Author Interview: “Writing New Adult Fiction” (Deborah Halverson)

WNAF cover_smallI’m truly thrilled to be presenting an author interview with author/editor Deborah Halverson. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of workshops presented by Deborah and she’s one of the best, most dedicated editors in the business. She also really knows the children’s writing field and has branched out into teaching us about how to write new adult fiction in her new release, Writing New Adult Fiction.

Here’s some info about Deborah …

Deborah Halverson is the award-winning author of Writing New Adult Fiction, Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth, and numerous books for young readers. Deborah was an editor at Harcourt Children’s Books for ten years—until she climbed over the desk and tried out the author chair on the other side. Armed with a Masters in American Literature and a fascination with pop culture, she sculpts stories from extreme places and events—tattoo parlors, fast food joints, and, most extreme of all, high schools. She is also the founder of the popular writers’ advice website, and she serves on the advisory board for UC San Diego Extension “Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating” certificate program. Deborah speaks extensively at workshops and conferences for writers and edits adult fiction and nonfiction while specializing in teen fiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband and triplet sons. For more about Deborah, visit or

And now for the interview …

KC: You are a jack(Jill?)-of-all-trades: author of children’s books and craft books, editor, social media maven, and mother of triplets. How do you balance everything?

DH: I certainly don’t corner the market on juggling—writers constantly amaze me with the number of balls they can keep in the air and still produce fabulous work. My tactic is to put everything on my calendar (the sight of all the colored task bars and appointment squares has scared people who caught a glimpse of it) and then just march through the rainbow day by day, deadline by deadline—or rather, bird by bird, to paraphrase Anne Lamott. In fact, I mutter, Bird by bird, Deborah, bird by bird so often that my nine-year-old sons have picked up the habit. I recently heard one saying “Bird by bird” to steel himself when he faced a big math worksheet.

KC: What prompted you to tackle “Writing New Adult Fiction”?

DH: I’ve been intrigued by stories about young people who’ve just left the insulated, sometimes even vice-like, bubble of parental control since way back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. I was seeing such stories come to editorial meetings, but ultimately get declined because, as much as we editors loved the stories, we couldn’t work out how we’d sell them in bookstores that had no shelves earmarked for them. There were YA sections. There were sections for adult fiction. But what about the in-between stories? There wasn’t even a name for that kind of story then. So when social media and ebook/self-publishing technology created the opportunity for writers of those stories to reach out directly to people who wanted to read them, I was all over it. That was 2012. By then we had a name for it—“New Adult fiction.” I started reading NA novels and comparing how the new adult and teen experiences and mindsets were being expressed in words and stories. It seemed a natural next step for me, with my editorial background and writer’s advice website, to share what I’d learned in a how-to book for those who wanted write about this heady, scary, and empowering phase of life.

KC: The book covers not only writing craft issues, but also practical publishing, marketing and career development issues. As an author yourself, what is your favorite part of the writing and publishing process, and why? What do you think is the most challenging part of the process?

DH: I love revision!!!!! The magic that happens in that step blows my mind. Good blossoms to great. Intention blossoms to realization. Wordy turns to crisp and accessible. Doesn’t matter if it’s my own writing or that of a writer I’m working with as an editor, I find it intensely satisfying to see a story evolve. On the flip side, I think a blank page is one of the worst things in the world because there is too much possibility, too many opportunities, too many decisions to be made. Once I’ve made some decisions, even if it’s just by writing a paragraph or two, then I feel calmer because there’s something to assess and then reject, improve, or build upon. Then I’m back in my comfort zone.

KC: An interesting aspect of the book is the discussion of the development of the NA market niche largely through early self-publishing efforts. Do you think the niche will now be subsumed by traditional publishers who have recently discovered this vibrant market space, or will self-publishing remain a mainstay?

DH: I think the publishers would have to wrench that category away from the self-published community, and I don’t see that happening. There are too many reasons why the self-publishing model works with the NA realm—its internet-savvy audience, its digital-book foundation, its thriving community of NA writers, readers, and bloggers, and NA writers’ bold entrepreneurship. I expect traditional publishing to help curate NA’s offerings for those readers who want curation, and to partner strongly with writers who want the benefits of a publishing partnership—the professional expertise, the extra promo reach and distribution, and the credibility with certain audiences. But I think that, ultimately, the NA category will settle in as a realm shared by self-published and traditionally published but dominated by self-publishers.

KC: Who are some of your favorite NA authors, and why?

