I attended London Book Fair this month and I was intrigued by one seminar in particular: New Adult. It’s a term we’ve all been hearing about for the past year, some of us attempting to read absolutely everything given the label, and some of us avoiding it at all costs. But what is it? Where does it fit? And is it a necessary category? I’ve attempted to type up my notes from the seminar – forgive me for talking about the panel as a collective – and I’ve added in my own thoughts at the end.
‘Publishers have found a whole new audience to sell to: older teens, and people in their early twenties, who are finding that fiction ostensibly written for the young adult market provides the escapism, excitement and often the romance that they want. Where are the dividing lines in all of this and what is happening to YA as well as New Adult fiction?’
On the panel we had: Brenda Gardner (Managing Director, Piccadilly Press), Ingrid Selberg (Simon & Schuster UK Children’s), Liz Bankes (author of Irresistible), Cat Banks (Children’s Category Buying Manager, Bertram’s) and Abbi Glines (author of The Vincent Boys and more).
What is it?
‘New Adult’ (NA) was coined by St Martin’s Press. It’s seen as crossover fiction for people in their 20s and 30s who enjoy reading young adult fiction, and seen to fit where young adult ends and contemporary begins. It was agreed that it often featured more ‘adult content’ that ‘reflected real life experiences’. When it was asked whether sex was the driving force of NA, both Abbi Glines and Liz Bankes said that they started writing before the term was widely used and that they did not consciously write a novel with sex as the main focus, but that their protagonists were 16-18 and so ‘inevitably it was going to contain sex’, yet it ‘needed to occur naturally’. It was said that NA involves ‘realistic’ storylines about ‘romance’ and ‘growing up’ and it was noted that previously, there were few books aimed are girls that tackled ‘lust’ rather than ‘love’ – you would previously find them in adult fiction.
Where does it fit?
Does New Adult have an obvious place in bookshops? Where do booksellers and librarians shelve them – in adult or children’s? It was said that the target readership is female, from mid-teens to 35, from ‘aspirational teenagers’ thinking about sex (and being surrounded by it in the media) to adults possibly ‘living it’! Abbi Glines’ Facebook statistics are 95% female, aged 18-25.
It was said that adults (i.e. the target readership) will not necessarily be looking in children’s for these titles, but that they cannot be put into adult. (I did not note down why, but I think it was because they did not want teenagers who read NA to come across other material, which I’m personally sceptical about as teenagers do read ‘adult fiction’ – unless they meant graphic material!). It was noted that publishers do not want to aim too young, but also do not want to put restrictions on who should read the books.
They talked a little bit about why NA has taken off much more in the USA than the UK (perhaps due to television, such as Girls) and a bit about new ‘coming-of-age’ and ‘college years’, with reference to Fresh Meat and Pitch Perfect (as being like High School Musical, but older). Someone, during the Q&A session, talked about how ‘university novels’ were currently more ‘literary’, such as The Secret History or Prep.
What do I think?
I want to talk a little bit about the label, rather than the content itself, which I think is a whole other discussion. I love the idea of YA-type novels with 20-something year old protagonists, but I doubt whether it needs its own category. We had children’s, teen and fiction. Now we have children’s, teen, young adult, and adult. Do we need another one? I think that perhaps the definition of ‘young adult’ needs to be rethought and expanded – because after all, it’s still a relatively new term – especially with over half of its readers being over 18. We quite happily fit the later seasons of Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl and The OC, where the characters are either at university or have careers and tackle much of the same issues as NA is saying it’s doing, into ‘teen drama’ – so why not the books that we’re talking about? Why can we not have more young adult novels with slightly older protagonists, such as Wanderlove and Just One Day, rather than give it a whole new name?
I am also reluctant to give it its own category because will we get NA mystery, science fiction, fantasy, or historical? Or is it exclusively YA contemporary with sex? If it is, then it’s not the same as children’s, teen, young adult, and adult, which encompass a whole wide range of genres. I have not yet read any of the books considered to be NA, but I do own The Vincent Boys and Pushing the Limits, yet I’m aware that they’re romance novels.
However, I appreciate that labels help discoverability immensely. If everyone did agree on what NA is, it’ll be useful to find books of that ‘type’ (and it’s a useful marketing label as we have seen with publishers advertising their NA novels), but I am sceptical that it is anything but young adult (or adult, depending on the tone and content) extension of the romance genre.
So, what am I saying? I think novels that explore what it’s like to being young, though not a teenager, are welcomed. I’d love for there to be more young adult-type (or adult) novels with protagonists that are my age, and I agree there’s a need to recognise a second ‘coming-of-age’, but I don’t think that’s exactly what NA is trying to do. It may say it is, but it isn’t: NA has a narrower definition – as an extension of contemporary romance (whether young adult or adult, depending on the book) – that does not need its own category. You’ll most likely still find me on Twitter going #newadultisnotarealthing.
Read more on New Adult:
Jo @ Once Upon a Bookcase: ‘My Thoughts of New Adult’
Christina @ Christina Reads YA: ‘Why New Adult Novels are Not Satisfying Me’
Faye @ A Daydreamer’s Thoughts: ‘What is New Adult Fiction?’
Anna @ Anna Readers: ‘What’s the Deal with New Adult?‘
Laura @ Scribbles & Wanderlust: ‘New Adult – Needless or Necessary?’
Shannon @ Giraffe Days: New Adult Fiction