The term New Adult literature was first used by St Martin’s Press in 2009 when they requested submissions for books aimed at the ‘older YA’ market. In one of those publishing-world alchemical phenomena that nobody understands or can explain, the term stuck, and six years on, the idea of NA fiction is growing … or is it?
There are disparate views on the age-range covered by NA fiction. Some, like the Guardian, quote 14-35, others stick to a tighter band of 18-25, and there is variation in between. Nevertheless, the general rationale is consistent with NA seen as bridging the gap between YA and adult fiction. It is viewed as speaking to and reflecting the life experience of people who are leaving their teen years behind by going to college/university (or starting work) but who haven’t yet entered a “full adult” life of mortgage, kids and … nascent pot bellies?
NA originally developed out of the romance market, and many, including St Martin’s Press, still see NA fiction as being all about thigh-gripping girl-meets-boy narratives.
The Goodreads list of NA books almost exclusively features books with titles like Wait for You, Cora Cormack’s Losing It (the first NA to hit the NY Times Bestseller List) and Frenzied. Similarly, Amazon has a sub-category for New Adult Romance but not for any other genre.
So Who Cares?
Classifying books as NA is considered a marketing choice– a way for publishers to distinguish titles and sell them to a specific readership. The internet abounds with articles and blogs asking, ‘Is NA the next big thing?’ and ‘What is NA?’ There is also a tide of disapproval, based on criticism that the NA category is patronising.
Typical of this view is Lauren Sarner’s argument in the Huffington Post: “New Adult is a label that is condescending to readers and authors alike. It implies that the books act as training wheels between Young Adult and Adult … Books are supposed to expand your world; expose you to people, places, emotions, and ideas you might not otherwise experience. Suggesting that you need training wheels for such a thing is like suggesting that a child needs training wheels to walk.”
This perspective seems based on the view that NA exists only as part of a larger, possibly cynical, marketing strategy and rejects the idea that adults (New or Cruddy) need to be told what to read. Traditionally, publishers’ age classifications have acted as signposts, a kind of shorthand to help children and parents find age-appropriate reading material, so it isn’t surprising that a new age band emerging within the adult market is met with resistance – and seen as crossing a line.
|New Adult: Not for 18-24 only!|
Yet many readers welcome the emergence of NA literature because it gives a voice to and reflects the life experience and challenges of a particular time of life. Renowned YA editor Karen Grove, quoted by Brian Klems in Writer's Digest, says, “It seems the 18-to-24-year-old had been forgotten in literature … The new adult brings their young adult experiences and discoveries to a new level, and they get to choose the adult they want to become.”
Is NA Here to Stay?
Although the starting point for NA literature was a traditional publisher’s call for submissions, its development has been strongly tied to the digital and indie/self-pub markets. Whereas NA sections in bookstores simply don’t exist, many online sellers and reading platforms do have a genre-based NA catalogue. Small independent publishers have set up to offer digital titles to the NA market and even some of the bigger traditional publishers, such as Penguin Random House, have established e-book-only imprints dedicated to NA literature.
For the moment, NA fiction has its strongest presence in romance titles, with a slow growth in NA crime/thrillers. It may be that the massive expansion of the YA market has spilled out to create the need and desire for NA books.
The difference between YA and NA is the difference between high school/college life and university/work. It’s big. And although ‘sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll’ are a feature in the lives of ever younger ‘Young Adults’, this isn’t reflected in YA literature because of the desire to shield a younger audience ‘reading up’.
From the author point of view NA offers a whole new writing world that is liberated from the constraints inherent within the YA category. NA literature can be grittier and more explicit than YA, which after all, still falls under the umbrella of children’s fiction.
Only time will tell whether NA literature is here to stay. In the meantime, NA has become much more than a simple marketing strategy. It seems that growth in the NA market will be driven by readers and authors who want to read and write books that build on the literary and commercial success of YA – and reflect the experiences of young people negotiating life as adults.
For lots of amazing insight into the NA market, DON’T MISS next Monday’s interview with Marnie Riches, award-winning author of NA crime novel The Girl Who Wouldn't Die.
Larisa Villar Hauser is the author of independently published middle-grade novel Uma & Imp. The second book in the series is due for release in 2016. She also works as a freelance translator, mostly for small TV/film production companies and, lately, in publishing. Larisa has been a member of SCBWI since 2009 and is moderator for the e-critique group Muddlegraders. Her blog, handmeamirror.wordpress.com, charts the self-publishing journey.