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What is New Adult?

20 February 2013

From School Library Journal:

A pretty active topic on blogs, twitters, and even newspapers is something called “New Adult” books.

What is “New Adult,” exactly?

. . . .

From Beyond Wizards and Vampires, To Sex at The New York Times: ”books that fit into the young-adult genre in their length and emotional intensity, but feature slightly older characters and significantly more sex, explicitly detailed.” So, almost a sub-genre of Young Adult, with “slightly older” characters and sexytimes.

From The Guardian (UK), Would You Read Novels Aimed at “New Adults”?: “That’s the label that has been created for books in which the main characters transform from teenagers into adults and try to navigate the difficulties of post-adolescent life: first love, starting university, getting a job, and so on. The new genre is meant to be for readers aged 14-35.” Well, that’s a bit different! Readers from aged 14 to 35. Instead of “sex,” it’s about “post-adolescent life.” Of 14 and 35 year olds.

. . . .

Over at Dear Author, Jane wrote New Adult: It’s not about the sex (but don’t be afraid of the sex either) ”New Adult, however, is not just sexed up YA, but an exploration of a time period in a character’s life. The post high school / pre responsible time period” and “New Adult is a time period and a feel — a newly emancipated person on the cusp of discovering themselves, where they fit into life, what allowances they will make, and how they relate to others. Their whole world is their oyster. The future is a bit more nebulous. The space for experimentation exists and the cast of characters varies widely, not just limited to the over the top billionaire but has room for the pierced, tattooed, low income, and all those in between.” In a way, Jane does what Bookshelvers does, going beyond the s.e.x. and focusing on the content of the books. Both are still tied to ages, though not as expansive as the Guardian.

Link to the rest at School Library Journal


33 Comments to “What is New Adult?”

  1. Make. It. STOP.

  2. Oh God, how vile. Ready meals, simultaneously bland and packed with salt, sugar and fat, designed for instant appeal rather than nourishment.

  3. It reminds me a bit of supermarket aisles in the U.S. Where there were half a dozen varieties of toothpaste, let’s say, when I was a child (shortly after the Norman Conquest), there are now dozens. They’re still manufactured by the same companies, but as their shelf space in the store expands the more types they offer simultaneously, they now compete with lots of NEW, NEW, NEW kinds to astound and confound consumers. Perhaps a new type of literary dentifrice will salvage a foundering industry. Or not.

  4. All I know is to avoid anything with the word “adult” in the categorization.

  5. Well as much as you hate it I think it is here to stay. I see a lot of YA authors starting to write for young adults that are over 18. I guess some teens are sick of the bubble gum stuff, I
    My so called YA has characters that are in the ages between 19-25. Maybe I should just put it into an adult market and be done with it.

  6. Has anybody been watching the new HBO series “Girls”?

  7. If anyone wants to know why I read predominantly horror/supernatural stuff, this is exactly why. There might be kids, there might be adults. There might be sex, there might not. There might be graphic violence and humor. The characters might be in love, working, going to school …

    But the story takes precedence over the age of the characters.

  8. I write quite serious novels and the main characters are usually in their teens. In Flash, the main character, Kip Chanin, is 15 pretending to be 18 and her best friend and mentor is about 70. Bay’s granddaughter says to Kip “I want you to go back and live in your own house, you’re a bad influence on my grandmother.”

    Needing everything pigeonholed and predictable, most adults(especially those in tradpub) can’t take this kind of storytelling dissonance, “mature ya” type people can. My readers tell me they want something deeper and they can’t find it elsewhere.

    I thought extended choice was what indie publishing was supposed to be about. Not going back to the same darn well and getting more of the same but digital.

    I’m happy, my readers are happy.

