New Adult — does it exist, should we stop talking about it, or is it an important new genre?

29 06 2012

made by me, effects from

In the past few years there has been a new genre that has started to form. “New Adult.” This is a genre that is essentially in between the cracks, between young adult fiction and adult fiction. The characters usually are older – college-aged, done with high school and heading into their future, and commonly seem to be about from 18 to their early 20s. These novels also often deal with issues that college students and people who are starting their futures and entering the workplace deal with: job interviews, getting a house, dealing with making your own money and fending for yourself.

The idea seems to have started in 2009, when St. Martin’s Press sent out a call for new adult fiction and stated their personal definition of new adult fiction:

We’re not old enough, we’re not experienced enough, we’re simply not grown-up enough. Our lives have immediacy, just as a teenager’s does, but we also possess the wisdom to understand that this immediacy cannot last for long. It’s a curious place in life and Dan and I feel that not enough fiction (or nonfiction) explore this nebulous time of life. The “quarter-life crisis”, if you will. In the end, we’re simply looking to publish a good story well-told (like THE HUNGER GAMES or THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE).

St. Martin’s stated that the contest was popular, though it does seem like they did not publish any new adult fiction from this contest, but the genre had started to form. And since then, there has been a debate raging around new adult fiction: should it exist, is it important, should readers care about it.

Should new adult fiction exist?

Well, it already…does. At least in the minds of many authors.  I point out examples to you like the blog NA Alley and the fact that there are many authors who are querying and have stated that their fiction is “new adult”.  If you’re interested in what books people describe as “new adult” check out this Goodreads list. However, the publishing industry seem less inclined to new adult fiction.

There are many stories of authors who have written new adult books and submitted them to agents and publishers. Usually these agents and publishers reject the books, saying that the story is not good enough for adult fiction or teen fiction (which basically repeats the definition of new adult fiction).

One of the best stories about this new adult issue I have read is from C.K Kelly Martin – she made her new adult novel Come See About Me be published as an ebook after — though she was already a published author with several books under her belt, the book was rejected– and it has received rave reviews from bloggers.

From her post explaining her reasoning:

When I began writing Come See About Me I knew Leah was too old for YA and thought of the novel as an adult one because what else could it possibly be? It never seriously occurred to me that having a twenty-year-old main character could make a book a hard sell but even if it had, that certainly wouldn’t have stopped me from writing it.

In October 2010 Come See About Mewent out on a round of submissions which, unfortunately, nothing came of. A couple of months later the manuscript was sent out on a second round of submissions to American publishers. By then a distinct pattern in editor responses had emerged. To quote the New York agent who believed in Come See About Me and who had kindly submitted the manuscript for me: “Almost every editor was concerned that Leah is too young for this to be ‘adult, but too grown for this to go back to being ‘YA.'”

It feels wrong to me that there’s no room for a book about a twenty-year-old in the publishing market. How can that possibly be the case? It leaves certain perspectives and life-altering experiences very much under-explored. Do readers of various ages honestly embrace books about teenagers and characters in their later twenties or older but have no interest in stories involving people who fall in-between those ages? That makes no sense to me and, frankly, I don’t believe it. Just because traditional
publishing hasn’t figured out how to market these stories, doesn’t mean there is no market. Furthermore, I didn’t want to make Leah’s story one that would fit under the YA heading. As a twenty-year-old Leah has more independence than most teenagers, and a couple of extra years of experience behind her which make her a different person than she would’ve been at seventeen or eighteen. Changing Leah’s age would change virtually every aspect of Come See About Me, make it into something very different than what it currently is, which is the story of a twenty-year-old (not a thirty-year-old or a seventeen-year-old) who is struggling with enormous personal loss but who, despite this, finds herself physically drawn to someone else.

The publishing industry does not seem interested in new adult fiction at the moment. Kelly Martin’s story is one of many authors that have been rejected because the books were new adult.

The main criticism that I have seen is that these books would only be good for people who are actually experiencing the issues – they are in college, graduating from college, entering the workforce, etc – and that for other (older) people these issues would seem pessimistic and annoying. Agent Sarah LaPolla shares her opinion on the subject, stating that she feels that the genre is not marketable yet.

The college experience, figuring out grad school, jobs, not living off your parents, etc. are hard to deal with and they are certainly not “adult” concerns.  They deserve their own literature. So why hasn’t it caught on yet?

To me, there are two reasons why New Adult isn’t a marketable genre, and why it probably won’t be for at least another ten years.

Theory 1: Knowing this, I don’t think New Adult will take quite as long as YA to get recognized by the masses. The fact remains, however, that it’s not a sub-genre that exists yet.

