Ask Daphne! About College Age Protagonists

September 4th, 2012 • Kate

In case you forgot, I’m always looking for questions to answer on the blog. Chances are, if you have something you’d be interested in asking me about, someone else does too, or could learn from your question. Send any and all questions to me at daphne.unfeasible@gmail.com In any case, today’s question comes from Katharine, who writes:

Where are the college kids? I’ve written something akin to a YA paranormal romance only in a college setting and now I have no idea how to pitch it. YA characters seem to max out age wise in high school, ignoring the occasional odd marriage related epilogue.

Do late teens/early twenties protagonists bump a book out of the YA genre into some unknown abyss? Does it just become “Older YA” and is that lamely named genre marketable?

Also, does that fact that the readership of YA isn’t necessarily limited to 12-18 year olds impact that market? I do think it is silly to ignore the fact that college students, especially females, read YA. For example, Twilight came out when I was in college. My friends were all over that.

Thanks for your question, Katharine. The fact is, yes, for most traditionally published YA, the summer after high school is the end of things — although an argument could be made for a protagonist who skips college altogether still being a “YA” character for a bit longer. The thinking is usually that high school brings with it certain problems, issues, and such that college does not — whether that’s because college brings with it its own set of responsibilities or what. And, for the most part, the main audience for YA books are teens who want to read about characters in settings similar to their own, or with problems that they can relate to, even if the setting — a magical school for witches and wizards, a different planet, an underground city, a dystopian world — is very far from their own life and understanding.

It is absolutely a question of marketing, and will remain so until more books featuring college-age protagonists are successfully published as YA, a true Catch-22 type situation.

That said, it’s not exactly an unknown abyss. A paranormal romance that’s not YA is just a paranormal romance, and there are numerous books that fit that label published as adult. I’m a fan of MaryJanice Davidson, for example, and while the Undead series starts with a protag in her 30s, her tone is perfect for a younger audience as well. The website NA Alley also lists some recommended reads. You may want to take a look at some of these and see if they fit your tone, and if you may want to target their agents on your path to representation and publication. And do check out Diana Peterfreund’s blog post on the subject of New Adult, and her books that now fit a category created after they were published.

Good luck!
 

Photo by ladyb, used under a Creative Commons license.
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4 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About College Age Protagonists”

  1. Juliana Haygert Says:

    Thanks for mentioning NA Alley! 😉

  2. Krista Van Dolzer Says:

    The second manuscript I queried (and the first one Kate requested 🙂 ) featured a nineteen-year-old protagonist, and at least half of my rejections on requested partials and fulls said simply, "I'm afraid the age of the main character will make this a difficult sale, so I'm going to have to pass."

    Were there other problems with the manuscript? Of course. But making my MC nineteen gave agents an easy reason to reject. I think it's best to give yourself every opportunity to succeed when you're trying to land an agent, and that usually means making your main character fall definitively within one of the major age groups, be it MG, YA, or adult.

  3. lexacain Says:

    Following Krista's comment about not wanting to give agents any easy reasons to reject, I make sure to keep my protags 18 or under. But it sure makes me fumble around for plausible reasons to get parents out of the picture. I mean, how many deadly car crashes can there be? 😛

  4. Rachael Says:

    I'm in college right now and I keep hoping that New Adult will take off because I would LOVE books featuring characters that are the same age as me going through the same kinds of things. I think the main problem is the majority of college students skip right to adult as they leave the YA realm.