  9. Vera wrote: “Maybe I should just put it into an adult market and be done with it.”
    I think you’re right, Vera. Back in the early days of my romance writing career, all romance was sweet or traditional and acceptable for readers from about 12 to 112. As time went by and I stopped using ellipses at the end of a paragraph to indicate a closed bedroom door, I certainly didn’t worry about who, and of what age, my readers might be. They liked my books or did not. It was up to them to decide what kind of adults they might be at any given moment. Even when I moved into fantasy/futuristic romance, I didn’t suggest or want anyone else to suggest, a specific age group in which to categorize my work. I’ve read some YA fantasy books I thought were brilliantly written, others I found boring. But if we go into this New Adult things, clambering up the rungs from teenage angst to job-seeking/keeping angst, I think I’ll focus more and more on Science Fiction and Fantasy suitable for grownups. Real grownups.

  10. Let’s get even more granular. 29 can be a traumatic age, particularly for men. How about a sub-genre of 29 lit? With titles like, “Gosh, I can’t be this old can I?” and “I’m almost thirty, WTF!” And “I’d better start an IRA!” And, “WTF, tell me I’m not losing my hair!” You know someone, somewhere, is pitching this.

    • Great idea – don’t forget to send your stories to the magazines that cater to this demographic (GQ, Playboy, Esquire, Forbes?), and monetize your stories somehow: it is a highly desired demographic for advertisers.

  11. And then there’s the disclaimers. I don’t might rating my books mature or not, so parents can help filter for their minor children. But outside of that, all this age/genre specific categories takes all the fun out of discovering the toy surprise of the story. Some readers what so many qualifiers that you’ll give away the plot

  12. I really dislike the insistence on dividing up everything according to age groups as well. Should there be books about college age characters? Sure, just like there should be books about every other age group out there. Should those books be divided up according to age group? No.

    I don’t mind young adult as a category as long as it’s about books explicitly aimed at teens. However, it annoys me when every book which happens to have a teenaged protagonist is suddenly put into YA, including older books which were never intended to be YA in the first place. And I certainly don’t want every book featuring a twentysomething protagonist suddenly placed into a separate new adult category rather than in romance, SF, fantasy, crime fiction or wherever it belongs. I certainly won’t label my own books new adult, even if several of them have characters in that age range.

    Besides, as some of the linked articles point out, so far the overwhelming majority of new adult successes are basically contemporary romances featuring college students. So why not call them college romances instead? Even though those books certainly don’t reflect any college or university experience I ever had.

    Finally, readers are smart and able to sympathize with characters in a different life situation. Indeed, that’s what fiction is all about. Back when I was a teen, there was very little in the way of young adult fiction (mostly Sweet Valley High and a couple of problem and issue books), so I started reading adult fiction around the age of 14, drifted through the genres for a while until I found SF and fantasy and never looked back. Nowadays, teens do have a lot of (very good) YA novels to keep them occupied, but plenty of my students switch back and forth between young adult and regular adult books. So why the need for ever smaller pigeonholes, when readers are perfectly willing to switch between young adult and adult books?

    • Exactly! Why pigeonhole at all? I read science fiction and fantasy as a teen. Do we need YA mages and YA space cowboys? But those don’t really exist… because they’re fiction and they’re meant to expand the imagination not constrict. I never cared what age the characters where as long as I connected with them.

    • Cora wrote “So why the need for ever smaller pigeonholes, when readers are perfectly willing to switch between young adult and adult books?”

      Oh, that one’s easy. I have clients (writers for whom I edit) complaining all the time, “The publishers say they love my books, but they don’t know where it FITS.” As in, where should they tell the bookstores it should be shelved. Bookstores, those few left, are not staffed by book lovers, but by cashiers. Therefore, they require labels to guide them, similar to corner grocery stores staffed by people who don’t read or speak English. “Oh, this can shows a picture of small, round, green balls. I’ll put it on the shelf with the other canned peas.”

