What the Hell is so taboo about College in YA????

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Archie1989

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Hi y'all.

I just got ANOTHER rejection (this time from a publisher) specifically saying they didn't want my novel because college isn't an acceptable setting for YA.

Let me also say that it takes place during my MC's freshman year, and begins her senior year of high school.

The voice (to me, and most others) is definitely YA; but why the hell does everyone seem to have this huge problem with anything past the age of 18 for a YA MC?

Starting to think I should just query as contemporary fiction and call it a day. . . .
 

strawberryblondie

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One of the reasons I've heard is that publishers are afraid high school students won't be able to relate to it and that college students won't read it because they don't have time.
 

Cyia

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College isn't taboo; it's also, generally, not YA.

YA is the space of time between being an actual kid and that of being an actual adult. There's a bit of freedom, but the characters are still, technically, growing up and under the authority of their parents. They don't automatically face adult consequences for their actions, and they're still young enough to get help as "kids".

After high school, that changes.

YA is more coming of age, so starting your story with characters who are already "of age" defeats the purpose. The problems are adult problems; the relationships are adult relationships. There's no "technical" safety net and the "kids" are now expected to figure things out on their own without parental backup/interference.

It's an exceptionally rare college-aged MC that's YA compatible.
 

Becca C.

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The issues you face in college are very different from the issues you face in high school, and sometimes they're complete opposite and incompatible. When you're in high school, there's a lot of emphasis on peer-to-peer interaction. Everyone's in the same age group, same circumstances (living at home with guardians, not financially independent), and there are a lot of "firsts" going on: first kiss, first car, first time seeing your parents as fallible, real people rather than superhumans, etc.

In college, though... you can be in a class with people as young as 18 and as old as 90. You have a LOT more freedom (don't have to go to class at all if you don't want, don't have to ask permission to leave the classroom, for example). You've probably already been through all those "firsts," and you're now dealing with new relationships and obstacles in a really adult way. There isn't the same pressure to conform to your peer groups. And some college students are financially independent, living on their own and working part- or full-time, but a lot are still living with their parents and depending on their parents for all their money.

Simply put, there's just too much variation in lifestyle after high school that it would be impossible for large groups of people to relate to it. Besides some minor things, most everyone in the YA audience can relate to the typical high school experience. But after graduation? There's such an enormous spectrum of different choices and such to be made that you can't carve out a big enough audience. I love books like I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak, where the 19-year-old character doesn't choose the college route, because that's basically what I'm doing. I would not read a book all about freshman year in college because I dropped out of college and hated it. Too much variation. No concrete audience.

IMO, of course :)
 

eventidepress

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One of the reasons I've heard is that publishers are afraid high school students won't be able to relate to it and that college students won't read it because they don't have time.

This.

And, yes, college-age characters are usually technically adults. But I disagree that college-age characters cannot still "come of age." I definitely didn't come of age until I was first semi-thrown out into the world sans parental guidance (ohai college). It's not real adulthood, in most cases -- usually you don't pay your own bills. You might have student loans, but they're deferred until after graduation. You might have to work, but usually not full-time.
Granted, there are more grown-up people in the college age range (who have their own apartments and full-time jobs and put themselves through college), so I can see why that wouldn't be YA. But I think there is still coming-of-age potential in less-grown-up college-age protags (i.e. those still living on their parents' dime, or maybe on money saved from summer jobs, but they don't have to pay their own tuition, and they live in dorms, etc).
... if that made sense.
anyway! You could try some agents who are interested in New Adult? It's a (slowly) growing genre at the moment... it's also a hard pitch, because only one publisher that I've heard of is actively looking for New Adult books, and that's St. Martin's Press... but, worth a shot?
 

shaldna

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I really have no answer for this except to say that in my YA series I had a 26 year old character as one of the main POV's and no one batted an eyelid.
 

Archie1989

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Thanks for the feedback :)

So should I pitch this as regular adult fiction then, (I'll at least try "new adult" first)??

To me, it feels YA, because so much of the book deals with first relationships and that initial leap into partying/drinking/casual sex. I needed the college setting to make a lot of this work right.

Obviously, I can't exactly fit in that argument somewhere between "dear Ms. agent," and "I swear to god it's a good book, please read it."
 

thebloodfiend

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I'd try to query it as New Adult. Personally, I don't care about the age of the MC in YA anymore as long as they're younger than twenty-four.

Though, if you don't get any luck querying it for NA or AF, you might want to think of waiting to query a little longer or switching it to a boarding school, Looking for Alaska/A Separate Peace style.

ETA: Like James said, I'll read anything. Plenty of teens read AF and YA. So that's kind of a weird excuse.
 

suki

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Thanks for the feedback :)

So should I pitch this as regular adult fiction then, (I'll at least try "new adult" first)??

To me, it feels YA, because so much of the book deals with first relationships and that initial leap into partying/drinking/casual sex. I needed the college setting to make a lot of this work right.

Obviously, I can't exactly fit in that argument somewhere between "dear Ms. agent," and "I swear to god it's a good book, please read it."

