New Adult: “Sexed” up YA or Bona Fide Literary Movement? An interview with Deborah Halverson, author of Writing NA Fiction
Hannah Goodman’s confession: With the exception of Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, I’ve never read a craft book cover-to-cover. I mainly use my craft books to thumb through when I’m stuck and need to be reminded of things like building tension or creating diverse voices in characters. Craft books are points of reference for me, not books to be devoured like a juicy New Adult novel fresh off the presses. Speaking of both craft books and juicy New Adult fiction … I read Writing NA Fiction by Deborah Halverson over the course of a few hours, and I can now say with total honesty that I have read a true craft book cover-to-cover – and it was one of the best reads this year! I recently had the privilege to speak with her via Skype about this title. We covered everything from the history of NA to self-publishing do’s and don’ts.
Hannah Goodman: I couldn’t stop reading your book! Not only did I appreciate the writing style, but I don’t even know you and I could feel your personality in it. It didn’t feel like this dry, overly-instructive or overly-theoretical book. It was fun!
Deborah Halerson: Phew! Yay! That’s what I hoped for. Thank you! I worked really hard to make it something people would enjoy reading all the way through.
HG: I know that your background as an author is in YA fiction and that in 2011 you made the move to nonfiction with Writing YA For Dummies and the recently published Writing New Adult Fiction. What made you go from writing fiction to writing about the craft of fiction?
DH: I think it’s easier to write about the craft of it than to actually write the fiction. After the experience of the Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies book, I wondered if maybe I was a nonfiction writer; I really enjoyed the process. I wasn’t making things up out of the air. I was arranging and rearranging so that what I had to say made sense and had a logical sequence and then was understandable. So that act of arranging and structuring and then finding my spin on things, that was incredibly fun for me.
HG: Before you were an author, you worked as an editor for many years at Harcourt and now you are a freelance editor. How does that influence your own writing?
DH: I enjoy the revision process. I feel like writing nonfiction is that revision process from the start because whatever topic I’ve chosen to write about already exists. I’m not making stuff up. So, yes, I think that taps into my editorial background. I love editing other people’s work … finding what’s working and seeing if rearranging needs to be done, that part is fun to me. I’m excited about the revision in my editing work, and so I think that comes across in my nonfiction writing.
HG: Do you have preference—writing fiction or nonfiction?
DH: I’m more easily intimidated with writing fiction than non-fiction. So it was a very natural step for me to go into writing about writing because of my editorial background, which I was doing before I even became a writer. [Deborah has two YA books Honk If You Hate Me, 2009 and Big Mouth, 2008.]
HG: Okay. So, let’s dig into Writing New Adult Fiction. What I really appreciated, as an emerging New Adult fiction writer who has been writing New Adult Fiction since before it had a name, was the historical aspect that you address in the book. I could especially relate to the part where you discuss that, for years you saw these writers who had these manuscripts with characters 18 to 25 but nowhere to send them.
DH: I had seen manuscripts like this back in the day while acquiring (at Harcourt), and the editors couldn’t pick them up because no one could figure out how to sell them. Editors would say, “It’s a great story but I cannot do the next step as a publisher because I don’t know what to do with this.”
HG: Right. So it seems like that’s what made those writers turn to self-publishing. The New Adult genre, as it has emerged, is filled with a lot of self-published authors. What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
DH: Many authors who self-publish see self-publishing as not an end itself but as a backdoor to publishing. So (in the research for this book) I asked editors what are the (sales) numbers you need to see to get your attention? Turns out, the numbers are pretty high for them to say they will sign you up, based on numbers alone. So it’s not numbers that will get you signed, necessarily. You need a quality book, a quality story.
HG: I started as a self-published author in 2004 and the feedback then was self-publishing could hurt you.
DH: That is now no longer the case. That’s the important thing to note. Unless you self-publish badly—poor quality, poor story, and poor packaging. If you publish poor quality, you’re going to hurt yourself. The bad reviews are going to come in, and you can never take them down.