    • On the other hand, if people are seeking a certain “something” that they label as “New Adult,” and something of mine happens to fit… Well, I’d be inclined to tag it that way! (Especially if it’s a hot new category and I have a chance to jump in on the ground floor… Yes, I am a Mercenary Wench; who doubted this? 😉 )

      It’s just an attempt to eke out a genre niche, I figure. It’s pandering to a particular age-group that is generally In Transition (or about to be), who are unconsciously (or maybe consciously; I dunno) looking for role models, possible paths, and validation that they’re not the only one freaking out about how life is changing all around them and the rules for relationships are equally confusing. Yeah, it’s got the “how can we push this” marketing spin involved as well — but the point of labeling and tagging is, in part, to allow people to find the books that interest them. See also Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy.

      If there’s a market, a real market, then the niche will become its own thing and we can all ignore it unless we happen to write something that fits. If it’s just a marketing push, it’ll die in a few years.

      • If I had a college set romance that matches what new adult readers are looking for, I would probably tag it “new adult” as well. However, I’m pretty sure that a space opera with a 21-year-old protagonist is not what a new adult reader is looking for, even if the characters fit right into the specified age range.

  13. Bartholomew Thockmorton


    We can only pray to Apophis and hope for the worst in 2029…

  14. Increased granularity with typing books is not helpful. Either it’s an adult book or not. I’m still struggling to understand what the point of this is–books with sex, but without the mature conflicts one finds in true adult books? Adults who just aren’t ready to grow up yet? Seriously, I don’t get what this adds to anything. You get serious YA books, silly YA books, adult books without sex, adult books with it. Do we need to have a category for every book-type? Why not just have a new category name for every individual book?

  15. It’s only New Adult if the characters are having sex with oysters.

  16. Holly Golightly is 18 at the start of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Will that novel now be shelved with ‘New Adult’? Don’t think so. St. Martin’s was the one who started with the New Adult line three years ago. It took that long for the term to be more broadly used.

    Why don’t we all attach as many age-related genre tags to our work as possible and then let whoever ends up looking at our title decide if they want to read it or not. We could have New Adult AND Boomer Lit tagged on the same book.

    Hey, why not? My Young Adult page on my website is currently getting hundreds of hits from Russian porn sites. I can only imagine what their bots are searching for.

  17. Uh oh. I’m going against the comments on this one.

    I very much like this new genre. Three reasons.

    First, so, parents can help discuss and screen books for their children.

    I am one who does not think that kids should be reading book with excessive sex and graphic violence. I personally don’t believe anyone under the age of 16 should have been exposed to the Hunger Games, for example. Kids need wholesome books to nurture developing minds and psyches. They do not have the same defenses that adults have, and they can be damaged by having books that are not age appropriate. So putting books that are too mature for them in another genre seems like a good idea to me.

    Second reason: adolescence is extending into the early 20s, and I think it’s appropriate to have a genre that is specific to that group and their interests. They are not quite adults, many have not entered the working world yet, but they are not teens either. I think a young adult catagory works fine. That way books that are more mature, which will address their age group, will not get mixed up in the teen genre. Useful for both groups.

    Third reason: I like more specification to help the reader find the exact book they want. With on-line, it’s possible to get very detailed in terms of genre – there is unlimited shelf space, and I think the more specific, the better for browing and visiblitity.

    • ^Exactly.
      I don’t really want a 12 year old to read my book about the murder of a pedophile. I know kids are growing up faster than ever but can we draw the line somewhere?

      • Barbara wrote: ^Exactly.
        I don’t really want a 12 year old to read my book about the murder of a pedophile. I know kids are growing up faster than ever but can we draw the line somewhere?

        This pretty much negates an earlier response from someone who said “adolescence is extending into the 20s” or words to that effect. I believe putting the word “adult” with any qualifier at all, is going to attract precocious 12-year-olds as well as Russian porn-seekers.

    • I’m with you on this.

      Another point is most YA is not easy to put into sub-genres as the books cross multiple genres. NA is, in my mind, for that group as they are growing up. They don’t necessarily want a “romance” or a “mystery” they want a romance, mystery, dealing with current issues, with other genre stuff thrown in and some of the basic “genre rules” thrown out. Stuff that if moved to regular shelves in the bookstores would fall into miscellaneous/we have no clue where to shelve this and bookstore staff going crazy or just shelving where they are standing at that moment… Well maybe not that bad but…

      Not sure I explained it well. There are a couple good blog posts about NA but I’m too lazy to find them. I like the NA label instead of mature YA.

