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New Adult- Passing Trend or Legitimate Genre?

 

by

Rachel Seigel

In recent months, a new offshoot of Young Adult has been catching traction on the publishing scene. The term, “New Adult Fiction” or “Post Adolescent Literature”, is a term that refers to Young Adult books that feature older teen characters, and appeal to the 18-25 year-old readers who are still figuring out what it means to be an adult.These titles, reverse adult crossover, in that they are Young Adult books that appeal to an older or adult audience, and it’s protagonists have a greater insight into life than traditional YA.

The term was first coined in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press editor Dan Weiss, and his editorial assistant S. Jae-Jones (our very own JJ), who wanted to publish books that cater to that transitioning age group who are not quite “young adults” anymore, but who are not fully adults either. The protagonists in these books are emerging adults who have a broader life experience than younger teens, but not enough experience to be living full adult lives. As JJ states in a 2010 Writer’s Digest article, “New Adult is about young adulthood, when you are an adult but have not established your life as one (career, family, what-have-you).”

One recent YA novel which meets the “New Adult” criteria is Gayle Forman’s Just One Day.
The protagonist, Allyson, is entering college in the fall to study pre-med, and impulsively decides to ditch her tour group in England to go see an underground theatre performance of Twelfth Night. There she meets Willem- a laid back Dutch actor, with whom she feels an instant spark. In a move very much unlike her, she follows him to Paris where they spend a magical, whirlwind day. The next morning, she wakes up to find him gone. Devastated, she returns home, but she can’t get him out of her mind. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to re-examine the narrow confines of her life, to find her true love, and to break free of her constraints.

This novel, (first in a duology)perfectly exemplifies the genre. Allyson is an emerging adult, who is trying to figure out who she is and what she wants. Her entire life, she’s followed the path expected for her, Until she meets Willem and does something completely uncharacteristic, she never even thinks to question whether or not what she’s doing is what she wants. Her night with Willem is a life-altering moment, and pushes her to re-evaluate her choices and take her first tentative steps into adulthood.

Brilliantly written, complex and completely engaging, this is a book that will appeal not only to younger teens looking ahead to college, but to anyone (including adults) who are still asking themselves what they want out of life!

As with any new genre, New Adult is being met with some degree of scepticism, leaving booksellers scratching their heads as to what to do with them. Do they shelve it in adult fiction and hope that the books get noticed? Do they shelve it in Young Adult, where they more naturally fit? Or- should bookstores be bold and create a “New Adult” section specifically for these books? Some think that it’s simply a gimmick- an attempt on the part of self-published authors to create a niche market for teen erotica. (Which certainly is not the case with some of the recommendations on the New Adult Alley blog. http://naalley.blogspot.ca) Others, and perhaps the less jaded among us (myself included) see the logic in the original concept. (Not the current opinion that they are all about the sex) That 18-25 demographic is a powerful one, and it makes perfect sense to me that there could and should be a dedicated brand of books aimed expressly at them. When I was in that age group, I was completely uninterested in stories about women my mother’s age, nor was I interested in “chick lit”, which did feature younger characters, but was generally a bit too fluffy for my taste. Stories like Gayle Forman’s wonderful book would have appealed to me then, and still appeals to me now!

What are your thoughts on New Adult Fiction? Do you believe that it’s a legitimate genre, or is it simply a passing trend?

Rachel Seigel is the K-12 buyer at wholesaler S&B Books, a division of Whitehots, in Mississauga, Ontario. She also maintains a personal blog at http://readingtimbits.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter as @rachelnseigel.

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21 Comments

  1. Posted January 30, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Is ‘New Adult’ a genre, or a category? I’m not trying to be picky, I always thought ‘genre’ was more like mystery, romance, paranormal.

    As for whether we need it or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that, as a middle-aged man, I would probably not browse the ‘New Adult’ section of my bookstore, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t read a New Adult book. A book in the adult section is more likely to be discovered (and potentially purchased) by me than one in a separate section.

    • Posted January 30, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      I’ve seen it defined as both- technically it is a sub-genre of YA, which in bookspeak is a spin-off.

    • Posted January 30, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      Category = YA, Adult, NA
      Genre = romance, thriller, contemporary, sci-fi, etc.