Others have already addressed some of the issues with the college setting. And some have mentioned New Adult, though I'm not aware of many (any?) agents who specifically look for new adult since there really isn't a market yet outside of St. Martins.

But, I would ask you to consider why it has to be college, and not a boarding school type situation? I'm not saying to change it, not at all. It's your book, and you should go with it how you feel it needs to be.

But, the reasons you feel it needs to be college may very well give some ideas as to why agents and publishers shy away from many books set in college as YA.

And I wouldn't give up on it until you've tried every agent you'd be interested in. Maybe one will read it and agree that it can be sold as YA - but it is a tough sell, especially for a debut.

~suki
 

Archie1989

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Thanks guys, a few agents have expressed interest, but definitely not as many as I'd hoped for in the time frame I've been subbing.

JDM/ TBF: I agree. It's my personal opinion as a reader that I don't care about the MC's age, which is why I was uninhibited when writing the damn thing . . . it's my first novel, and it wasn't until it was done that I started researching publishing, getting an agent, etc. Biggest *head/desk* ever, trust me.

It definitely need to be college. Obviously you'd have to read it to understand completely, but the MC is from a teeny tiny town, and college is her eye-openning experience. Hence the need to be away from people/places she's familiar with. Boarding school I suppose may somehow work, but I've never been, and the MS is heavy on the booze and partying, which I don't think boarding schools are??? Clearly I'm not sure.

It's also crucial to the romance element. My MC waits all through high school for her best friend to realize she's in love with him (she's a very passive character. at first) And after she sleeps with him and they start dating, he takes off for the other side of the country on a whim. Therefore, college gives her her own start-over chance, and the book follows her learning how she has to be a bit stronger-willed, and basically less of a doormat to everyone.

Don't know if that got the point across, but I honestly don't think it would work in any other setting.

But eff it; if no agent wants it, I'll publish it on createspace.com. Incidentally, does anyone have experience with that site??
 

Cyia

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There's an inbetween option, which would be a kid in her senior year, or the summer prior to it, getting to stay on a college campus for a special event/classes.

Certain universities do this regularly (Duke used to, but I'm not sure if they still do)
 

JustLaurie

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I'll try to be helpful to you in this situation since I've been there.

My first YA book was set in a college and the protag was a sophomore. I queried it as a YA novel and got about 7 requests because I had a very strong query and first pages (I won a couple of contests that earned requests). I even had one agent who enjoyed the full enough to call me and talk about my other projects and possible revisions, but didn't feel she could sign me because the revisions would have been so extensive (setting it in high school AND plotting issues), but at the same time, once I talked to her, I realized what I thought had been impossible (changing it from a college setting), might not be so hard at all (well, if you don't consider a total rewrite hard). And I even had a really cool fraternity plotline I wanted to keep and she helped me see I could retool it to be high school. So I really, really believe that there can be a creative way to move the characters to high school.

I totally agree that college would be a great setting for young adult books because there is so much growing up and changing that goes on there. Unfortunately, there is just not a market for it currently, but it doesn't mean you can't get some requests. ALSO, don't query as New Adult. It's not a real genre.

But if you want to query it as Adult go for it. If you really believe it's YA though, I would reconsider the setting.

ETA: Obviously though it's your novel, so these choices are all up to you. :)
 
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The whole "New Adult" thing is not a viable route, at least not yet.


I'm with Laurie on the idea that I think college-aged protagonsists could be great for YA literature, but there isn't really enough of a market--among agents and publishers who know how to sell it--for you to have a great shot at publishing college stories as YA. Which is a shame, because I don't think there are as many differences as people seem to think, and I knew plenty of kids in high school sho wanted to read about college. Escpecially those with older siblings who were in or had been to college.
 

suki

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I'd second JustLaurie's post - she makes great points.

And if looking for books to help you see how the setting might be shifted, check out:

Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins
The Vast Fields of Ordinary, by Nick Burd
Empress of the World and The Rules For Hearts, by Sara Ryan

The specific writing or plot or even tameness (lack of tameness) of these books are not why I am suggesting them. I am suggesting them because all involve high school or summer after high school settings that allow for the freedom I think you'd need for pretty much any content that could happen in college.

You might decide in the end to keep it college - but you might be inspired to try to bring the plot into a setting that is an easier sell in YA.

~suki
 

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I really have no answer for this except to say that in my YA series I had a 26 year old character as one of the main POV's and no one batted an eyelid.
I noticed that you said "one of the main POV's", versus the series' MC.
 

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Does anyone really know if college-aged YA is really unmarkable or if agents and editors are just not willing to give them a try?

So many of these paranormal YA romances would work so much better in college. They wouldn't have to have so many stupid or uninvolved parents. And it never made any sense why these hundred-year-old teenage-looking immortals are hanging around high school. They would make more sense in college or out in the real world.

I know in Twilight the Cullens wanted to stay in Forks as long as possible before anyone realized they didn't age, but seriously, why wouldn't they just be "home schooled."
 

