New Adult – Unfortunate name or Brilliant Concept?
  • Posted:
  • January 7, 2013
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Recently I read many posts about the “new” sub-genre between Young Adult and Adult Fiction, New Adult. New Adult is a new emerging genre between the two sections targeting 16 through 23 year old readers. The content of the books features explicit sexual/romantic situations that occur to “new” Adults in that age range. Britain has jumped on the craze and now offers them to the younger readers as well (calling them “steamies”). Many of these were originally self-published books that blew up because of Internet buzz that are now being published in book formats (such as Beautiful Disaster,  The Vincent Boys, and Crash). As far as it being “the hot new thing” all I have to say is this – New Adult is a marketing term, pure and simple. It has always been out there, it’s just now starting to rise to public awareness because publishers and authors are cranking it out. It’s not any different from any other marketing term. We’re just hearing more about it now.

There are several articles here, here, here, and here if you want to read other people talk about this.

For me, as a bookseller, it’s bothersome for one reason – the name. Give the readers all the salacious material they can handle. I have no problem with that. It’s the name NEW ADULT that grates on my nerves. When you say the name aloud to a customer it causes confusion. They can’t separate the NEW from the idea… they just think you are referring to something as a “newer” adult fiction title, and that is not good. It’s the same kind of confusion caused by asking for a Non-Fiction title as opposed to a specific derivation of Non-Fiction, like History, Sciences, or Sociology. It’s just too confusing as of yet to drop the term without having to explain what it is.

My thought is this – let’s call a spade a spade. It’s Young Adult Erotica, that is what it is.  If you have scenes of titillation with proper terminology to genitals and orgasms than it is erotica. If you waft around the name for genitals and refer to it as a “blooming flower, soft petals,” or and other Romantic metaphor for them than it’s Romance, and then it should be called Young Adult Romance. Thus far at the bookstore we have been shelving the lion share of New Adult in Romance because of price point more than content. A larger quality paperback retailing at $15 gets shelved in Romance because Romance customers will pay that without batting an eye, as will younger readers buying from the Romance section. If a QP gets shelved in YA at $15, well, trust me, people notice. There are the exception to this – the Abbi Glines and Nicole Williams books have been released under Young Adult imprints, therefore they can be found there. Because they are cheaper rather than safer. Whether bookstores are going to make a separate shelf once the craze kicks up is any one’s guess.

Now, I can see why people, publishers and the like, do not want to call the genre “Young Adult Erotica”. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth, if you’ll pardon the pointed pun. So, what other names can we call  it? I personally prefer the term “Mature Young Adult” or, at the very least “Older Young Adult”. Putting the word “Mature” in front of it isolates it from all the other categories, clears up the confusion, and lets people (specifically the parents whose ten year old reads YA) know that the content is not aimed at children. Let’s face facts, the Young Adult genre appeals to readers as young as ten and older (I have sold HP to octogenarians for their own reading). Harry Potter and Twilight both proved that a series will appeal to a wider range of ages. It is unsurprising that new categories of it are going to be formed to make money. Publishing is all about marketing and marketing is all about money. New Adult is making money, despite the unfortunate name. And it’s going to keep making money the more we talk about it.

Personally, I always thought a “young adult” was a 16 – 20 year old and a “teen” was the age that YA targets, 12/13-18/19. But that’s just me mincing words now. Unless that means that the Young Adult section has been improperly designated for years. Hmmm… food for thought.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Bueller? Bueller?

– BP


Lindsay Mead

2013-01-07 18:19:41 Reply

The point you made at the end, was the point I was planning to make through the entire article. To me, Young Adult referred to ages 16 or older. I rarely use the term “teen” because you can easily imagine anyone over 10 yrs old. In my opinion 16 is pushing it with a term like “Young Adult”. I would not consider a 16 yr old an adult in any form. When they hit 18, that changes. So I’ve always felt that Young Adult was playing itself too young. Now people want something that really is geared toward real young adults (the 18yr old range), but they can’t call it “YA” because YA has since set itself up as something safe and at times teenie-bopper.

Really, if you think about it, the genre titles mean the same thing. A new adult is a young adult and a young adult is a new adult. So I would say that New Adult is the people’s way of taking back Young Adult from the publishers. Now it’s time to start putting some realism into the genre, instead of trying to force it into the Goody-goody Shoes that the publishing industry has created.

Carmen B.

2013-01-07 19:40:12 Reply

I’m not sure I agree. I understand that the term is cumbersome for booksellers and some publishers, but for me there are distinct differences in what I expect of YA read and a NA book. YA for me is about characters aged 14-17, maybe 18. It’s about highschool, first crushes etc. NA for me is not just about more sexy stuff, it’s about that inbetween stage between being a teen and being a ‘real’ adult (note: there might be a cultural thing involved here too. In my country, you’re legally considered adult at 18 instead of 21. So I wouldn’t consider a 20year-old a young adult/teen anymore). It’s about going to college, maybe travelling, figuring out who you are and what you want. It can be more serious, darker, edgier than YA because it’s targeted at an older primary audience (though I certainly agree that people read across age categories). For me, NA is 18-25. And as a 23 year-old myself, I did notice that until maybe a year ago or so, there was a lack of books about people my age (or if there were any I hadn’t heard of them). I could either read about teens or about 30-something adults going about their jobs and having kids. I found YA more appealing, but sometimes I felt there was something missing, and many NA titles can provide me with that.

I can see where you’re coming from with your reservations though. I could come to terms with it if the term Mature YA established itself. I just don’t think it’s ok to conflate the categories.


2013-01-08 04:22:17 Reply

You may have a point, Carmen. I am over generalizing. I forget that there are more elements to New Adult than just “the sex”, though that is all that people are talking about with the books.(Technically, 50 shades fits into this coding too, according a number of folks, if we’re going by the unspoken “rules” of New Adult.) And college themed “in between” books do exist, beyond the New Adult coding. You can google a number of them. Coming from a Bookseller’s POV (as I always do) narrows the scope a little. Especially when we are talking about a market that was born first from e-books that is now developing to the print market… it’s sort of taken booksellers by surprise. And it confuses the target of people it’s aimed towards who do not think that they’re market has a name to it. I frequently have to explain to both readers AND booksellers what the New Adult genre is. They don’t even know what they are reading.

I’ve always had issues with the idea of sexual material being “for a certain age” vs violence, particularly in American society. Violence is deemed appropriate for much younger audience but sex, which is a natural thing, is viewed so prudishly. I wouldn’t have a problem at all with creating a “Young Adult Erotica” section in my store. However, I’m outnumbered by so many people who think it’s worse to allow people of a certain age to read love and sex than death and violence and bloody murder. This has always been a thing that bothers me, and I have never understood why this is… other than we were shaped by a culture of Purtians. Erotica is about relationship dynamics and human nature as well and that often gets bogged down in the “SEXiness” of it.

Sorry Carmen, tangent. In America you are considered an adult at 18, you just cannot drink alcohol at 18. But you can vote, buy property, sign contracts without a legal guardian (since you are your own guardian now) and fight and die for your country in the military. Heaven forbid you drink a cocktail at a party though. Or have sex for that matter.