  2. Posted January 30, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    What I think is interesting about this whole thing is that New Adult books have been around for a long time, just not coined by that term. There are books where the protagonist is in college, and they’re not all considered chick lit. (“Less Than Zero” by Bret Easton Ellis, “Number 6 Fumbles” by Rachel Solar-Tuttle, or, heck, even “The Marriage Plot.”) That’s not to say I don’t think there shouldn’t be MORE books like this (I’d love more college stories!), but I (at least personally) don’t think there should be a separate genre for it. (And, in regard to the previous comment, I’m using genre as you describe it – fiction, mystery, sci-fi, YA, etc.) I think the books can be categorized this way, but it’s not necessary to create a new genre. (And by categorized, I mean described, such as paranormal, chick lit, etc.) Like in the library I work at, if someone wants chick lit, it’s shelved with other fiction. I can categorically say “this book is considered chick lit,” but I don’t alienate it from the other fiction titles on the shelf. (This is confusing to type!)

    We have a YA genre to show what’s safe and applicable for teens to read. I don’t think we need to have a separate genre for college students and up; they can look at whatever books they want. And as for where to shelve it, as a librarian I think it would be on a case-by-case basis honestly. “Just One Day” is definitely in our YA section – I’d give it to most of my teens. But there’s no way I’d put “Less Than Zero” over there. (Or the new popular New Adult title, “Beautiful Disaster.” Way too graphic.)

    SO! I like the idea of New Adult. I’d like to SEE New Adult books. But I don’t think it should require its own genre.

  3. Rae
    Posted January 30, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I’d like to think it’s a legitimate genre. It would definitely make it easier to pick out books if someone’s looking for those geared toward the 18-25 year old demographic. While I used to love YA books, lately I’ve felt that the characters aren’t relatable anymore, possibly because I’ve outgrown the overly angst-y period of early to mid teens. But at the same time, I can’t say that I’d want to read about late 20s-onward characters because well, I’m not so sure I’d be interested in what they’re doing (although I have to say, age is not really a factor when the story is well- thought out). And in bookstores, it’s really hard because it’s like there’s this demarcation where YA ends and Adult begins with no grey area.

  4. Posted January 30, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I’m thinking that this is an interesting new development in terms of genre. While I’d certainly consider New Adult a good way to classify books (as based on the original definition of the term), I’m not too happy with the fact that it’s getting associated with racier books featuring older teens right now.

  5. Emi
    Posted January 30, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m with Juliana. NA is not a genre; neither is YA. Both are marketing strategies – or categories, if you will.

  6. Posted January 30, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    I think New Adult is a category. Like you said, it targets an audience that aren’t really teens anymore but really not official adults yet, either. Though, technically, they are–most in between 18 and 25 don’t know what they’re going to do for the rest of their life and are still changing. I look forward to seeing what happens to NA books in the future. I hope the category sticks around.

  7. Posted January 30, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    I saw this blog title and though “Oh, thank goodness!” New Adult seems to be the genre nobody wants to talk about despite how quickly it’s catching on.

    Personally, I think New Adult will stick. I heard a statistic saying the average reader of YA is 26 years old–there’s a lot of people attracted to the creativity of YA as a genre but who are looking for themes that resonate more with their own age group. And I feel like the whole college/post-college experience has become…more relevant, somehow? With people struggling to find jobs, struggling to know what they want out of college, struggling with having to move back in with their parents, struggling to stay afloat and figure out what adulthood means, struggling…

    There’s an audience for it.

    And also, though nobody seems to want to publicly acknowledge it, I’ve been shocked to see how many agents and small presses have added New Adult to their wish lists. I’ve been querying since August and it wasn’t there when I started, but now, only a few months later, it’s all over.

    Not to say it’s a real genre yet. I think it’s becoming one. Slowly, as new trends do; and then fast all at once.

    (Although I have to agree with the others. Category, not genre. )

    Thanks for talking about this!
    -Mandy

  8. Cricket
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    FINALLY! I write New Adult but always have to be in the grey area of YA. One of my books is more YA but does have adult content and elevated thinking. The other is very adult geared due to language and sexual content but the MC is 17-yrs old. In today’s world, 10-yr olds are drinking double lattes while talking on their cell phones and playing on their iPads. The world we live in has been rocketed into maturity prematurely and mostly has been desensitized to real “youth”.

