Launching Fresh Voices, Challenging the Status Quo
You’ve undoubtedly heard of “Young Adult” fiction, or YA. Maybe you’ve even read a few samples, like the recently popular The Hunger Games or Twilight. Or you fondly recall the old-school variety–Salinger’s Franny and Zoey or The Catcher in the Rye.
You may be surprised, however, to learn of the latest genre to gain popularity: “New Adult” books. According to “Shelf Awareness,” a recent panel discussion hosted by the Publishers Advertising and Marketing Association tackled the question–just what is “New Adult” fiction?
The findings? Similar to YA fiction, “New Adult” novels feature coming-of-age stories, but instead of high-school age characters, they center on college age or shortly beyond. Amy Tannenbaum, literary agent with the Jane Rotrosen Agency, distinguished “New Adult” characters from adult this way: “They don’t have to think about the consequences of their actions the way adults do.”
Cindy Hwang, executive editor with the Berkley Publishing Group, added that “New Adult” fiction is more “mature” than YA, though she bristled at “New Adult” being called “Sleazy YA.” In her opinion, there is a marked distinction between “New Adult” books, which make erotic relationships a central focus, versus erotica, which revolves around sexual encounters.
Apparently, the genre began as an Amazon ebook category, often driven by self-published works, but is now tentatively penetrating the brick-and-mortar stores.
How popular are these books? While Hwang thinks the market is so “saturated” that a new genre will find it difficult to gain solid footing, Tannenbaum believes “New Adult” has a bright future: “Why would people want to stop reminiscing about their college years?”
Fuze’s opinion? The market may be “saturated” with certain books, but there is a distinct shortage of quality literature, as evidenced by last year’s Pulitzer deferment. (See last week’s newsletter.) Though reminiscing about college years may be enjoyable for a time, our imagination also craves complexity, depth, and variety, which Fuze books offer.
What do you think of the new genre? Would you classify How the Winds Laughed as “New Adult” or does it go beyond the genre? Comments welcome on the Fuze Facebook page.
You may remember the news that rippled the literary world last year at this time, sparked by a controversial decision from the Pulitzer Prize board. After much deliberation, the board could not come to a consensus on a Fiction prize-winner and so refused to select a book, claiming “no book is worthy of the prize,” according to a Huffington Post article.
The jury appointed to select winners, headed by Susan Larson, had chosen three books which were forwarded to the board for final approval. After hearing of the board’s refusal to select any of these books, jury members were “shocked and disappointed and angry at the news,” according to Larson. “We thought so highly of these three books, we took our responsibilities very seriously, and our decision was unanimous.”
It’s difficult not to wonder if the board’s decision had anything to do with the watering down of literary quality, due in part to the abundance of self-published digital books glutting the market. Though many self-published books are worthy of merit, they usually have not gone through a rigorous editing process. Add to this the fact that profit-oriented traditional publishers seek out big blockbusters more noted for plot formula than writing polish, and encourage popular writers to churn out books at a rapid pace. Should we be grateful that the Pulitzer Board maintained its high standards, or worried about the future of literature? Or both?
A look back in history reveals that tension between the jury and board is rare but not unprecedented. In 1977, the board vetoed the jury’s nominee, resulting in no nomination for that year in the fiction category. And in 1984, the board rejected the jury’s nomination and awarded the prize to a different book.
As the date for this year’s selection approached, speculation about the outcome spanned the gamut. Many were hopeful a prize-winner would be named, which proved a sound prediction. Last week, the Pulitzer jury nominated “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson, set in North Korea, and the board officially awarded the prize.
Do you think the quality of fiction has declined? Are we looking forward to more years when the Pulitzer board declines to nominate? Or does this year’s nomination affirm the quality of literature? Comments welcome on the Fuze Facebook page
Well, not exactly. Former Amazon employee Jason Merkoski spoke to The New York Times about his new book and his time working with the mega-company–he was one of the developers of the kindle–and he tells as much as he is able without triggering the team of lawyers Amazon will unleash if he says too much. Merkoski confides, “These companies have entire buildings filled with lawyers.”
Merkoski’s report isn’t all bad. He values his former employer for giving him a fabulous education–even equating working at Amazon to getting an MBA and a PhD, at the same time! And he trusts Amazon with privacy issues.
But there is more dirt than polish. The former employee wouldn’t put it past Amazon executives to censor books in order to avoid bad publicity, and likens the company to a “mean stepmother in a fairy tale.” He also describes the frenzied climate of the workplace: “There was this push to get great products out to consumers. It makes a lot of teams very haggard. Amazon is held together by adrenaline, spreadsheets and people running around like crazy.
On discoverability (how people find books), Merkoski says the Amazon recommendation engines spew popular titles at online viewers, but laments that “they know nothing of the soul and sparkle of a great book.”
What do you think? Comments welcome on theFuze Facebook page.
Shelf Awareness offers several free enewsletters chock full of information for both readers, writers, and publishers on the subject of books and the book industry. Click on link above to find out more.