So what exactly is New Adult?

Publishers and bookstores, just like libraries, are obsessive in categorizing books. They need to be in order to file things properly so that they, and their customers, can find things. Unfortunately, this has a downside. What do you do with something that doesn’t fit?

Young Adult, or YA as it’s called in the industry, was invented when publishers discovered that kids in high school know how to read. Prior to that time, there were children’s books and adult books. With the publication of Harry Potter, many adults discovered the YA category. In addition, high school kids grow up, but continue to read.

For some reason, publishers haven’t figured that out.

One of the myths in publishing is that adults want to read about adults, and children want to read about children. Teenagers read YA because they relate to the characters. And since college-age people don’t read fiction, books with college-age characters won’t sell.

As a result, authors who write about characters between high school and their mid-twenties are told that there’s no market for their books.

In the same way, many authors have been led to believe that the category of New Adult, where the characters are of that between age, are being read by people of that between age. And so a debate rages within the New Adult community as to exactly what it is.

Is New Adult aimed at readers between 18 and 25, or is it stories with characters between 18 and 25?

I know that many authors and readers in that age group feel the books are aimed at them. But if they stop and think about it, they might have read Harry Potter, Twilight or the Hunger Games when they were much older than the characters in the books.

A couple of years ago, St. Martin’s Press put out a call for New Adult books and coined the term. Some incorrectly classify it as a genre, but it is actually a category. Within the category, books in many genres have hit the market. What do I mean by genre? Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Westerns, etc., are genres.

So what exactly is New Adult?

Some in the media have labeled New Adult as YA plus sex. But it is much more than that. After a character graduates high school, they are technically an adult. Faced with a new world of jobs, college or university, and adult romance, they have different motivations and challenges than they did as a teenager in high school. They are able to explore a wider world, travel, and experiment with sex. But that doesn’t automatically mean a story about someone who is 20 includes them having sex.

In another era, such stories were often called “coming of age” novels. Think about Pride and Prejudice, Catcher in the Rye, or Anna Karenina. I’ve often wondered if The Devil Wears Prada might be classified as New Adult.

As I said earlier, often people in that 18 to 25 age group feel such books are aimed at them and identify with the characters. They therefore fall into the same trap as the publishers, thinking that age group is the only market for the stories. But a much wider audience will read such books, both younger and older.

Many authors who have unwittingly written books with characters in this age range are surprised when they are rebuffed by publishers. The reasons are always the same. There’s no market. Agents and publishers suggest making the characters younger, getting rid of the sex. Or maybe make the characters older. Change the conflict. In other words, write a different book.

Self-publishing changed that. The growth of New Adult and the fact that some of the big six publishers are now soliciting NA manuscripts is directly attributable to sales of self-published novels, proving there really is a market.

In my own case, I was told that I should make my characters younger, get rid of the sex, and perhaps include some vampires. In other words, write a different book. Thankfully, what people read is no longer exclusively dictated by six large publishing companies. I just received a letter from a fan who raved about my new novel, Succubus Rising, the third book in the Telepathic Clans Saga. He’s read all three books and he definitely falls in the age range for New Adult novels. He’s 72.

By B.R. Kingsolver. "I made silver and turquoise jewelry for almost a decade, ended up in nursing school, then took a master’s in business. Along the way I worked in construction, as a newspaper editor, a teacher, and somehow found a career working with computers.

I love the outdoors, especially the Rocky Mountains. I’ve skied since high school and I’ve hiked and camped all my life. I love to travel, though I haven’t done enough of it. I’ve seen a lot of Russia and Mexico, not enough of England. Amsterdam is amazing, and the Romanian Alps are breathtaking. Lake Tahoe is a favorite, and someday I’d like to see Banff in Canada.
I have a very significant other, two cats and two Basset Hounds. I’m currently living in Baltimore, nine blocks from the harbor, but still own a home in New Mexico that I see too infrequently."


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