DH: I love to recommend these NA books to those looking for an entry into the category:

  • Hushed by Kelley York. A thriller with an atypical romance, giving the college story a fresh tweak.
  • Paradise 21 (A New Dawn #1) by Aubrie Dionne. You can see the NA experience happening in outer space science fiction. NA isn’t all sex in college!
  • I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. A quintessential NA story before there was an official NA category. Features a 19-year-old cab driver that knows he’s “failed to launch” but doesn’t know what to do about it or have the personal initiative to set about figuring it out. Outside elements push him into embracing life until he eventually starts taking action of his own accord. This book was published in 2009 by Zusak’s children’s book publisher through their YA program because 1) there was no NA category yet, 2) Zusak already had an international reputation as a children’s book writer thanks to his award-winning bestseller The Book Thief, and 3) many publishers publish NA stories featuring 18- to 20-year-old protagonists through their YA programs.
  • Bared to You by Sylvia Day. One of the first NA titles. Day wrote this before she and most others realized there was anything being called “New Adult fiction.” It’s a primary example of NA stories about first forays into career, with romance and sexual discovery as its driving themes.
  • Easy by Tammara Webber. Another pioneer NA title, this one set in college. It explores the important NA theme of what it means not just to survive a trauma but to cope with it and accept or move on from it.
  • After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn. An example of NA fiction that’s neither realistic contemporary nor creature-based paranormal, the genres that primarily launched NA and still dominate. This story—fantastical and taking place outside of college—features superhuman heroes (like “Captain Olympus”) and the people who have to live with them.
  • Ward Against Death (Chronicles of a Reluctant Necromancer #1) by Melanie Card. A fun example of the identity establishment efforts that characterize the new adult time of life. In this story, a young man has been set on a career path by his family—he is a necromancer, waking the dead—but he can’t reject that path because he doesn’t know a more suitable one … yet.

KC: You mention in the book that the NA market contains a lot of romance and you dedicate an entire chapter to crafting believable romantic relationships. Do you think there’s a growing market for NA books without romance or where romance plays only a very minor part?

DH: You ask about romance, but when talking NA there are really two points to parse out: the importance of romantic storylines, and the importance of sexually explicit scenes.

I believe romance will always play a part in NA stories, even when it’s only a secondary storyline. Love is a main area of identity exploration. The late teens and early twenties are prime time for people to explore romantic options as well as their own sexual identities, so it makes sense that NA writers would include romance in their stories. Matters of the heart matter to people once they hit puberty, so romance is a regular element in NA fiction, YA fiction, and fiction for adults.

Explicit sex scenes can be found in many of the pioneering NA books, and so sex has become associated with NA lit and many readers do expect it. But is it a must? Sort of. It makes sense to me that sex is included: premarital sex is more acceptable than ever, and young people are surrounded by other young people equally interested in exploring and equally free to do so now that they’re on their own. The opportunities and interest are there. That said, now that NA has become established and is pushing for a greater range of stories and thematic exploration, there seems to be a call for fiction that doesn’t necessarily get into the nitty gritty of body parts and movements. After all, not everyone who wants to read about the NA experience wants such graphic detail, and not every writer is comfortable writing it. Ultimately, the details of the sex acts aren’t necessary in order to explore love at this stage of life. Serve up emotionally satisfying relationships. Craft stories that build up sexual anticipation through love denied, teased, and toyed with. A much-anticipated kiss can be more dramatically powerful than a perfunctory graphic groping. That’s why I dedicate a full chapter of my book to the crafting believable, satisfying romance. And it’s why I say that explicit sex scenes are currently expected, but maybe not so essential in the long run. The degree of explicitness in NA fiction is an evolving element.

KC: What is the most important piece of advice you think a new author trying to break into the NA market should keep in mind?

DH: The NA market is a speed-driven one, with lots of factors making authors feel like they must publish quickly and frequently. I worry about they’re sacrificing quality for speed and encourage them to take a little bit longer to edit and revise. Well-written books make for loyal fans, and loyal fans are a vocal bunch. Look at the example of prolific, bestselling Sylvia Day, who spends more time revising than writing. I interviewed Sylvia when I was researching my book, and then she graciously wrote the foreword for it. Here’s what she said of revision: “The revision part of the process takes longer than the initial writing. The writing usually comes very quickly, then the revision will take two to three times longer than the first draft.” Revision is a powerful writing tool. Every spring on I dedicate a week to interviewing prolific award-winners and bestsellers to examine their revision processes. You can read how 19 writers with 500+ books between them tackle revision and still publish voluminously at my Revision Week Archive:

2 thoughts

  1. Fantastic interview! Thank you so much for posting this–I’ll be sure to share with all my writerly friends who are interested in NA! ^_^

    And this…”I love revision!!!!! The magic that happens in that step blows my mind.
    Good blossoms to great. Intention blossoms to realization. Wordy turns
    to crisp and accessible.”

    I sometimes feel like a weirdo for gleefully reveling in edits and rewrites. It’s just so *gratifying* to watch something rough-hewn and blocky take on that sheen of edit-polish. Magic, yes. Alchemy, transmutation, something. 😀

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