  9. Caitlin Vanasse
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    My first reaction to NA is that it’s some sort of fad, sub-genre that will never exist on its own, but I had a really interesting conversation with my friend Savannah today about it and what came out of that is that NA as I see it marketed now isn’t really anything special but there is potential for NA to really be something.

    What it came down to is that, no matter how you protest, New Adult has been used to label books that more or less are romance at a different age. It seems as though New Adult is being used so books can have all the wide-eyed wonder and intensity of adolescent love with the physical depth of an adult relationship. (I should interject here by saying that you should absolutely feel free to contradict this but if you do please point me to an actual book marketed as New Adult.)

    As a Millennial, which I believe is the generation being courted here, that’s not really what I see as the unique challenges of my generation. Read an article about the Boomerang generation, read a few entries on Adulting, heck, read some of the criticism or praise for HBO’s Girls. By focusing more or less on the romantic growth and development of this age group you are completely missing the point. I would give examples here of some of the things my real life friends have gone through in the last five years here as examples, but I don’t want to violate their privacy so instead I will say this:

    How many of you have read Mindy Kaling’s autobiography? In it some of the most fascinating chapters (IMHO) are the ones where she describes her years living in NYC post college and pre- The Office. It’s this time in which Mindy was not really sure what she was doing and generally mucking around and sustained by these amazing friends. That’s what New Adult should be (and in consequence it’s something I see as uniquely contemporary although feel free to argue with me on this one as well.)

    If the quintessential YA book is a personal journey of discovery, where the protagonist is finding out who he or she is and what his or her dreams are, then “New Adult should be about the struggle to get that chance to achieve your dreams” (I stole that from Savannah.) Another way to say it is that if YA is about finding your dreams and allowing yourself to have them and NA is about the actual work that goes into that and the ways it doesn’t always happen (and then lots of books for adults have been written about looking back and realizing you failed to make your dreams happen.)

    I’m going to end by saying that I’m not a writer and I’m sure many of the lovely ladies of this blog might define YA more broadly than I have above. What I would love to read as the target market for NA though is what I have described here, books about the tough choices new adults are having to make about careers and families, and where to live and what’s going to be important to them because it’s all about responsibility and how you handle that. That is what I would love to read.

  10. Posted February 1, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I’d hate to see booksellers create a bookshelf for New Adult titles. I don’t see why they can’t be just Adult fiction. Do the folks 18-25 (or -35, as I’ve sometimes seen it) really need a separate marketing category? When I was a young adult (yes, it’s been awhile), I wanted to read the Big Kid books. I liked the vast variety that filled the Adult section. Plenty of 18+-year-olds read YA; there’s nothing wrong with that. But if it’s not YA, it’s Adult. Done.

  11. Posted February 1, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I definitely hope that New Adult is here to stay. I love YA, but sometimes it’s nice to read about characters who are going through the same things I am, who are in college or just finished college and are moving out on their own and don’t quite know what they’re doing with their lives yet.

    I have a really hard time finding such books. If I look through young adult books, everyone is in high school or at least around that age. If I look through adult books, I (mostly) find a bunch of women in their early thirties who are dealing with adult situations, like paying mortgages, raising kids, trying to find a husband, or managing their careers. I’m not saying that 18-25 year old people don’t have to deal with any of these issues, but I’m not interested in reading about those, and it would be really nice to be able to look up a certain category of books and know that those are all more or less what I’m looking for.

    We categorize books to make them easier to find. No one complains that we have a separate fantasy section, even though you could just call those books “adult” and leave it at that. Really, you could just label everything “fiction” and be done with it. We take it one step further and assign it a more specific label to help people who are looking for that category find it.

    Yes, right now most of the New Adult books that I’ve seen are basically college kids having sex. I’m not entirely happy with that, though I’m not unhappy that such books exist. I just think that as more places start to accept that this is a real category, they’ll start to publish more books that are New Adult and focus on all of the issues that the rest of us seem to want to see. We just need to be patient and make sure people realize how much interest there really is in this category.

    • Caitlin Vanasse
      Posted February 1, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      I know what you mean re: YA, I think it’s one of the reasons that I find myself reading less and less contemporary YA and more and more Fantasy or Dystopian or Sci-fi (or even historical) because the characters end up taking on more adult responsibilities to some extent. Of course I also love MG so maybe I just hate reading books where having a girlfriend or boyfriend in hs is the end all be all of life.

