The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 11, 2013

Lee Duran: Reading generations set to square off

JOPLIN, Mo. — Looks like a genre face-off between new adult fiction and coming-of-old-age adult fiction is on the way. Or is it just new names for old ideas?

Mallory Ortberg examined the situation for Gawker.com: Are these ginned-up marketing terms with no relationship to changes in book buying? Ortberg suspects that if people talk about new adult fiction long enough Amazon will eventually dedicate a department to it, which means everyone else will have to go along with it to keep up.

The important thing to do is compare them and declare a winner so each generation remains at the other's throat, she suggests.

I'm laughing at her wisdom and point out that coming of old age is definitely a new genre. Ten years ago -- actually, even fewer than that -- you could rarely find books with older protagonists. Harlequin once had a line of books in that category and the books failed, so I was told, and the line discontinued.

How do I know this? The last book I sold to Harlequin was for that line, which went down for the count after my book was bought but not yet edited or published.

My poor book was shunted around for months, eventually shoehorned into another line where it didn't fit, was edited and beat into submission and mangled. It was the worst experience of my publishing life. I still haven't recovered.

So, was the problem with Harlequin's line a matter of promotion and support? Who knows. I do know that if Harlequin sees The Return of Old Age, they'll figure out a way to jump on board ... again.

But I digress. Orterg says that new adult -- "which some winkingly describe as 'Harry Potter' meets '50 Shades of Grey'"-- is aimed at 18- to 25-year-olds, the age group right above young adult.

So, what to do about the 70 million boomers -- technically, those born between 1946 and 1964? Their interests have changed. Fiction needs to follow them and provide protagonists who deal with issues of concern to baby boomers.

New adult sales are booming and so are young adult. Biggest difference between the two? Sex. It's called "more mature development."

What all this tells me is that publishers are waking up to the fact that they will not prosper if they keep doing the same thing they've always done. "The same thing only different" no longer cuts it -- it never did, in my opinion, but publishers were not known for their spirit of adventure. That's why some authors find success with e-books of manuscripts rejected by tradition.

Something for everyone -- that's the way to go. The publishing world may be catching up at last.

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