The Horror of New Adult Fiction & the Over-Categorization of Writing


Sometimes trying to figure out where to find a book you want is as hard as trying to figure out where you would market your own.

These are troubling times. Not only have we lost our Horror section in most bookstores, but now if marketing departments raised by the internet get their way, we will have to look in yet one more subsection: New Adult Fiction.

That’s right…New Adult… the new next stop after Young Adult Fiction.

And we may have the internet to blame… because it is demanding we change the way we think.

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Chunk Change

I don’t know about you, but I am not liking this tendency toward condensing, homogenizing and labeling everything under the guise of search-ability without the consideration of individual characteristics that make both ourselves and what we do unique.

We are living in the age of generic categorization… an overarching, nonspecific set of search terms that are “chunking” fiction like they “chunk” blocks of information on the internet.

What I can’t figure is how this is helpful.

As everything we do – whether work or leisure – is bent toward the unique demands of social media and the internet, we are seeing an unpleasant and taxing requirement to change the way we think. And this is not as savvy as it sounds because we are taking the very unique way that humans already and naturally think, organize and catalog information and stipulating that there is only one way to think of things – the internet way.

Everything comes down to a “search” word, a “key” word. And then all the tags and categories unite in a set of blinking Christmas tree lights that sometimes work and often don’t.

No wonder our kids have self-image problems; we have invented a whole new system for pigeonholing everything from blogs to people.

The internet has given rise to a new Age of Minimization, and popularity is based on wanton flamboyance or how much one is willing to pay.

Forget for a moment what this means for poor people, poor countries, struggling businesses, small businesses, and those who want nothing to do with the internet. Let’s look at the sales pitch we were given when the internet became not-free (because if you have to pay for hardware, software, support, protection, and access…it isn’t.)

Let’s talk about the world of all information allegedly at your fingertips.

Turns out, the world’s information is not so easy to catalog. The easier solution? Base search-ability on everyone’s ability to pay…

I don’t know about you, but I still have trouble finding things on the internet – even information I know exists.

Turns out… when it’s not about censorship, it’s all about paying for SEO … Search Engine Optimization. And if you don’t pay for it, you don’t get it… SEO is all about getting an item, a website, an information byte “out there” and found within the first ten search item results on your search engine (like Mozilla or Google). It’s about indexing the internet and (unlike the sales pitch of the internet) not getting all of the information on a particular subject, but the top few who paid for the exposure.

Sure. If something “goes viral” it can foil the system. But if people cannot find the item, how likely is that?

Take this blog. I have exclusive and personal knowledge it exists. Yet if I type in “Zombie Salmon” on Google, it must be somewhere on the last page of options. I personally have never “nexted” my way far enough to find it.

In blogworld, WordPress has SEO…as long as you either pay for it on your own domain, or if you include WordPress in your search criteria. “Zombie Salmon WordPress” brings up this blog.

But how many people know this? Especially how many people know this who set out to form a business or write a book, or simply try to find information?

Turns out, not as many as you think.

And I’m not just talking about dinosaurs like me.

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The Case of Over-Thinking Versus Not Thinking Enough

Originally, the founders of the internet wanted it to be academic, free, a source of vetted information…like an Encyclopedia Britannica only one everyone could have in their homes.

But then came the enormity of the task, and the land-grab, wild west, survival of the craftiest mentality. The surrender has been ominously complete… just look at the fear of “fake news”… (which should not be so hard to expose…just research the facts or lack thereof given). No one wants to be the Bad Guy and call a spade a spade, or unvetted information what it is: lies. So we have unceremoniously left it all out hanging out there. And sometimes the bearers of misinformation have more money than the rest of us, putting all manner of things – categorized correctly or not – in the top search results.

All of this reading and researching and vetting is work… uncelebrated, unrewarded, unrecognized work.

So it is no wonder that no one wants to actually read a book to classify it in a system that has worked since…well… 48 BCE in Alexandria. It is far easier to call it a one-word something, and wait for the check in the mail.

Clearly, the internet has “better” ideas for classification… especially ideas that glorify youth to the point that no one else in the whole wide world has ever had a better thought or process.

Talk about divide and conquer. But many of us old folks are not irritated at youth – only the ones who blithely declare that because they are young, they are smarter. We know better: we were smarter once, too.

In this internet age of reinvention, the reinvention is happening without looking at anything that has been tried or gone before. We are unceremoniously throwing the baby out with the bathwater…

And New Adult fiction is the perfect example.

It has been created to “help” the category of book-buying audience that is more sophisticated than Young Adults and Teens, but not yet ready to fully embrace Real Adulthood.

