What is New Adult? Why should you care? I hadn’t heard of New Adult until I was assigned to work on Write to Publish, a conference about the publishing process hosted annually by Ooligan Press (the next one is happening on February 15, 2014). The theme of Write to Publish this year is New Adult, so it’s high time for me to figure out what it is.
The first thing to note about New Adult—there is no concrete, established definition. Some critics don’t think it’s a genre at all, just a new attempt to market books. Many blogs have written about New Adult, Ooligan Press included, so I’ll try not to get too repetitive.
St. Martin’s Press coined the term in 2009, when they ran a contest looking for “great, new, cutting edge fiction with protagonists who are slightly older than YA [Young Adult] and can appeal to an adult audience. Since twenty-somethings are devouring YA, St. Martin’s Press is seeking fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult.’” The New York Times described New Adult as “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 is New Adult just sexed-up YA? Not quite.
The general consensus is that the age of New Adult protagonists and target reader age is between 18–26, that weird time in life where you’re either in college, working, living at home, striking out on your own (likely for the first time), or some combination of the above. I think this age range is the key to understanding what New Adult is all about: stories with characters transitioning from teenagers to adults that explore all the new experiences and responsibilities that come with that process. The protagonists may technically be adults, but they may not feel like adults. NA fiction captures that period of change.
What I find most interesting about New Adult is its correlation to the rise in self-publishing. Authors saw a need in the market for stories with college-age characters, so they wrote those stories. When publishers were reluctant to acquire manuscripts that were not-quite-YA and not-quite-adult, the authors turned to the internet and self-published their manuscripts as e-books. As with any other genre of self-published e-books, some of those sell incredibly well and have been bought by larger publishers, while some of them have faded or will fade into the smorgasbord of other e-books. In any case, the target age range for New Adult coincides nicely with the age range of technologically savvy people. I expect the number of New Adult e-book titles will continue to rise steadily as the genre becomes more defined.
Though you may not see a New Adult section in your local Barnes & Noble, there is clearly a market for NA stories. Millennials have been labeled as the narcissistic (or “selfie”) generation, and there is some truth in that. Many people of that generation want to see a piece of themselves in the media they consume. They want to know how other people their age are coping with living at home while trying to be independent. They want stories of people who work for themselves because they can’t find work anywhere else. The sexy bits are just an added bonus—what will drive the success of New Adult are authentic stories about transitioning into adulthood.
So my one sentence summation of New Adult is this: genuine and authentic stories about and targeted towards 18–26-year-olds experimenting with identity and transitioning into adulthood. If you want to know more, I’d recommend attending Write to Publish!