Ask Daphne! But what about college age kids?

February 21st, 2008 • Kate

Judy writes:

I’m wondering where fiction involving university students fits in. Would that be considered YA fiction? Or would that be considered adult fiction? If it is a realistic novel without any genre elements like fantasy / sci fi / mystery, it doesn’t seem to fit completely in either of these categories, so where would this sort of manuscript be submitted?

I know the answer to this, but it’s not one that makes me very happy. I’ve had multiple conversations with editors from publishing houses big and small, and they all come back to me with the same answer — once you have a main character in college, it’s no longer YA.
But wait, you argue. What’s the big difference between a book about a senior in high school and one about a freshman in college?
Nothing, really, except for a bit more freedom, but nonetheless, that’s the bridge from YA or teen fiction into adult. Now, there are some exceptions to this: MTV Books, for example, is carving out a great niche in the publishing marketplace in targeting these college-age kids, but for most houses, this is an underserved age group.
It goes to traditions, sort of. Traditionally, kids read up or at the same age as the protagonists, so Middle Grade books are read by those the target range and younger, as are teen books. Once you get out of the 12-16 YA range, publishers have found that readers jump to adult books. There’s also something to be said for the time college age students have for leisure reading, i.e. not much. And when they do read for fun — they’re already looking ahead to adult books, not back to YA.
So, Judy, for your novel about university age kids, check out MTV Books and see if they might be for you (although I’m not aware of their policy on unsolicited submissions), otherwise, look to the adult publishers. If there’s a romance involved, there’s a lot of great imprints publishing chick lit, which, really, is nothing more than young women’s fiction.
Good luck!

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4 Responses to “Ask Daphne! But what about college age kids?”

  1. beth Says:

    So true. I wrote a book with a college student as a protagonist–much the easiest way to give her the freedom needed for the adventure. It got all the way to acquisitions in a major publishing house, but they ousted it because of the age of the character. I had to choose–make it adult, or bring the character's age down. I kept it YA, put the main character as a sophomore in high school and added a grandmother for her to live with. As I wrote it in college and as I intended it to be for college kids, it was something of a wrench to change it, but that's the way the market it.

  2. Joelle Anthony Says:

    I just read Lauren Barnhold's YA, REALITY CHICK which is set first term of Freshman year in college and it's published by Simon Pulse. In one of her other books the characters were driving to college. It does seem a little weird to me to read about college kids in YA though. They say your oldest readers are the age of your main character (in YA & MG), which I don't think is always true because some books with 12 olds fall into MG and some are clearly YA, but anyway…I really don't know if any college student would be reading Reality Chick. I enjoyed it, but that's my business…I write YA because I'm still 16 at heart. But if I were a teen, I think I probably wouldn't have read it past age 16 or so.

  3. brimfire Says:

    Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampire series is a YA with the main characters in college. I do wish there were more books like these. College can be such a fun time of life to explore. 🙂
    By the way, do any blog readers know MTV books' submission policy? I can't seem to find it.

  4. Joelle Anthony Says:

    MTV books are part of Simon and Schuster. Couldn't find anything specific for guidelines, but they mostly only take agented subs, I think.