Cyia

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MAP,

take a look at the above posts. Many, maybe even most, agents don't consider it YA, strength of writing aside. Ditto editors who want a nice clean age group to put it into.

"New Adult" is only being tried out by one imprint and in the last couple of years, I've only heard of one series being sold as university YA. (I'm wanting to say it was called Poison Ivy, but I'm not sure)
 

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I know college isn't considered YA, but I kind of wish it was. I think college students do face a lot of the same issues teens do, but it's even harder in college because you don't have parents around to depend on. Even though they're technically adults, I think many college students still have to "come of age." Personally, I was basically a kid in high school. It's now that I'm in college that I'm really facing the issues of growing up and transitioning into the real world. I would like to see more books with college age characters, but there doesn't seem to be a market for that. They aren't adult books, because the characters are still growing up, but they're too old to be YA.
 

suki

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MAP,

take a look at the above posts. Many, maybe even most, agents don't consider it YA, strength of writing aside. Ditto editors who want a nice clean age group to put it into.

"New Adult" is only being tried out by one imprint and in the last couple of years, I've only heard of one series being sold as university YA. (I'm wanting to say it was called Poison Ivy, but I'm not sure)

Well, and Map, it's not a perfect bright line. There are some YAs with college settings - but they are usually from established authors, and usually not really about college. (ie, Naomi & Ely's No Kiss List, by Cohn and Levithan)

As with everything else, publishers and agents are generally willing to stretch the market more with established authors than debuts.

But, for the most part, it's not just a silly delineation. Many editors and agents say they would be willing to consider the right college-setting book for YA, but they've never actually seen one that works as YA. For most, the book only works as YA for part of the book, and then it veers beyond YA in their opinion. It's not just coming of age, or still growing, etc. Once the character recognizes their adulthood, it starts very much to creep out of YA.

IMO, I think college-set stories could work, but usually don't, for exactly that reason - ie, if the story is true to the college experience, it stops feeling YA part way through the book.

So, I know we tend to talk about it like a bright line. It's not, but for all intents and purposes, it's one of those things that is a very, very hard sell for a debut.

~suki
 
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AlwaysJuly

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I definitely didn't come of age until I was first semi-thrown out into the world sans parental guidance (ohai college). It's not real adulthood, in most cases -- usually you don't pay your own bills. You might have student loans, but they're deferred until after graduation. You might have to work, but usually not full-time.
I definitely agree with this. I felt my real coming-of-age in many ways was in college. Or maybe my second coming of age. It's not like BAM YOU'RE AN ADULT NOW AND YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING (I wish).

However, I've talked to a few agents about this and they suggested that while there's a need for books aimed at that new adult market (because let's remember YA is just a market too), that's probably going to be answered more by books written for "adults" that feature college-age protags and situations. For that reason, I felt OK (at least for now) about my UF with a 19-year-old protag in college, because I feel it's not going to impede adult readers - there are other books in the genre with similar-aged characters, and the school setting has minimal involvement in the plot. Maybe it'll be cross-marketed. Or maybe not.

I have been interested to see a few YA books that have come out or are coming out as stories about teens serving in Iraq/Afghanistan (or rather, their homecomings) since the characters are over 18/high school grads, and those books are being marketed as YA.
 

Becca C.

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So many of these paranormal YA romances would work so much better in college. They wouldn't have to have so many stupid or uninvolved parents. And it never made any sense why these hundred-year-old teenage-looking immortals are hanging around high school. They would make more sense in college or out in the real world.

But... then they would lose their appeal to the market they do so well in. Teenage girls gobble up books about other teenage girls romancing vampires and such because it's a character who's just like them doing something they want (falling in love with someone who will love them forever, or what-have-you)

Although I agree about the immortals in high school, though... if I was immortal I'd be travelling the world and doing awesome stuff, not hanging out in high school!!
 

wavy3

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I had the same issue with the first novel I queried, only in reverse. The character is a college freshman, but with mine it reads more like an adult book because of the situations involved, and my problem was that people felt it should be YA.

After thinking about it, I realized how few books revolve around college students. Red flag right there.
 

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Echoing what others have said, it's basically a difference in situations, mainly social situations. In highschool, you're still under your parents'/grandparents'/caretakers' thumbs. There's a difference in the dynamics of your relationships. In college, all that (or atleast a lot of that) changes. You are no longer supervised constantly, unless you're still living at home, etc. Which basically creates a problem; the typical people who read YA are still in HS and want to read about situations similar to what they are experiencing at that particular time in their lives.

In the same vein, people in college often can't relate as well to highschoolers, because they've already been there, done that. They may empathize, but it's not the same.

However, I have a college friend who still reads loads of YA. On the opposite end, I quit reading YA at about 16. (I read it again now--years later--but that's partly because I write it.)

I can see how it causes problems (frustrating), but college is a weird transition time, so I understand the lack of college-oriented fiction.

I'd try the 'New Adult' genre thing and see if that works better. Best of luck!
 
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