The Case for College: a Rant by Samantha Durante, author of Stitch
College, in my view, is the *perfect* setting for a book. Think about it – minimal adult supervision, new surroundings, new people, new lifestyle, new autonomy. Young people trying to “find themselves” or reinvent their pasts, or at the very least, figure out who around them is worthy of their trust. It’s an environment that’s rife with opportunities for characters to grow and change, and not to mention get involved in all kinds of hormone-fueled adventures, comic misdeeds and dramatic, life-altering mistakes.
And what’s more, it’s a period of life that unites readers young and old with a common bond. Whether you’re a teen looking forward to your upcoming college experience or an adult nostalgic for those wonderful years in your life, college is an experience that a broad spectrum of readers can relate to. Even if you didn’t actually *go* to college, chances are you’ve enjoyed your fair share of movies and TV shows in a college setting, so you know what it’s all about – self-discovery, learning, maturation, late-night pizza, dorm-room drama – oh, and the occasional foray into drinking, sex, and whatever other vice you might be interested in trying out.
Sounds like a pretty compelling place for a story to develop, right? So *why* are there so few books that take place in a college setting?
It’s really and truly baffling to me. So, to understand this dichotomy a bit better, I turned to the world’s greatest bastion of experts and know-it-alls: the internet. And, disappointingly, what I found were the same weak arguments being cited over and over again.
According to a diverse array of industry professionals (agents, publishers, and the like) and experienced authors, books in a college setting are imminent failures, so no one should bother writing one. Wha-wha-whaaat?? But why? Here’s what they had to say:
1. “College students are too busy to read for pleasure and teenagers are too absorbed in their own lives to want to read about college.”
2. “Bookstores don’t have a New Adult shelf so they’re not willing to stock these types of books.”
3. “As an experienced agent/publisher, I already know this book won’t be successful so I’m not going to waste my time on helping you sell/market it.”
Perhaps as you read these statements, you thought, well, I guess that makes sense. Or if you’re more like me, you probably struggled to tamp down the 50 million rebuttals that immediately popped into your head, in hopes that you could control your violent seething long enough to structure a compelling counter-argument. Deep breaths.
So here’s what I have to say to people who cite the above reasons as evidence that college books are doomed to fail:
“College students are too busy to read for pleasure and teenagers are too absorbed in their own lives to want to read about college.”
a. First off, since *when* are college students the sole target market for books in a college setting?? As evidenced by the, oh, THOUSANDS of blogs and websites dedicated to new adult, young adult, and middle grade books WHICH ARE RUN BY ADULTS, obviously people don’t only read books about characters their own age (and boy would we miss out on a TON of amazing books if we did!).
b. Claiming that teenagers are too absorbed in the present to think about the future is just plain insulting. High schoolers spend ENDLESS amounts of time preparing for and applying to college. I’m supposed to believe that they aren’t the *least* bit curious what it’s actually like? That they have NO interest in reading about college-age characters? Actually, I WAS a high school student who wanted to read about college less than 10 years ago, so I know for a fact that this isn’t true. I call bull.
c. The argument that college students don’t have *time* to read is inherently invalid – who *does* have time to read?? You know who? Readers, because they care about reading and they MAKE time for it, regardless of their age. So it’s not really fair to write off a whole age group just because it sounds convenient.
“Bookstores don’t have a New Adult shelf so they’re not willing to stock these types of books.”
a. Um, I’m not even going to waste time on this one besides saying one thing: WHO BUYS BOOKS AT BOOKSTORES ANYMORE??? I love my independent bookstore as much as the next person, but let’s be honest here: 98% of my book purchase for the past, I dunno, 15 years?? have been online. And it takes Amazon about 3 seconds to make a new “shelf” to accommodate a changing mix of genres. (Not to mention it would probably take an actual store all of 20 minutes…)
“As an experienced agent/publisher, I already know this book won’t be successful so I’m not going to waste my time on helping you sell/market it.”
a. Now this is a catch-22 if ever I saw one. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy! Yes, agents/publishers, if you refuse to pick up books in a college setting, they’re not going to sell. Thank you for using your power to irrationally squash an entire genre of books THAT READERS ARE ASKING FOR instead of putting a little of your time/effort/million-dollar-marketing-budgets towards developing a burgeoning market, that’s very forward-thinking of you.
Readers, if you want to see more books in a college setting, LET US AUTHORS KNOW. We *want* to write about college, but as you can imagine, it’s a little hard to muster the courage when an entire industry is telling us we’re crazy. Luckily, there are lots of great indie authors out there who are ready to put this notion to shame, and with the tools now at our disposal, we’re equipped to do so with or without support from the industry establishment. It’s all up to you, readers. Tell us what you want to see, and we *promise* we will deliver.