In which I answer all the questions anyone has ever asked me about what I write
I’ve never heard about New Adult fiction before. Where did it come from?
New Adult is a category where the protagonists are usually between eighteen and twenty-four, and the subject material focuses on a coming-of-age and contemporary issues dealt with by that age group. (Google knows all about this – it’s neatly categorized me as an 18-24 year old woman that’s interested in eBooks and travel).
I first heard about it a couple of years ago when I saw a call for manuscript submissions and almost skipped over one category, because I didn’t know what it meant: New Adult.
The term stumped me. I’d been reading Young Adult books since an ad for The Princess Diaries ran in Seventeen a dozen years ago. Now, as a (semi) adult, I still read YA, but I hadn’t heard of New Adult.
So I asked Google.
Today you’ll find a Wikipedia page and a NY Magazine article covering the category, but at the time, there weren’t many answers. I found a pointer to St Martin’s Press, who coined the phrase in 2009 when they hosted a contest asking for “cutting edge fiction with protagonists who are slightly older than YA and can appeal to an adult audience.”
So that’s where the name came from. But it didn’t really work like St. Martin’s hoped – publishers didn’t jump on the New Adult bandwagon in 2009, and for years the term New Adult merely floated around the blogosphere as people said “wouldn’t this be nice” and agents and writer’s groups said “no, and please don’t put that in your query letter because its ridiculous.”
Why weren’t publishers interested in New Adult?
Conventional wisdom in the publishing industry said that college kids and recent grads didn’t read that much, so it didn’t make sense to publish books that appealed specifically to them. While fiction for teens sold very well – well enough that dozens of traditionally adult writers wrote YA books (James Patterson, James Frey, Kathy Reichs) the age group above them was a no-man’s land.
And because publisher’s didn’t want to buy those books, agents didn’t want to take on those projects, so even if writers wrote books dealing with college-aged kids and post-grads, they were often asked to age down or up the characters so that they would appeal to one of the established markets (Case in point: several people, agents and editors alike, suggested I age up the 23-year-old heroine of RUSH ME by five years, so that she attended her ten-year high school reunion instead of her fifth).
So how did New Adult end up becoming an established category?
It largely gained recognition through self-published successes, like Tammara Webber’s Easy, Cora Carmack’s Losing It, and Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster. After these books – which are all narrated by college aged, first person female protagonists – garnered thousands of positives reviews and sales, they were picked up by major publishers (Berkley/Penguin, Simon and Schuster, and HarperCollins respectively). With their proven successes, the industry became more willing to take on that age group. Now, some agents and editors are actively seeking New Adult. (But we already knew Carina Press is awesome).
But surely people have written about 18-24 year old characters before.
True. They used to largely be represented in chick-lit, which boomed and crashed along with the economy. After that, the young twenty-something women (sorry guys, I’m not really sure where you are. Have you had your Philip Roth phase yet? That should tide you over for twenty books) seemed to move into the urban fantasy genre. Take the bestselling Fever series by Karen Marie Morning, staring a 22 year old, or The Edge series by Ilona Andrews, with similarly aged heroines.
You can actually find TONS of 18-24 year olds in historical romances and category romances. But the difference from New Adult characters and all of those above is that New Adult is far more focused on contemporary characters with realistic, familiar issues, instead of ballrooms and faeries. (And, okay, millionaire quarterbacks might not be that realistic, but it could happen, right? Right?)
But, uh, isn’t that just adult fiction? Why do we need another whole category?
New Adult is written with a different voice and it explores different themes than adult fiction. Just because a book is written about a character of certain age doesn’t mean it’s written for that age group (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close certainly isn’t targeting nine-year-old readers, nor is The Lovely Bones exclusively for fourteen-year olds). New Adult books are usually more relevant to the issues twenty somethings have (and we have a lot of issues).
In fact, New Adult is often more similar in voice to YA fiction: they’re fast paced, engaging, and written in close third or first. Part of this is due to the readership itself: today’s twenty-something grew up while the YA market boomed. I was ten when Harry Potter came out in the States, and sixteen when Twilight was published. During my teenage years, there were plenty of books about the situations I faced every day. Then we went to college, and graduated – and kept reading YA (Turns out 55% of YA books are bought by adults ). Even though many of us really wanted books about our own age group.
So in a way, New Adult is a natural evolution out of Young Adult. After all, when YA started, way back with Holden Caulfield (ugh, Holden), it didn’t have its own place in the bookstore. But with the growth of the genre – with Harry Potter, and Twilight, and the Hunger Games – you can now find not only a YA section of the bookstore, but also Young Adult Fantasy and Young Adult Paranormal Romance. As the readership aged up and expanded, the genre did, too.
Okay, so what do New Adult books deal with?
(No wonder Plato wrote up those Dialogues. It’s very nice to be asked the questions you most want to answer).
WELL. New Adult deals with all those issues of ours. Parental expectations. Unpaid internships (which have their own issues, as pointed out by Rachael Levy. Paying rent. Moving in with roommates or your partner. There’s a coming of age arc, not dissimilar to that in YA, but happening to an older age group. And there’s romance! Because really, that’s the most fun to write about.
Part of the reason it’s not the same as “regular” adult fiction is because it deals with this extended adolescence we’re dealing with (to my parents infinite delight, no doubt). TV has already jumped on this transitory period, so no surprise literature’s also incorporating it. In fact, my favorite of the new crop is “Girls”, probably because it’s about an unpaid publishing intern who lives with friends in Brooklyn (!!!) just like Rachael in RUSH ME. Also, she goes around being awkward, which is also quite similar to Rachael.
Actually, it’s pretty similar to my life. So no wonder I like these stories.
So who does New Adult appeal to?
Everyone! Especially you, dear reader. And your wallet.
Ahem. Right. Well, it’s been referred to as crossover and transitional fiction, so it really is intended to appeal to adults as well as older teens. Case study: while RUSH ME is very relatable* to twenty somethings (who doesn’t accidentally gatecrash pro-athlete parties and meet gorgeous QBs? I know I do ALL THE TIME), it’s also a romance that will appeal to romance readers, and hopefully funny enough that anyone with a skewed sense of humor will enjoy it. Al
Toni Morrison famously said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then youmust write it.” I think that’s the real reason New Adult is developing – it’s certainly why I wrote RUSH ME.
* Why didn’t anyone ever tell me the word relatable isn’t real? World shaken. Must go eat comfort chocolate.