Theory 2: Like I said, New Adult will happen eventually, but the fact remains that it will need to sell in order to prove itself

It has been pointed out that there is a wide range of people from 18-to their early 20s – thousands, millions – and that these books could possibly reach a larger audience. There are also many people who want these books, who say that they need books that are past young adult books but before adult books. My favorite personal story regarding this endeavor is Kristin Brianna Otts’ post about her becoming an adult and what she’s going to read now.

Another thing to point out about “new adult” is that in many ways it is a marketing piece, a way for authors to market their titles, and less of a genre but more of a way that an author can market. If their book is “in-between” or has tons of crossover appeal with both teens and adults, they might be inclined to market their title as “new adult”. This marketing piece has also been demeaned as being ridicolous and showing that new adult is a silly thing because it is all a marketing piece.

And do readers like this new adult genre? Generally the opinion seems mixed. I point you to Tatiana (scroll down until you find Tatiana’s part of the review), Petra, and J. Leah Lopez’s opinions here, and make sure to read the comments on all of their posts – there is some real insight.

So….should we just let “new adult” die and quit talking about it?

With the constant mixed reactions regarding new adult, from both publishers, authors, and readers, there has been a feeling that we should just let new adult die and quit talking about it. It’s a silly genre/idea/marketing plan (whatever you think is the best descriptor to describe it) and we should just dump it.

Nada, nilch, goodbye new adult.

Personally I don’t think that this idea is helping – and in some ways it’s probably bringing more people’s attention to the idea. But I can see why people dislike new adult fiction and its concepts/ideas, and of course, everyone always has different ideas and different likes/dislikes.

But this idea of shunning often doesn’t work, and brings attention to the idea rather than downplaying the idea. Here’s an example: when I searched “new adult fiction” and “new adult fiction blog post” for this post, in search of blog posts and articles and opinions on the topic, there were thousands of hits.

About half of these hits were posts/articles that reinforced the idea that we should ignore new adult. The other half was mainly people sharing articles and links about new adult and sharing their own opinions (which is mainly what I have done in this post as well). And there were many posts that started with something along these lines:

“because there has been so much discussion about new adult fiction….”

See? This has simply brought the idea to their minds about new adult fiction, and probably encouraged them to look up what it means and find a few blog posts written about the topic.

Anyway, that is my personal opinion on the subject. Feel free to leave your own in comments.

So what is the future – if there is a future at all – of “new adult” fiction?

Another important question that has been asked is what is the future of new adult fiction, if there is one.

Authors continue to produce books and label them as new adult, and there are thriving stories and success stories from authors that marketed their novels as new adult. The Kindle store alone has hundreds of titles tagged “new adult”, many that also tag their books “adult fiction” and “young adult fiction”.

The future of this genre is unknown, especially as many publishers and agents continue to reject these books or remarket them as adult books or young adult books.  Though there is an understanding that new adult may someday be the future, may someday become the next big thing.

The new adult phenomenon could be a fad, or it could be the future.

No one knows.



6 responses

29 06 2012

I actually feel very strongly that we don’t need a new category in “new adult.” I love books with characters of that age, but I’d like to see YA and adult fiction expand as appropriate to include that age group. For example, Come See About Me is an adult novel to me. It may have crossover appeal for YA readers but I don’t think we need a new category to encompass it and that could backfire in terms of further marginalizing the books. Easy by Tammara Webber would also fit in the new adult category but at its core, it’s a YA novel that probably has appeal for readers of adult fiction. Our current definitions of YA and adult are just tooooooo narrow.

29 06 2012

I agree with this, too. In some ways we probably don’t need a new category to add to the many categories there already are.

We don’t want books to become too marginalized.

I could see “new adult” happening some day, because the books are becoming more popular and there are more authors interested in the idea but not at the moment.

4 07 2012

Interesting things, these categories. At the same time as they point readers to what they’re looking for, they sometimes put off other readers by the same specificity. I often wonder this about books marketed as LGBTQ as well!

4 07 2012

I agree with this. Hadn’t considered LGBTQ themes similarly, but I can see that. There are some LGBTQ books that those that are LGBTQ love and some that they hate.

4 07 2012

I for one would enjoy seeing books categorized as ‘new adult,’ the same way I like it when a book is marketed as LGBTQ. I guess the problem is, someone who’s not a ‘new adult’ or LGBTQ might be put off from reading a book they otherwise might really enjoy, which is crappy!

5 07 2012

I agree with this. A lot of people who are out of “new adult” years have said that they aren’t interested in “new adult” because they don’t connect & understand it.

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