“Adults” Only, Please

On Thursday, I strained my back while lifting something heavy. Stupid, I know. I have been in some discomfort that is finally easing off.

[Bedfordshire, England. Photo by me, January 18, 2020.]

A long walk yesterday helped. Looking up, I thought at one point, being a writer… the sky’s the limit. There’s nothing we can’t invent.

That’s, uh, being positive. While I was resting my back over the previous days, I had also been browsing #writingcommunity Twitter:

As is obvious if you are here, I do have a site. I post whatever pops to mind that is I think worth sharing. I did not have this site until the completion and publication of my first book:

That 2012-2013 writing effort now in some ways seems to me like another personal era. My first blog post – which also seems another lifetime – was December 5, 2013, days after Passports had been published. I created this site to support that novel and any future writing; and I completed two sequels in 2014 and 2015.

At some point in 2016 I think, I read that books with protagonists who fall between ages 18 and about 30 – meaning much like in those three novels I had written – were first called “New Adult” books in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press. That was then, though. Uh, no more of that declares this tweeting agent:

So a type of novel that I never wrote is now no longer to be called what I had for years never called it, should I approach her and presumably others as a potential representative. Understood. I had never labeled those novels anything other than romantic travel fiction perhaps… until someone out there at some publisher declared they were “something” that I am now no longer to term them.

I was not alone in that, of course. Writers did not coin that term. Remember, a MAJOR publisher did.

Instead that agent is now saying they are perhaps just “adult” books. Uh, huh. And “adult” books, as with “adult” films, we all know – as presumably she must too – sounds like they are, frankly, p*rn.

The issue here seems the word “new”:

Agent: “I love your book, but ‘new adult’ never caught on. We’ll have to call it something else.”

Author: “Fine.”

See how easy that could be? However, that is apparently not how she works. As she states, rather than educating and correcting you, the author, about the ever-overlapping, always shifting, and indeed often confusing, nomenclature of the publishing biz – which is HER JOB to do – she demands you from first approach to her characterize the book for her as she wants it characterized… even though she is also imprecise as to how it should be characterized.

So a manuscript landing in her in-box could be perhaps another This Side of Paradise, which could well have been labeled “New Adult” by its author Scott Fitzgerald had the term then existed and he had thought an agent wanted more specificity as he “queried,” but if you now as its author call your book by that term that agent warns you she will “be more likely to reject.”

Overall, that is an agent I would not let anywhere near any of my first three novels. They are not for kids. Most “Young Adult” agents, I always felt, would not know what to do with them, and some of them might not even understand them.

[Marker denoting a spot just down the hill, within sight of Thomas Jefferson’s famous house, where a slave cabin had once stood. Photo by me, 2011.]

My two most recent novels are probably even more challenging “category-wise.” Clearly historical, they are set in the late-1700s into the early 1800s. It was a time when, for example, US women did not vote and African-Americans were most everywhere denied basic civil rights and liberties, and were even largely enslaved.

It was also a time that politics were not even for “ordinary” white men. It belonged still to “the elite.” The first contested US presidential election (George Washington did not have an opponent in either 1789 or in 1792) was that of 1796: Vice President John Adams won the presidency in the Electoral College thanks to having received just over 35,700 votes nationally, while his main opponent, former Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, received just over 31,000… in a country that then had about 2.5 million white adult males.

Even most white men could not vote because there were property ownership and income thresholds requirements, which effectively disenfranchised most of them. The late-18th century in the US was an era that had seen a leap away from inherited monarchical/ aristocratic power over all “subjects” in favor of a broader (although still relatively small) base of male well-to-do property owners’ (with those enslaved classified as “property”) voting to determine the country’s political direction. All the while that change was happening there were also whisperings among those voting white men, as well as opinions offered to them at times from their wives, daughters, and lady friends, about (some?) (white) women – gasp! – possibly being “their equals” too…

[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris, Copyright, 2017. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

Given how some of those already vote-qualifying white men – “the patriarchy,” we might say now – had then, for example, felt about women in politics, including an actual sentence that US Declaration of Independence (cited above) main author Thomas Jefferson once used in a letter…

[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris, Copyright, 2017. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

…as well as about how some of them felt about the position in society of those they deemed to be outliers, such as African-Americans…

[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris, Copyright, 2017. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

…and given I tried not to run away from those matters in those two novels, I think this tweet is a relevant writing question for me to address here head on:

I do believe that if those “successful, old, white men of European heritage” are to be deemed responsible for most of America’s “accomplishments” to date, they must also be responsible similarly for “the failures” – because well up to our present, white men have dominated decision-making in the country.

[Jefferson Memorial. Washington, DC. Photo by me, 2017.]

Tomorrow is the federal holiday observing the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so this post is accidentally quite timely in that regard. As women, African-Americans, and those of other heritages increasingly get their hands to American leadership wheels in both the public and the private sectors (as we just had an African-American male president for eight years), they too will certainly do some great things… as well as also screw up big time now and then also. Because producing both “successes” and “failures” knows no boundaries delineated by race, ethnicity, gender, or creed.

Incidentally, New Yorker “Robert,” South Carolinian “John,” and Buckinghamshire-born English “Henry,” and the there unnamed French lady in those two excerpts above – the first two set in 1787, the third in 1792 – are all in their late teens to young to middle twenties…

Shush… don’t even mumble the words “new adult” please. But given “adult” is now as a stand alone word an awkward one in entertainment/literature, is that 2017 novel above – and its recent follow up – therefore maybe YA: “young adult?” Definitely not. In the 1780s-90s, with their life expectancies about ages “40-50,” unlike the publishing world’s 21st century muddled (marketing) view of that “twenty-something demographic,” twenty-something men and women were then adults, pure and simple.

The main problem is not the stories. Nor is the trouble the characters’ ages. “Adult,” or “Young Adult,” or “crossover” (huh?), or whatever is the latest industry effort to pigeonhole fiction because as we know publishing is a business, the biggest problem is too many current day publishers’ and agents’ evidently limited marketing and audience notions, which is why so many authors now choose instead to indie publish so they don’t have to try to deal with all of the nonsense.

I leave that to readers to decide.

And have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