      Boomer lit is the one that leaves me more confused. Boomers might want books with people their age going through transitions but they are going to look for books in their favorite genres that meet those needs.

      • @ Barbara – I couldn’t agree more. Kids really need protection from distrubing material.

        @ Tasha – I’m interested in what happens with Boomer lit. That may break some ground – stories about older folk as the protagonist – should be really interesting.

        • I agree it will be interesting to see how boomer lit does. There is a Goodreads group devoted to the topic. I see marketing of Boomer Lit to be more difficult than YA/NA. My boomer husband feels that boomers will probably love the idea and embrace it. I’m less sure.

    • But that can easily be solved by rating a book mature 18+ or not as a children’s book. Also by giving the reasons for rating a book like a movie. By having the genre specifics we require that writers work with constricts rather than writing a story then rating it appropriately.

      I agree that 12 yr old shouldn’t be reading graphic details, but as an adult writer I don’t want to be told what each new genre requires me to write or else readers will disappointed or pissed etc.

      I want to write want I want to write and I’ll rate it as above and allow readers to read based on an informed decision.

      • @ HG – I’d love to see a rating system for books! Alot of people are nervous about that – who would do it, the politics, etc., but I think there is a great need for parents to be able to discern appropriate material.

        I hear what you are saying about genre and being forced to write for one, but as an indie author, we do write what we want to write. Of course. There’s no Publisher trying to tell us to fit into a little box. Any labels would happen after that – and there’s no reason for a book not to have multiple labels. For example, it could be Romance, Mystery and Romantic Mystery. I was suggesting that labels actually help with discoverability. They help the reader find a book.

    • But the existing labels are sufficient to offer guidance to kids, parents and librarians which books are appropriate for which age group. That’s why we have categories like middle grade or young adult.

      The age group at whom new adult books are aimed, however, are adults or at least older teens (16+) where parents protecting kids from unsuitable material is no longer an issue. As for separating books that might be of interest from books that are not of interest, readers have managed to do that just fine for decades. For example, when I pick up a women’s fiction/romance/chick lit looking book by an unknown author from the shelf, I always read the blurb first. When it mentions things like “marriage troubles”, “divorce” or starts with “She thought she had it all…” it goes right back on the shelf, because I have zero interest in those subjects.

      • Cora – you said:

        “The age group at whom new adult books are aimed, however, are adults or at least older teens (16+) where parents protecting kids from unsuitable material is no longer an issue”

        Right. I agree we don’t need to protect that age group. However, if we don’t deliniate a genre for that age group, the more mature books get lumped under the term “young adult”. Which means younger groups may think that they are age appropriate and parents have no way to discern.

        So, a big reason for the new genre “New Adult” is to separate it from “Young adult”, separating out the more mature material in doing so.

        • But what I mean my genre labeling is romance has evolved to mean HEA or HFN, so if you have romance in your story but it’s not specifically romance (like science fiction/romance) readers often expect the romance to mean HEA or HFN but that’s not necessarily going to be the case. Especially if you have a trilogy. EX: The Empire Strikes Back. Han and Leia did not get either HEA or HFN but there was definitely romance between them.

          The Star Wars trilogy is often considered either a space opera or science fiction/romance because it’s not hard scifi. But if you were to categorize that as romance, then a die hard romance reader would be mad without their HEA or HFN. Hence my reasoning for too much genre labeling can be a bad thing. General labels with ratings to protect minors is a better way to go IMO.

          The paranormal genre, for instance, used to be considered fantasy or fiction but now has so many crossovers into scifi, fantasy, romance, action, etc while trying to be its own genre that its a mish mash. Why? Why this need to label everything to death when a ratings system can answer the major issues?

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