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January 8, 2013

The “New Adult” Genre: Why Does It Exist?

Graduation cap with text: The "New Adult" Genre: Why Does It Exist?

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?

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50 Comments on "The “New Adult” Genre: Why Does It Exist?"

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Amanda

I love your sarcasm font. Can I steal it? 🙂

I’m on the fence about the NA category. Looking back at my own reading preferences during that age range of my own life, I wouldn’t have had any use for them. But there seems to be a pretty loud clamoring for more books that fall into that category (Carina Press just opened to NA submissions, BTW).

Someone pointed out the problem with NA is in the system bookstores and libraries use to order books, called BISACs. Adding NA as a viable category means having to change the entire system. It’s not simply a matter of rearranging a few shelves to say yo, NA over here! If you’re a bookseller shelving books, you’re not going to want to take the time to read every back cover and figure out if it belongs in the YA, NA, or adult category, which is, I’m guessing, how they’d have to do it at this point.

One of my stories features a 24 year old protagonist in her first job out of college, first apartment without roommates, and her first serious relationship. I call it adult urban fantasy 🙂

Michelle Roberts
Michelle Roberts

I think it’s a good idea. I’m in my 20’s myself, and I would love to find NA dystopian, or NA fantasy that has a YAish voice but older, slightly more mature characters.

This is actually kind of what I’m writing. My protag is 18-19 for most of the book, but it reads like a YA fantasy.

Roni Loren
Great examination of the “new” genre. I do agree that books have existed with 18-25 protagonists for a long time, but as a reader/lover of this New Adult thing and a reader/writer of contemporary romance, I have to say that the two are different. I joked when 50 Shades hit it big that the reason people were gobbling it up was because it was erotic YA. And I was only half-joking. Obviously, there was a crap ton of BDSM erotic romance out there already (hey, I write it, so I should know, lol) but it was written in a contemporary romance voice, not a YA voice. So that was the difference. And I think that’s the difference with New Adult and say contemporary romance or a paranormal who has a 20 yr old. There is a voice and a *feel* that is more YA-like and hence, gets the label New Adult. And though it has echoes of chick-lit, the voice is more “every day” and less sophisticated/jaded than a chick lit voice. The focus is also different. Chick lit usually didn’t have that romance feel like New Adult often has (I always think of chick lit as closer to today’s Women’s Fiction category). New Adult is every day heroines in every day America often dealing with common problems like first jobs, first real relationship, leaving home, etc.. The voice is typically younger, modern, and in first person. It’s often more angsty and yes they are sometimes sexier, but not always.… Read more »
Laura Pauling

Many of the New Adult books I’ve read are told from the dual pov of the guy and the girl. 🙂 And I’m not sure I’d call it a marketing thing easier -at least from the publisher’s pov. Yes, a publisher coined the term but it didn’t really take off until authors self published their New Adult works and told some incredible stories. For example, Flat Out Love by Jessica Park, which has no sex at all. Just a college-aged character.

I think after years of agents and publishers refusing to sell this genre b/c of bookstore placement, it took the self publishing revolution for it to break out.

Stefanie Nicholas

I’ve actually never heard of the New Adult genre, so this post was super interesting to me! I guess I’ll have to keep an eye on it, though by the sounds of it it will be a lot of the ‘erotic paranormal’ type stuff, which I rarely like. However, I do see the need for it somewhat, because I hate saying I like YA books as a 20 year old! I read both YA and adult fiction, but sometimes I do feel inbetween and YA has a bad rep a little bit for adult readers.

Stephanie Scott

I share your same skepticism for the NA label; it’s not that I don’t want those stories being told–I do! I just feel like they already ARE to an extend, and like saying a book is YA, that isn’t a genre. That’s a category and tells you nothing about the book other than it was written for a teen audience. So, if a book is shelved under New Adult romance, is it also shelved under regular romance? Much of the genre romance I read are about women in their 20s–sure many of them are probably later 20s. All those chick lit books I used to read (Devil Wears Prada for example), many are young, upwardly mobile women, which would fit in NA. So, is the category now needed because chick lit is a dirty word?

I guess what I’m wondering is, what is the issue with writing a book for adults and naming contemporary romance, or literary fiction? Is there really a need for a whole genre of books about adults who struggle with taking on new responsibilities? Isn’t that like, ALL of fiction?

Then again, I have heard writers lament that their book set in college or just after was rejected because it doesn’t have a place in the market. I don’t know what the agents know, maybe publishers really believe that. Does adding a label fix the problem?

