Publishing industry news has exploded with stories about a new genre, called New Adult. The New Adult genre is meant to bridge the supposed gap between Young Adult (teen) books and general Adult fiction books. Every news site from the New York Times to Publishers Weekly has been giving their spin on the genre ever since HarperCollins signed Cora Carmack in a high-six-figured three-book deal.
What is the New Adult genre? That’s the question of the month.
Some claim it’s simply the angsty stories of YA (the Young Adult genre) sexed up for readers in their older teens or twenties. One publisher is going so far as to release two versions of a YA series, one where the door closes on the sex scenes and one where the door stays open.
Others call the genre “Harry Potter meets Fifty Shades of Grey.” Anyone who thinks this is a new phenomenon hasn’t heard of fan fiction, which has been doing this very thing for years. After all, Fifty Shades of Grey started as fan fiction and features a twenty-year-old protagonist based on Twilight‘s Bella Swan, meaning that it reads very much like teen-voiced YA books, but with erotic content.
Still others call it the “new chick-lit,” where recent college grads explore the world through first jobs and Sex in the City style romances. Or even younger, to college students exploring freedom from their parents with new (often sexual) experiences.
Why Is There a Push for a New Adult Genre? Reason #1
The New Adult genre is marketing, pure and simple. The YA market has been the trendy place for books for years, the home shelf of the Twilight and Hunger Games series. But now publishers are worried about those YA readers “aging out” of those books.
Adults typically don’t have a problem reading about protagonists younger than themselves. However, recent high-school graduates might find stories set in high school beneath them. So what should they read now?
Enter the New Adult genre. These are the same stories that have always existed about 18-25 year old protagonists, but now they have the label to make them theoretically easier for those college-aged readers to find. Bookstores, especially those online, might create New Adult shelves, as they try to increase the discover-ability of these stories.
Why Is There a Push for a New Adult Genre? Reason #2
In the United States, those in the target age market for these stories are called Generation Y, or Millenials, or more interestingly… Echo Boomers. Just as the U.S. Boomer generation of the 1946-1964 period changed society’s perception of life stages and milestones (forcing us all to know what Viagra is), this latest baby boom generation (typically those born from 1983-2000) is similarly attracting media attention from those who hope to appeal to them.
Coincidentally (or not), the rise of the original Baby Boomers also heralded widespread usage of the word “teenager.” So maybe it’s not surprising that this latest baby boom comes with a new life stage as well.
<begin sarcasm font> As the Millenials age up, maybe we’ll get to add “Newly Married Adults,” “Adults with Young Kids,” “Adults with Teenagers,” and “Divorced and Newly Single” genres to bookshelves. Oh yay! </end sarcasm font>
Why Is There a Push for a New Adult Genre? Reason #3
YA readers are used to finding all age-appropriate books in one section. Graduating to Adult fiction means they have to delve into the genre shelves. Genre fiction features plenty of 18-25 year old protagonists, but general Adult fiction often focuses on older protagonists.
The New Adult genre protests against pigeonholing for a specific genre of story. These YA graduates don’t want to have to decide if they want a Mystery, Romance, or Horror story before picking up a book.
However, like YA, the New Adult genre instead pigeonholes by the protagonist’s age. The New Adult label could be used to let readers know the types of experiences the characters will face during the course of a story, such as: “college, living away from home for the first time, military deployment, apprenticeships, a first steady job, a first serious relationship, etc.”
But the inability to agree on a definition for the genre doesn’t bode well for such logic. Instead, the label will likely be slapped onto every story with a 18-25 year old protagonist in an effort to jump on the trend.
What’s the Problem with a New Adult Genre?
The problem is that “books about 18-25 year old protagonists” doesn’t tell us anything about the story itself. Will a 22-year-old protagonist who’s a stay-at-home mom really speak to the New Adult reader?
Most of the stories being marketed as New Adult so far seem to be contemporary romance stories (or at least with romantic elements). So why have the label? Is the protagonist being in college or a new college graduate a significant enough characteristic to differentiate these books from contemporary romance?
News flash! Most romance stories feature a heroine in that 18-25 age range. So if a New Adult story is a contemporary romance-ish story with an 18-25 year old protagonist…? Um, the Romance genre already has that niche down pat. Usually with all the sexy times you could want.
The story I just completed has a twenty-year-old heroine (in college even!), who experiences her first relationship, and is high on the spicy scale. Yet I would call that book paranormal romance and not New Adult.
So why is this genre needed? It’s not about the sexual content or the age of the protagonist. It’s simply marketing speak for highlighting books that might appeal to that purchasing juggernaut: the Millenial generation. Some of these books will explore the experiences of an extended adolescence, relateable to those who are adults by age, but through economic forces, life choices, or immaturity aren’t able to feel secure in their adulthood yet, and some of these books will just be trend hangers-on.
Don’t get me wrong. Books should be written that speak to those experiences. But let’s recognize that these are books that would fit into other genres. The New Adult label is only a marketing decision to prevent these readers from having to dig into the Adult genre shelves.
A publisher might come along and decide to market my books as New Adult, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that if it helps my books connect with readers. However, I don’t think that my stories speak to that Millenial experience any more than any other romance book. So maybe New Adult readers just need to read more romances. *smile*
Have you heard of the New Adult genre? How do you define it? Do you have other theories for the recent push behind the label? Do you prefer categorizing books by genre or protagonist age? What do you think about the overlap between contemporary romance and New Adult stories?Pin It