The New Craze: New Adult, Genre or Age Category

29 Jul

In 2009, St. Martin’s Press put out the call for “fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult’.”  Two years later, when I was pushing college age fiction and hearing nothing but stories of rejection and how there wasn’t a market, New Adult was still not a solid genre or age category.  And now, two years after that, it’s exploding.  “New Adult” is rocketing up the best-seller lists in the wake of 50 Shades of Gray and other books.  But there’s something different than how I pictured it way back in 2009.  Something that was becoming clear in 2011, even as people said it could never sell.  What’s selling now as “New Adult” isn’t an age category, with characters from 18-26; it’s a genre of general fiction focusing in romance and sexuality among upper age college kids and high school graduates gone into the workforce.

New Adult is often compared to its analogous age category “Young Adult”, but for the moment at least, that analogy is flawed.  YA has books is every genre of fiction, but so far, NA is mostly in the Romance and Erotica categories.  In fact, USAToday and ABCNews have gone as far as to call it smut.  And truth be told, it’s being positioned by publishers as an edgier version of YA romance, with the vast majority of titles following the YA contemp romance formula.  Except, you know, in college.  The race is lead by Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster, which follows close behind 50 Shades, and is itself followed up by titles such as Colleen Hoover’s Slammed, and Wait For You by J. Linn, whose real name is Jennifer L. Armentrout.

To me, that set of tropes and conventions with all similar stories signals a genre (a sub-genre of Romance, in this case) rather than an age category designed for marketing purposes.  And there’s nothing wrong with a new sub-genre, but when I first heard about New Adult back in 2009 and 2010, I was really hoping for an age category that gave stories with college age protags a chance to sell.

But maybe I’m wrong?  Is there mystery and spec fic and all the rest out there?  Anyone got any recs for me?


Posted by on July 29, 2013 in genre, New Adult


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6 responses to “The New Craze: New Adult, Genre or Age Category

  1. Chris Stevenson

    July 30, 2013 at 12:29 AM

    I just blogged about this and I’m in total agreement with your views. NA makes me really uncomfortable and I see it as a marketing gimmick and nothing more. In short, I don’t trust it to deliver what it promises.


    • atsiko

      July 30, 2013 at 12:08 PM

      I think it is currently somewhat of a marketing gimmick, but I do think that given the time and some effort, it could become a useful classification much as YA is. There needs to be a lot more diversity to make it a legit category, though.

  2. J.A. Grier

    July 30, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    I am befuddled by how these days the classification is dependent on the age of the protagonist. Books for adults have had young protagonists, such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ which is told largely through the perspective of a young girl. And books enjoyed by young people have had adult protagonists, say like ‘Tarzan.’ Given that I like to mix genres in fiction, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I also like to mix points of view. I’d like to see less strict classification all around, myself.
    Fictional Planet

    • atsiko

      July 31, 2013 at 2:14 AM

      It’s not necessarily the age of the protagonist, but rather the subject of the book with often correlates with age.

      However, the real difference between Tarzan/To Kill A Mockingbird and fiction nowadays is that there is so much. So the categories are designed to get books into the hands of the readers who would enjoy them with forcing those readers to dig through the huge pile of books available in stores and on Amazon as efficiently as possible.

      • Alexis

        December 7, 2013 at 10:08 AM

        Totally with you on this one. Sub genres are a necessary evil this day in age due to the massive influx in publications available to us. Classification is used to help one find or describe what they are looking for and more sub genres only allow the reader to be more specific in what it is they are looking for. I think this just makes finding a good book a little easier than it otherwise would be. I do, however, understand the frustration of finding books listed across the genres. 50 shades, for instance, is listed under contemporary romance, erotic romance, chick lit, new adult romance and I’ve even seen it listed under suspense…ridiculous. That is an example of a book that is being overanalyzed to death and consequently confusing the genres…ok, sorry for ranting. This topic of discussion just happened to be a soap box of mine so I thought I would insert my two cents.

      • atsiko

        December 7, 2013 at 10:37 AM

        I would call 50 Shades New Adult or Erotic Romance. It is definitely not chick lit, suspense, or even contemp romance. I can sort of see why people might put it under those genres, at least, there is some overlap. But yeah, a lot of it is over-analysis or based on someone’s agenda.


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