About a year ago, I started hearing whispers about a new category in fiction. They were calling it New Adult.
New Adult? Huh?
It’s a category of books where at least one of the main characters falls within the age range of 18-25, and it’s devoted to all those major firsts most people experience once they leave high school: living away from home or living on your own, your first “real” job, military deployment, engagement or marriage.
I admit, I snorted and snickered and pooh-poohed it myself. One agent on Twitter likened New Adult to trying to make fetch happen. But the authors of this new category kept chugging away, and from the looks of it, it’s not going to die off anytime soon. Not when the books keep landing on the various best seller lists.
Once I realized this (and finally figured out I’d written a New Adult manuscript myself, much to my chagrin), I went back and did some research.
First, it’s a common misconception that New Adult is a genre. It’s not. It’s a category, like Young Adult is a category. It has genres and sub-genres, like any other category. I think the reason why so many people thing it’s a genre is because of the rampant popularity of one of the sub-genres, New Adult contemporary romance. These are the books you see on those best seller lists time and again. But you can also have New Adult paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, and even literary (although I’m willing to bet literary fiction authors will turn up their noses at the thought).
As a romance author, most of what I’ve read (in the name of research!) has been NA contemporary romance. At first, I despaired of finding anything that didn’t involve the word “beautiful” or “broken” in the title and where the main character wasn’t burdened by an ultra-tragic past. So much of this sub-genre is laden with melodrama, and it doesn’t make for fun or even good reading. I mean, I like a dark, depressing read, but some of these titles, coupled with less-than-stellar writing, were so off-putting I wanted to give up (I’d highly recommend staying away from Teresa Mummert’s White Trash Beautiful).
But as I kept reading, I started to realize why these books were so popular. I’d failed to consider the age gap. These are books that appeal to readers who were eleven, twelve, maybe thirteen years old when Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air. These are readers who grew up with internet and email and texting and teen-centered shows like The OC. Probably most important of all, these are readers who grew up reading Young Adult…which, while it existed when I was in high school, wasn’t nearly as large a category as it is today. So in their minds, they need characters and stories that reflect what they’re experiencing now, the way the YA stories they read did. You think about that, and yeah, it’s a pretty large gap to fill.
I did manage to find a number of NA titles where the characters weren’t so weighted down by woe is me circumstances, and that’s when I came to my second realization: this sub-genre is like crack. Seriously. These books are cracktastic, especially when you find one that just makes you want to fangirl. I loved Linda Kage’s Price of a Kiss for the voice she gave her heroine, Reese, who was witty, smart, sarcastic, and self-deprecating enough you could relate to her without wanting to slap her. Jen Frederick’s Woodlands series has so far been devoid of tragic past, instead drawing its conflicts from relatable situations. Krista and Becca Ritchie did an admirable job creating a sex addict in their Addicted series, and Penelope Douglas intrigued me enough with Bully (despite her judicious use of exclamation points) to make me want to pick up the counter-POV version, Until You.
The other trend with NA (aside from the beautifully tragic past)? Series. Series, sequels, and alternate points of view are popular and feed the readers voracious need for more. NA contemporary romance authors will benefit hugely from being able to write quickly (and preferably write well).
So where do you find these books?
With so much bookselling happening online these days, New Adult has found a toehold that likely would have been next to impossible years ago. BISACS, or the codes bookstores and libraries use to order books, are standardized. BISACs also dictate how stores and libraries are organized. Creating an entire new category means redoing the system, something I doubt they’re keen on doing. With ebooks and online retailers, though, this isn’t as big a hurdle to clear. But it’s still a problem in bookstores – where do they put the books? With the YA books? With the “adult” books? I certainly don’t see brick and mortar stores hurrying to clear off shelf space for NA books.
Publishers are finding ways around it. Most of the Big 5 have digital arms, and NA titles are popping up there – and a good number of them are from authors who first found success with self-publishing. NA books are slowly coming out in print, as well, but that question remains – where will you find them in the bookstore?
No, really, where are they? I actually took a trip to my local Barnes & Noble just to find out. And the answer is all over the place. I found Jamie Maguire’s Walking Disaster, Beautiful Disaster, and Red Hill in Fiction & Literature, along with Colleen Hoover’s Hopeless and her Slammed series. Monica Murphy’s Crave and One Week Girlfriend were in Romance, along with My Favorite Mistake by Chelsea M Cameron and The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden by Jessica Sorenson. Gayle Foreman’s Just One Day and Where She Went were in YA. It seems to depend on two things: the content and the publishing imprint. Murphy and Cameron’s books were both released by romance publishers (Avon and Harlequin, respectively), while Maguire’s and Hoover’s books were released by imprints that aren’t exclusively romance – and the stories themselves don’t necessarily need to be categorized as romance.
It makes it a little tougher on readers who prefer actual books to ebooks, or don’t have ereaders in the first place. Complicating matters is other readers who may tag a book as New Adult on a site like Goodreads when the author didn’t intend for it be one in the first place.
Of course, bookstores could make it simple and just put them on those handy-dandy tables out in front:
So. Got any NA titles to recommend?