New Adults are those between ages 18 and 30. You know – the ones we expect to cast votes and go fight in wars.

And apparently, knowing one is a New Adult or writing for New Adults is supposed to insure that audience finds product written especially for them, and everyone lives happily ever after.

(Interestingly, one of the things that identify children as children is the need for products designed especially for their age group so as to not confuse or overwhelm them with topics they are not mature enough to process.)

Kinda makes you want to rush out and declare yourself a New Adult, doesn’t it?

We are wolves in internet clothing, apparently trying to eliminate genres entirely, declaring everything to be some level of Literature (hint from a genre writer, it is not). We are classifying everything by age, as though this ensures that product is placed neatly into the proper audience hands (hint: reading level is about maturity not age). And, we are tossing one-word descriptions into the cataloging mix which look suspiciously like genre headings (hint: you are not fooling anyone and the old headings worked just fine for centuries of book hunting).

And besides requiring yet another level of cataloging (age and subject), what does this actually accomplish?

So I am thinking that some marketing group somewhere thinks that 18-30 year-olds would be traumatized by reading Real Adult fiction, and potentially need therapy just after reading a blurb that is meant to tell a potential reader what a book is about.

Are we really raising a generation that needs this kind of coddling?

 

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Pardon me, but…WTF?!

Having actually been in a university with kids some thirty years my junior, I can say that particular age group has taught me a few things about Life…I am convinced that they are not only quite capable of surviving the experience of reading Real Adult Fiction, but I am fine with being tended by them in my nursing home. They are smart, unnervingly savvy, politically involved and wide awake – something I most assuredly can not say about many of my own generation (see recent American Presidential election).

And yet, the marketing push continues…even though I am not seeing publishers bite the apple yet: I have not seen any spines proudly announcing they are New Adult titles, or seen any calls for submission of New Adult Fiction.

There is, however, at least one how-to book on writing New Adult Fiction…

Write it and they will come…

I’m remembering what it was like to be sixteen, and thinking not.

I remember sneak-reading my Mom’s Rudyard Kipling books, paging through her Pearl S. Buck novels long before I had any New Adult thoughts.

I remember eagerly awaiting the day when I, too, was a Real Adult. And I wanted to read what grown-ups were reading. I might not have been ready to participate in adult discussions, but I wanted to listen to them.

Note to marketing departments: teens upward are still in sponge mode; they are curious, adventurous, bold and timid at the same time, eager to model adult behaviors and desperately searching for themselves in all of the data.

Why in the world do we want to filter that? I mean if you aren’t willing to filter the internet, get out of my fiction.

Quite setting limits for young and new adults and thereby for older ones…

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Eldritch Adult Fiction

Surely, this would be the next step: fiction for geriatrics… You know, nothing too traumatizing for Grandma, like those cozy mysteries where talking cats solve crimes.

And of course it would provide a nice segue for aging writers who can no longer write authoritatively of their day (because it is now long past). Yes, in Eldritch Adult Fiction there would be rotary phones, carbon copies, and mimeograph machines. We would be free to live in eternal denial of progress, perpetually checked out of the New Adult world because it is too scary anyway. And, we wouldn’t have to try to keep up with changing technology or slang or fashions.

All of our protagonists would need liposuction, blood pressure meds, and Viagra. They could wear polyester and pants with elastic waistbands, conduct their seances before 8 p.m., and their murders before the early bird. And best of all, our audience would know exactly what our literary references meant…and truly understand what it is like to slide inevitably toward our deserved ends.

If this strikes you as absurd, imagine how writers must feel contemplating forcing our writing into one more age-restricted category.

I may be old, but often my characters range the spectrum of every age I have been.

And as a writer, I may write for an audience – a Horror audience – but I don’t care hold old a reader is. If a reader can follow my wordy sentence structure and understands or can look up any challenging vocabulary they find, then they are welcome read what I write. I’m pretty sure most writers feel the same way.

My point is, sooner or later we have to realize that the Arts (being subjective) have a limit in useful cataloging.

And I suggest this to marketing departments with grandiose ideas:

  1. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
  2. Treat writing like Fine Art (catalogued by medium/genre, by artist, by style /subgenre, by period)
  3. Let the audience decide what they are ready for

It’s high time we acknowledged that the internet by its limited capacity to catalog the world’s offerings in any complete and useful way is too overambitious to be of any ultimate and conclusive value in guiding the cataloging of information in general, let alone fiction; that in the end, we still need humans and the way humans think.

We also need to acknowledge that some of our best discoveries have come because of the questions we asked in our searches for information – whole questions, not key words, not with results that are money-driven.

