New Adult: Reinventing Teen Fiction @ London Book Fair

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.

The Vincent BoysWhere 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

27 thoughts on “New Adult: Reinventing Teen Fiction @ London Book Fair

  1. I think it’s strange that Pushing the Limits is now being called NA. I picked it up last year, it was YA. Maybe the slightly older end of the market but the kids were still at school. The issues tackled were serious issues but nothing different from other contemporary YA novels. I don’t see the rest of the NA market as tackling serious things that happen after you leave school which is the argument people give for its existence. They all seem to be about sexual relationships, which are fine but I don’t think anyone in the business wants to admit that. I would like to see more YA/NA covering things like trying to get first jobs/unemployment/struggling to be independent for the first time. Yeah, they can have sex but I’m not that interested in reading books that are just about the sex lives of young people. I’d rather read Jilly Cooper or something 😉

    • Exactly. I keep seeing books that were described as YA, now NA. So what’s different now?! And that’s exactly what I want to see: ‘first jobs/unemployment/struggling to be independent for the first time’, but I think that that can fit into either YA or adult, and it’s not what people seem to be getting from NA.

      They did actually reference Jilly Cooper in the seminar, ha!

  2. This was a great post Stacey! I have to admit that the New Adult Genre doesn’t really appeal to me simply because most of the stories seem to focus on sex and relationships and I don’t think that’s the truly portrayal of being a ‘new adult.’ I think people in their 20’s go through issues that aren’t only sex and relationships. Student debt, moving back home from university, finding a job, finding yourself are all these things. And to be honest personally I don’t want to read about sex and relationships all the time. I want to read about problems people in their 20’s face other than that, because we do. Not everyone is involved in relationships during University or for that matter after it. Also the covers just drive me crazy. Personally they don’t appeal to me because it’s not what I’m looking for. And I agree I think Young Adult books with older characters such as Bria would appeal to me and you don’t necessarily need another genre to define people in their 20’s.

    Again fantastic post 🙂

    • Oh and you reminded me of a comment I saw in Anna’s post linked to above, saying that the term literally does not make sense. How can teenagers be ‘young’ adults but people in their twenties ‘new’ adults?! Ha. But thank you, Savindi 🙂

      • That’s true. Also I’ve seen Abbi Glines’ books at the bookstore and they’re in the teen section. So does this mean New Adult books get a separate section or are they going to be in the teen section or adult section? It’s confusing.

        • They discussed it a bit at the seminar and some said it may do, but I don’t think it should (due to it fitting within YA or adult, and not as an extra category – we already have ‘YA crossover’ titles like Daughter of Smoke and Bone that you’ll find it both sections of bookshops, for example).

          • That’s fair. But I have to admit I think I’d be a bit disturbed if my little cousin who is 17 read one of these books and thought university was all about sex and partying. I guess it depends on personal preference.

            • I’ll admit, it’s a tricky one. But then why can a 13-year-old read about children who are forced to kill each other, but a 16-year-old cannot read about two teenagers, over the age of consent, who have sex? I suppose sex has always been a bigger issue – you can have it at 16, but cannot watch it until you’re 18.

              I think it definitely does depend on the book and the person reading it. I’m not sure just how explicit some of them are (it seems some are relatively tame and others are not).

              • I think tradition plays a big issue on this too. It depends on how different cultures view sex and relationships as well. That’s why I wish there was more diversity in YA and New Adult fiction to be honest. Yes we all identify with being 20 something year olds and we have similar problems, but our own backgrounds also play into how we respond to our situations.

                I guess it always comes down to experience as well. It’s an interesting discussion that’s for sure :).

  3. I’ve been hearing about New Adult books around, but didn’t quite know what they were supposed to be. They did sound kind of YA to me, at least the ones I looked at. From what I’ve seen this new category is unnecessary, we can put these books in either the YA or the Adult section easily, there’s no need to go complicated on it. People who read YA will keep reading YA and so forth, so separating these might diminish the audience I think. Although, I agree with having some older protagonists in YA books, that would be great! Especially if they weren’t just about the sex 🙂

  4. You raise some good points here. I still cringe a bit at the “NA” label and I haven’t started using it in my own reviews yet – if I think the book was a bit, um, immature, I’ll call it YA, but if it’s more adult I’ll just call it “fiction”. If it’s set in high school, it’s definitely YA, I’ve always thought. To me YA ends at 18, 19 years of age – the characters, not the readers! Here in Toronto, I see NA titles shelved in adult fiction.

    An interesting point came to mind while reading your post in regard to the content, around tough issues and sex. I was at Polaris several years ago and listened to a panel discussion from several YA authors and others in the industry. They got onto how huge an impact the mothers of the Bible Belt in the States are on YA: these are mothers who read the books before letting their kids read them, and who complain if there’s even one swear word (“damn” counts!) and who don’t want their kids reading underage sex scenes or anything else we might call a realistic issue. They buy a lot of YA books and apparently, in the States at least, the industry listens to them. Ever since then, I’ve noticed that unrealistic tinge American YA has – the stories don’t really reflect my experiences at school that’s for sure! – and how often the female protagonists have to be “good” role models. Nothing wrong with that, but I think teens often want to read about kids who do make mistakes and so on. I know when I was a young teen I read a lot of books that would probably horrify these Bible Belt mothers, but the idea that reading about a topic will make you go out and do it is sheer nonsense!