Christina @FaerieWriter

I love the possibilities of this new category as a reader and a writer. I recently had an embarrasing experience at Barnes and Noble when asking where the YA section was (I am 31 years old), and reading about 16 and 17 year olds is tiresome when all I really care about is the urban fantasy and paranormal romance elements. The protagonist in my urban fantasy WIP is 22 years old and I was worried that I would have to drop her age to at least 18 in order to market it as YA just to get it seen along with the books I read. But NA is perfect so long as they will embrace fantasy subgenres and not just contemporary romance.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

So this, ladies and gentleman, is EXACTLY why I visit Jami Gold’s blog regularly!! I learn something new everytime I click on!!
Never, heard of New Adult, but that certainly doesn’t mean its not relevant. Lately it seems I have my head under a rock *or eyes plastered on my WIP* I don’t watch the news-ever-I don’t read newspapers-ever-I only watch educational programing (with some Downton Abby and a little Supernatural sprinkled in) so I barely ever know what’s going on.
Yes, that’s scary, but I kind of like my own little world. If something huge happens I let my husband or sisters fill me in (or my favorite blogger.
So…I’ve never heard of NA, but what a fascinating topic.
Hmm, I think the series I’m working on for my agent might be shelved there one day. My heroine is 22 and just finishing up college. She’s fallen for a 30 year old father of a 5 year old boy.
Interesting.
I’ll have to ask her.
THANK YOU for opening my eyes today!!
it’s good to get the wool thrown off now and then 🙂
Have a fabulous evening!
I’ll be pinning this one, Jami.
Hugs, Tamara

Oh, and I loved the insertion of sarcasm font! 🙂

Serena
Serena
Oh I like how you pointed out the problem with genre pigeon-holing. I never paid attention to that but you’re right. I indeed find it easier to choose a book from the Teen section than from the genres sections–the latter just feels like there are too many choices and I can’t decide. XD Also, oh I never knew that Fifty Shades of Grey started out as a fanfiction! Just to run off topic for a second, the English course I’m taking now requires us to read “Fanny Hill” by John Cleland. I haven’t read Fifty S. G. yet, but I’m guessing that it’s as explicitly and ridiculously erotic as “Fanny Hill”? XP LOL I am in this New Adult age range—just turned 22 a few days ago. (Thanks for your birthday post on my wall ^^) However, I personally prefer to read about 17 year olds, or even children of 5 or 7 or 10 years! (I’m not that interested in 18+ characters, haha. Still a child at heart ^^) Is there a section with protagonists in the age range of about 5 – 10 years? “Children’s books” is not it, because I like to write about child protagonists in that range but with a lot of adult themes. (I don’t mean sex, romance, or violence. Just that the things written about, described, and discussed are more philosophical, intellectual, and well…just much deeper and more complex than what the average child in that age range would understand.)
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Taurean Watkins
Jami, I never heard of this category until you brought it to my attention, as you may remember. While I get the cynic comments of those above, as someone who’s in this supposed “fluff” category, let me tell you, for some of us drinking, drugs, and sex are NOT (I repeat, NOT!!) on our agendas. Hard as it may be to believe, some of us are still virgins, don’t talk like we’re in a ghetto-ized after-school special. Even when I was a teen, most of the books aimed at me at the time just weren’t for me personally, and please understand, I respect authors like Ellen Hopkins or Patricia McCormick for having the courage to be so raw in their storytelling. But my personal life is/was HARD ENOUGH to live. I didn’t have room in my heart for those hard hitting stories, and while I can’t say I’ve done a 180 at 25 (From where I was at 12-19), overall I’m taking more risks as a reader. But as a writer, I still can only push the proverbial envelope so much, and while I don’t self-censor myself when I write, if I can’t write about something that requires a certain level of courage and surrender (i.e. sex or living with a mental illness/mentally ill mother), I won’t write it, or I just won’t share it with anyone. As consequence, I often get comments regarding my stories as “Not enough conflict” or “Characters too nice” or “Are you trying to parody… Read more »
Serena
Serena
Hey Taurean, I’m sorry if I sounded cynical about many adult books being about sex and drugs. 🙁 (And I do believe that many are still virgins, I am too. High five! ^^) It’s just that I was frustrated at seeing so many books about such messed up stuff—I just had the misfortune to encounter so many of this type in my limited experience; and when one sees a lot of examples of something one doesn’t like, one will start assuming that ALL of this category are like this, when in actual fact one simply did not see (or notice) the counterexamples. That’s what happened to me, I think. 🙁 But I’m very glad that you’ve pointed out to me using your own writing as an example that not ALL adult novels have those elements I so dislike. Thank goodness! 🙂 And I’m also sorry if I sounded like one of those who don’t care about the more unfortunate people in society. I didn’t intend to imply that either. 🙁 “As consequence, I often get comments regarding my stories as “Not enough conflict” or “Characters too nice” or “Are you trying to parody Leave it to Beaver” and I’m seriously not. But I’m a firm believer that you don’t have to let the life you lived define all you write, let alone all you are about, and I guess to a degree my stories suffer for it.” I like your attitude! And I also find it really annoying how some… Read more »
Taurean Watkins
I didn’t get Jami’s forwarding, but I just read your replies to me and I’m thankful I’m not the only one who gets frustrated with this issue. Before I go further, I just want to say upfront I’m a man, but don’t feel too bad, I’m used to being mistaken as female for various reasons, but it’s just another reason I NEED to upload a real picture of me as my universal avatar, but anyway… I’ve had little success with Nanowrimo, and last year sadly was no exception. But it’s mostly because I don’t plan ahead for it, and unlike some writers I know, it takes more time for me to draft than a month, etc. Still, thanks for letting me know about Createspace, but as much I may want to self-publish some of my work, lack of money is an issue, and since I mostly write children’s books (For NON-Preschoolers), and I don’t write much YA or adult fiction myself, what Createspace offers Nanowrimo completer may not work for me. Besides, I’ve been to Createspace’s website many times, and while 1,000 USD is nothing for some people, it’s wealth I’ve personally never had, and that’s why I get testy whenever someone brings self-publishing into the conversation. It’s lack of money, not lack of will, compounded by the fact that the children’s book market below YA isn’t yet as receptive to self-published content in general, particularly when it comes to fiction, since nonfiction is inherently more vital, especially in the… Read more »
Serena
Serena