  12. Posted February 1, 2013 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    While describing NA as (roughly) books about college and post college years is currently mostly accurate, this limits it to one genre (contemporary) and perhaps romance. Some of the most beloved books in the YA category are sci-fi, paranormal or fantasy. So I predict that we will start to see steamier versions of THE HUNGER GAMES, HUSH HUSH or City of Bones etc. that will be classified as NA. This will just reinforce the idea that this is a trend aimed at people who like the combination of lightness and angst of YA but want a bit more spice. I sometimes get frustrated by the sanitized worlds in apocalyptic YA books. Let’s face it – if the zombies are storming the walls what’s the last thing you want to do on this earth?

    Post college? By this definition 50 Shades is NA! Ms. Steele literally graduates in the 1st book.

    I’m not against NA as a label, but I think more would be accomplished if we were less squeamish about calling books YA18+

    • Caitlin Vanasse
      Posted September 16, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      I think your suggestion that these books could be called YA18+ is pretty interesting. I wonder what the for/against argument for something like that might be.

  13. Chantal Mason
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    The idea of New Adult is really interesting! It’d love to see more books published that fall into the NA category! I read mostly YA fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal, but it would be really cool to read books where the characters are just slightly older (late teens, early twenties). If NA catches on, I might even read more contemporary novels, because they’d be much more relatable to me. I’m 24 years old, so contemporary novels set in high school often just don’t do it for me anymore…but push that to college/ just out of college and I would be way more interested.

    As for if it should have it’s own section…that’s really hard! From looking at the above posts, it seems most people think it should simply be sectioned in with the adult novels, but to be honest, I never go looking under the adult novels because they tend to a) dull or b) about characters well past my age-range or c) have dense writing that isn’t so easy to read. So I guess my answer would be, as a 24 year old female, I would totally be more inclined to go check out the NA section than I would be to sift through the adult novels trying to find books that would be classified as “NA”. I can definitely see the argument for why it would make sense to just put it under “adult” as well though, would just mean I’d have to do more research online before actually going into the bookstore haha.

  14. Posted February 4, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m almost 26, but I’m a “new adult” as far as I’m concerned. I’m a college grad contemplating grad school, I’m underemployed, and I’m still sorting out my life. The only books that seem to be written to my age group are fluffy chick lit books, and books about aging parents, kids, divorces, and affairs don’t float my boat.

    I actually just blogged about this today before I saw this post on YA Highway when I was catching up on my google reader.

    The three bulletpoints I came up with that I’d LOVE to see coming out of NA lit:
    1. I’d like to see older -years coming out books. More and more people I know aren’t coming out until their 20′s. There’s an increasing amount of LGBTQ book for teens and that’s AWESOME. It would have UTTERLY changed my experience as a teen if I had had those books. But I’m having a hard time finding books that represented the experience of a lot of twentysomethings that they finally found their way to a place, physical or mental or emotional, where they could come out safely.
    2. Books about dating/falling in love that neither end in marriage, nor are chick lit romantic comedies. Where are my books that are like 500 Days of Summer and Crazy Stupid Love and Silver Linings Playbook in ink? (Note, I say Silver Linings Playbook KNOWING that it is a book, but the movie was a completely different feel, and I want that, in a book).
    3. Books about the leaving of home. We twentysomethings are doing that later and later in life. Bring me the book of the breaking of ties when you’re already supposed to be an adult and aren’t, yet.

    (I’m a fan of NA. I want more of it. I want to read it, I want to write it, I want to see it flourish. I’m not a naysayer ;))

    • Caitlin Vanasse
      Posted February 5, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      I really appreciate your comments Katie! and I defintely agree with several of your points. I think (please correct me if I’m wrong) that we both want/expect NA to be more than it is. To really take on the challenges of new adulthood and how those are changing or beign shaped by the economy and other factors at present. Thanks for commenting!

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One Trackback

  1. […] Publishing Crawl contributor Rachel Seigel wrote about this very same gap just the other day, with great news of an up and coming category – New Adult Fiction.  As Seigel puts it, New Adult fiction would encompass those “protagonists [who] are emerging adults who have a broader life experience than younger teens, but not enough experience to be living full adult lives.”  That’s great news for those that are 18-25, and those who read to find common experiences for their age. It could also be a very popular category with juniors and seniors in high school, who might want to find something to look forward to. […]

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