    I find that Australian and British YA – and some Canadian too – is much more gritty and realistic, and the NA label is much more irrelevant – as if “NA” is needed in the States as a way of saying “this is YA with an R-rating”. I think of books like Thoughtless by SC Stephens, set during the university years, and other ones out of the States, and so far they’re just angst-riddled older-teen romances. Others I’ve read, from other countries, have more of a focus on coming-of-age and growing up and facing tougher issues. (Sometimes, when I’m feeling really snobby, I think the lower quality is due to them being self-published originally, but that’s not it at all. I guess it’s just a cultural thing.)

    I’m waiting for a real “NA” book to show up, something about a 21-year-old out of uni facing real problems like trying to get a job in our f’ed-up world economy over-saturated with baby boomers who won’t retire, and where that leads you (I ended up in Japan!) and so on. But once the subject matter and tone turns more mature, it’ll just become “Adult” fiction after all I think.

    (sorry about the long comment!)

    • There’s no need to apologise – thank you for adding to the discussion! 🙂 And it’s funny what you say about UK vs. US YA contemporary – I literally just used the exact same words to describe it in my latest post. I didn’t quite realise until I picked up my current book, although I felt the Now Is Good/Before I Die adaptation was very ‘British’ and that an American novel/movie would have been very different.

      • Ooh well now I have to read Before I Die! I didn’t know it was British. They’ve done a movie of it? It would be interesting to read it in contrast with some of the US books dealing with the same issue.

        It reminds me of reading Tabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden; I don’t think that could have ever have been an American book, y’know? Different cultures, different stories but more importantly different approaches to topics. I always feel like we can’t talk about this because it people think it’s country-bashing or something silly like that, but why does owning up to cultural differences etc. have to be a negative thing? 😉

  5. […] @ Pretty Books talks about what she thinks about the New Adult genre (not the contents of NA novels but the genre […]

  6. […] The Pretty Books  wrote a really interesting post about the New Adult Genre which you could find here. I first came across the term when I watched a video by Rhima who used to have the Reading Rhino […]

  7. This was a great post and really cleared up some points regarding NA. It’s great if they use it to tackle real issues but having read one NA by Abbi Glines, it was just typical instalove chicklit with sex. I hope they deviate from that and not just focus on lust and sexual relationships.

  8. I think the first book I read (that I’d classify as NA) was Lev Grossman’s _The Magicians_. I think the term functions just like “YA” or “MG”.

  9. Reblogged this on Through a Seattle Looking Glass and commented:
    Today I’m reblogging an interesting genre change that is shaking YA from the very talented Pretty Books! Check out she discovered at this year’s London Book Fair!

  10. There is much more to NA than being “YA contemporary with sex”, that is simply how it has often been portrayed by the media who don’t understand it. I have read several that have no sex at all and very little sexual contact. You can get them in a range of genres, contemporary is simply currently by far the most popular. They are generally just more mature than YA (and i don’t mean that in a sex way). I also wouldn’t call Pushing The Limits NA. NA is very rarely set in a high school environment as it is mainly the characters independance through being at college (university) or working their first job that makes it NA.

    New Adult books are a catagory rather than a genre, most are currently romance because that is what is popular at the moment. It is similar as to how a few years ago a large amount of YA books were paranormals (due to the popularity of twilight) but at the same time a book didn’t have to be a paranormal to be YA. Already the types of books within NA are diversifying, the characters ages range from just out of high school to mid 20’s (far from YA age) and most genres can be found such as paranormal and dystopian novels.

  11. I, too, am disappointed that what NA is now trying to do (or at least what we are being told it’s trying to do) is different from what many of us want to see – YA-style narratives that are based in realism, with strong characterization, and dealing with later adolescence and early adulthood, not romance. Actually, I’d like to see less romance in YA in that much of the romance that does happen in it is I think insincere and more accurate to people in college than people in high school (is that just me?), but that doesn’t mean I want only romance in a NA book. Really, since both are categories and not genres, I would just like to see more books published in both YA and adult, or at least shelved in both (apparently it is more common than we think for books to go hardcover in one section and paperback in another, or to be simultaneously published in two editions, at least according to Michael Cart), that feature 18- to 25-year-old protagonists, not a new section in a bookstore.

    I’m definitely making a reading list based on the titles in your post and in the comments. I just hope I’ll get to see more of these books from mainstream publishers, not just romance imprints or self-published.

  12. […] for a while but only got to it now. I was very much inspired to make a discussion post after seeing Pretty Books’ post on New Adult and after a Armchair BEA twitter chat recently, I finally decided to type this up. New Adult has […]

  13. […] This is new adult fiction. If you haven’t yet learned about phrase, my friend over at Pretty Books leads a great discussion on the new genre. […]

  14. […] tend to not gravitate towards fantasy or paranormal, but there are plenty of exceptions. I’m extremely sceptical about New Adult, but I’m willing to try it! I think I’ve come a long way as a few years ago, you […]

  15. […] made sure to attend all the wonderful seminars they have on offer. Last year, I blogged about the New Adult: Reinventing Teen Fiction seminar and this year, one of my favourite seminars was Why YA?, in which Waterstones Children’s Laureate […]

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