HG: But it does seems like NA self-published writers are getting book deals left and right.
DH: Some of the initial people (who self-published) were getting a lot of money from (traditional) publishers. Now publishers have gone through the initial excitement (of NA), and they are standing back. You are not going to throw huge money at (sales) numbers any more. It’s now more of a building thing. The initial hysteria has worn off, and we’re settling in, and we realize we’ve got something that’s going to stay the course.
HG: So self-publishing can actually help you be seen by a traditional publisher?
DH: If you know you have a great story, and you just haven’t made that connection with a big audience yet, for whatever reason, you can keep submitting and not hurt yourself by self-publishing. The only way you can hurt yourself is if you do it poorly and you get bad reviews, because that cannot be erased.
HG: By the way, you nailed the developmental stages of young people ages 18 to 25.
DH: Getting into the mindset of the developmental stages of the new adult is important. How old can your protagonist be? How (sexually) graphic can authors be? Do these characters have to leave home? Those things matter. How does the teen fiction book with a main character who lives completely on her own fit in? So what is NA about? It’s about the new adult experience and the new adult perspective. I discuss what makes the teen mind different from the new adult mind. I give talks at conferences about the narrative sensibility of teen versus NA fiction. This is the foundation of my book, through every chapter.
HG: Any advice to NA writers?
DH: One of the things about NA is that it is a very speed driven genre. Readers eat it up and they love it. They want more and more, so writers feel this pressure to crank it out, whether it is a series or the next new book. I try to encourage writers to slow down and think about the long term. Would you rather have a lot of three-star reviews, or four and five stars? Let’s figure out what you want to happen in the long term.
HG: Why do you think writers should read Writing New Adult Fiction?
DH: One way I designed both of my craft books was to empower the writer to revise on his or her own. Ultimately there is no substitute for having a trained editor work on your story, but the reality is not everyone can pay for that. So hopefully this book will arm them to do what they can on their own.
HG: In your work as a freelance editor—with, by the way, an impressive clientele list of many folks who have gone on to acquire books deals—what do you like to edit the most?
DH: I love to edit writers’ whose passion and energy comes through in their writing. A basketball coach once told me, “I’d pick the wild player who dives under the scorekeeper’s table to save a pass than the player who just runs back and forth on the court any day.” I love working with writers who aren’t afraid to dive, whether they need a little guidance from me or a lot. Passion is contagious.
HG: Final and most important question to me, personally. How do you juggle your life as an author, editor, and mother?
DH: Every writer tries to figure out the work/life juggle. I wish I had a secret for pulling it off. It’s about reprioritizing a lot and understanding it’s going to shift every few months. It’s not a boring life.
Read Hannah’s review of Writing NA Fiction
Quick Bio: Deborah Halverson
1995 First editorial job at Harcourt
2006 Leaves Harcourt and launches editorial coaching service
2007 Honk If You Hate Me
2008 Big Mouth
2010 Launches DearEditor.com
2011 Publishes Writing YA For Dummies
2012 Letters to Santa
2014 Publishes Writing New Adult Fiction
Deborah has edited some well known YA and Children’s books authors: Theodore Taylor, Kathi Appelt, Jean Ferris, and Eve Bunting.
Quick Bio: Hannah R. Goodman
2004 First place winner of Writer’s Digest International Self Published Book Award, Children’s Division for My Sister’s Wedding
2004 Launches The Write Touch (writing coaching and tutoring and editing services)
2006 Winner of Bronze IPPY for My Summer Vacation
2011 Earns MFA in Writing For Young People from The Solstice Program at Pine Manor College
2012 Signs with Erzsi Deàk of Hen&ink Literary and publishes volume 1 of Sucker Literary
2013 Publishes volume 2 Sucker Literary
2014 Publishes volume 3 Sucker Literary
Editor’s note: THANK YOU, HANNAH and DEBORAH!