And we need to flat-out state that our strength and versatility as an Art-producing species relies on our quirky and out-of-the-box thinkers, the misfits, the socially awkward, the true individuals of our kind.

Diversity in all things makes us better.

Why on earth do we expect to find anything of value in a one or two worded box?

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14 thoughts on “The Horror of New Adult Fiction & the Over-Categorization of Writing

  1. Oh my God, KC, you have done it again! Mind-blown. And I can’t help but think that artificial intelligence is behind this new trick in some way… such horrible ideas! How do we ever stop bad ideas? How do you sell people on an idea? You just do it, until enough people protest and say NO.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I am suspecting “no” is coming for a lot of us. At what point does “stupid” become proof of market manipulation, anyway? If I am sick of one phrase, it is “they say”… Who the heck are “they”? And since when is it a better idea to let other people and their algorithms with lots to gain tell us how to think? As the boxes get suffocatingly smaller and smaller, we lose ourselves and our right to free speech, creativity, and the essence of the Arts. I say rebel… Don’t fall for another useless and potentially harmful label!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Khaya Ronkainen

    Yes you’ve nailed it, KC. Over-Categorization of Writing is not only a horror story but leaves a bad taste with this classifying of everything by age.

    But all is not lost (I hope), readers are smart. They will pick and choose books they want to read, regardless.

    Thank you for another brilliant and informative post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I hope you are right, Khaya! So far I am seeing an increase in reader frustration…Book people don’t want to be “led to” or “shown” books to read…they want to browse and DISCOVER them. Adding one more section is no help when publishers have helped obliterate the ones everyone knew and understood. Neither does it help the writer of books. I wish they would realize that this weird book spine game of musical chairs has not helped anybody’s sales… and maybe, just maybe that is the value of brick-and-mortar stores anyway…Of course, I am just another mouthy old fogey who “they say” “resents change”…

    Like

  4. KC, This is an extraordinary examination of this almost bizarre issue of over-categorizing–it almost feels like we are living in some strange version of a Twilight Zone about the future! You have written an important and deeply compelling post!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you, Professor…as a chronic cataloger myself, I have been put into a publishing version of shock-and-awe…I have never seen more confusion in book buyers, and have to wonder what it costs ultimately in sales. This is one unnecessary nightmare that simply must end!

    Like

  6. Reblogged this on K. D. Dowdall and commented:
    KC Redding-Gonzalez, writes another intriguing and fascinating post about the New Adult Fiction category in Bookstores and other venues, as well as the over-categorizing of books. Personally, at my last visit, a few weeks ago, to Barnes & Nobles, left me as though I had just entered a maze of confusion trying to find a book I was looking for. Organization techniques, is a professional skill and Barnes & Nobles has lost their way, in more ways than one as well as other online venues, as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I want to thank you for writing this post. I actually feel much better after reading it. It was cathartic because it helped me get those same feelings out of MY system. The internet could have been a remarkable tool to bring people together and to advance art and science and understanding. But humans have a unique capacity for making great advancements and then messing up everything we touch. There are two things I like to keep in mind when dealing with younger people that act entitled and believe they are so much smarter than everyone else. One is that there are a lot more of us baby boomer folks than there are of them. The second thing is that I imagine them trying to write a book on a typewriter the way I wrote all my first novels. One mistake on a page of that final copy and straight in the trash. If I’m feeling particularly perturbed, I picture a quill and an inkwell. It gives me a good laugh. Maybe that makes me a sick individual but I’m good with that. Great Post and than you for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Liz! I don’t think the quill and inkwell is sick at all… We forget how much we used to HAVE to do in writing that technology has managed to help…and it is IN writing that I have the limited appreciation for tech in the face of the damage it has caused in other areas of my life. In the old typewriter days it took dogged determination to type a manuscript…(remember the excitement of the IBM Selectric II self-correcting typewriter?!) Ah, the curses I hurled at mere term papers! To think I now hurl them at HD TV, at popup boxes, and the dreaded email list….Still, as you point out, so much could have been done better…alas!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I absolutely LOVE this, KC. Truer words were never spoken. This reminds me of school librarians who are required to allow children to only checkout books based on their reading level. Well, if that just doesn’t kill a kid’s passion and interest. The children who really want to read a different book are denied. Maybe this terrible practice triggered the New Adult section. Let the child or “new adult” read whatever they want to read. Skip labeling and categorizing all together. Thank you for this terrific post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You are welcome Jennie… I agree that this is leading to a kind of snobbery as well, where certain people brag they or their children “read above their level”…. Some measuring sticks are just things other people hit us with. I agree with you…Let imagination take us where we need to go… It’s how so many of us got to BE reading “above our level” as children in the first place!

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