Argh silly me for mistaking your gender. Sorry about that!

“the children’s book market below YA isn’t yet as receptive to self-published content in general, particularly when it comes to fiction,”
I see 🙁

“If it’s not the money, the quality isn’t there, and I don’t feel right cutting corners just to put it out there. ”

Oh I just want to point out that you don’t have to publish your Nanowrimo story—you can publish whichever already perfected story you have because CreateSpace won’t check which one it is!

Also, you could finish Nanowrimo if you don’t plan and just pants all the way to 50K, if you’re a pantser like me–it worked for me, lol.

Aw, I’m sorry to see that this Nano-CreateSpace-free-self-publishing won’t be suitable for you—yet I do understand how certain markets (children’s books) don’t like self published works. But just in case you one day change your mind, remember there’s always this route to free publishing. 🙂

I.J.Vern
Hi Jami. People don’t know what else to invent. I cringe when I read about genres. I don’t think I had any problem reading more than 3.5 k books without the Young Adult, New Adult, Old Adult, Middle Adult, Urban whatever, etc. characterization. Urban. What does that mean? And no, I don’t need an explanation. But, people have lived and acted in cities for ages, do I have to classify it? Or am I so stupid that I don’t know what a city is? Or do I need a specification that the action is solely and only in a city? And why do I need it? Urban fantasy opposed to rural fantasy. Oh, and by no means let the character (or the action) cross the city’s boundaries by an inch, because you will be punished. It sounds ridiculous. New adult. Is there a new species running around and we need an introduction about what they are? Ok, I could deal with Young Adult for the age. Even if I cringe. One is either an adult or not. Moreover, these classifications can be insulting or discriminating against the audience. Not a new adult or a new adult? Don’t read A or don’t read B, you won’t get it. By the way, you’re new to adulthood, you have no idea what adult means yet, so stay in your corner… Sarcastic much ;). Genres should be about subjects, not about target markets. Descriptions of books make a fine job providing the age of… Read more »
Emilia_Quill

“…explore the world through first jobs and Sex in the City style romances. ”
I knew I missed out on something or maybe you can’t have Sex in the City style romances in Helsinki 😛

I’ve heard about New Adult, but I don’t know much about it. Shelving by age range reminds of when I wanted to buy a fantasy book in Madrid. The fantasy shelf was useless since I’m not fluent in spanish.
I stood before the english section wondering which one might be fantasy. I grabbed Lev Grossman’s The Magicians because it had the word ‘magic’ on the title. Dragon, elf, selkie etc. would’ve worked as well.
If faced with a shelf of mixed genre’s I’d probably react the same way and grab the book that screams fantasy or rely on a friend’s recommendation.

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[…] The “New Adult” Genre: Why Does It Exist? […]

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[…] Let’s talk genre: If you’re looking to get into Horror, Stacked Books talks about what horror is and gives a list of YA books that fit. Meanwhile, NPR explores just what is it that draws millions of readers and viewers to Fantasy. Speaking of Fantasty, take a look at the OFFICIAL maps from the world of GAME OF THRONES. And what’s up with this New Adult stuff? Jami Gold explains why New Adult exists. […]

Madeleine Miles
Madeleine Miles

I personally am very excited about the NA catagory, and this is why: I prefer reading YA books over adult books.
I’m not actually sure why, but I think it has something to do with the tone. Adult books lose some of that youthful hope and bleeding passion. To me, they feel closed off, jaded, and cynical. And I just…..get bored.
That said, I also get tired of reading about teens and high school and that whole scene. One of the reasons I loved The Hunger Games: the tone and pace was YA, but the characters were thrown into a more adult situation.
So, personally, I can’t wait to see NA books all over, in all different genres.

Kimberly
Kimberly

I’m a little late to this post, but oh well! I’m actually pretty excited about this new genre. I’m twenty years old and I love YA books, but I find myself wanting more steamy sex scenes between the characters. I’m hopeful this new genre brings that element. I personally find that I don’t relate to adult romance novels, so reading those would be an odd step for me. I feel like NA could be something really great.

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[…] the publishing industry to jump on a niche and force it open for profit. At least that’s the perspective of Jamie Gold, who expresses a commonly held cynicism about the whole enterprise. She does acknowledge that there […]

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