they speak and interact? Or is it acceptable only to have the thoughts of one character revealed? On some of the writing blogs I follow, the consensus seems to be that the reader can only know what one character is thinking at a time and that the scene or chapter must change before another character's thoughts can be revealed. To do otherwise is called head-hopping and confusing to the reader. However, in looking through a pile of romance paperbacks I've stockpiled, I've found examples of both. I sort of liked knowing what both the hero and heroine were thinking at the same time. But I also don't want to break the rules because rules are for a reason. Your thoughts, please. Thanks, and this video was most helpful.

This is a great question and you are not the first person to ask it.

I want to sort of answer this one backwards and deal with the second part of your question. Do we see authors out there doing this head hopping thing? The answer is yes. But here is the easy answer for this. Because they have already proven they can write and they probably have a following, there is a bit more flexibility with what they can do and what they can get away with. I would also add that because they have had the time to understand the craft, they can find ways to do what is normally not correct and still make it work well. In many ways, it is like learning to drive. When we first learn, the rules are the rules and there are no exceptions. And yet, after we learn to drive and we understand why we do things, there are more "gray areas" and we do things that technically, the rule book might say are not right.

I would also add that there are also many authors out there who do head-hop and do it poorly. In my humble opinion, this is a bit disappointing when we see this happening and the editors didn't call them on it. 

Now to the first part of your question. 

Yes, you are correct that the "consensus seems to be that the reader can only know what one character is thinking at a time and that the scene or chapter must change before another character's thoughts can be revealed." Whether or not you are writing in first or third person, the story is generally scene from one person's point of view and this is done to make things easier for the reader to keep track of. When you start to lose the reader with an overly complicated structure, the real plot line can be lost. 

Let's take a sample story idea:

The heroine has just found out that the hero has not been going to the work every morning like he should have, but instead has been off on a remote island being a super hero, (are you with me on this?). During the confrontation, we would hear the dialogue from both characters, but we would hear the inner thoughts of the heroine as she listens to the reasons the hero throws out there. We would also see the external reactions of the hero, such as the shifting of the feet, the unwillingness to look her in the eye, the distractions and so forth. The heroine can "guess" what he is thinking. She can "guess" she knows how he feels, but that is as far as we can go.

Now, the easy solution for this is to split the chapter into sections. At a natural break in the scene, you would simply shift over and complete the rest of the scene from the hero's POV. Again, using the story as an example.

After the heroine has confronted him about this and is giving up because he is clearly hiding something, she storms off slamming the door. At this point, think of a movie and a camera angle. The camera can either follow her out the door and continue with her thoughts, or, it can remain with him. If it stays in the room, we would now shift to him staring at the door. "What have I done?" he thinks to himself. Now we can get all of his inner feelings. 

I will say, head-hopping can be an easy mistake to make. We get on a role with our writing and we quit thinking about what we do. The key is focus.

Does this make sense?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

You Make Your Career Happen

I want to keep this short today. This is one of those posts that really doesn't require a whole lot of depth.

Your future in the publishing world depends on you. Yes, we do spend a great deal of time talking about sales of books and these depend on other people, but having a career depends entirely on you.

Over the years, I have heard a lot of people blaming their struggles in publishing entirely on other people, businesses and events. While, in some of those cases, those outside elements may have had some impact, the future of that author was still entirely in that author's hands.

Instead of just complaining about the problem, the author needs to find a way to work out of the situation. It may be a small change or it may be a big change, but this is the time to be proactive. I am always reminded of something a friend of ours learned when working in the juvenile detention system. There were four questions that she would ask these kids;

  1. What do you want?
  2. What are you doing to achieve that?
  3. How is that helping?
  4. What should you be doing?
What I like about these questions is how it forces the individual answering the questions to take a personal responsibility in the situation.

So, if things aren't going your way right now, ask yourself those questions.