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New Adult Fiction: The Next Big Thing In Publishing?

New Adult FictionThe book genre of “new adult” fiction has been around for a while (since it was first proposed by St. Martin’s in 2009). But only recently has the lingo begun to pick up speed in the conversations and chatter at writers conferences.

More and more, publishers are starting to recognize new adult novels as fitting into their own genre. For a while, the idea of a new adult book was looked upon as a marketing scheme, and many people brushed off the term as a fad. But as indie and self-published authors pushed the genre, the new adult genre began to take off. And now big publishers are paying attention.

New adult fiction, people are saying, is “the hot new thing.” Agents want it; editors want it. But does anyone know what it is?

What Is New Adult Fiction?

In general, new adult books are targeted toward readers who have graduated from young adult but may not quite be ready for adult books. Some people characterize the target new adult reader as being either college aged or between the ages of 18 to 30.

Thirty, you say? Yes. New adult books are often considered crossover books that can reach both adults and older teens. In general, these are bildungsromans that center on a young adult’s journey into adulthood (that usually results from a fading innocence and entry into the world of complicated adult issues and responsibilities).

New adult books can be racier and more violent than young adult books in that sexual situations and violence can appear on the page a bit more (as opposed to being alluded to but not detailed). Publishers have used the “new adult” label to target readers who were allegedly “lost” between young adult fiction (up to 18 years old) and general adult fiction, which tends to target older readers (29 to 55, give or take).

Some have criticized the new adult genre for its “mature themes” and have linked its popularity to the success of Fifty Shades of Grey. There’s some speculation that “new adult” is just a fancy new term that allows authors to writer sexier books for younger (ostensibly over 18) audiences.

These days, publishers are racing to find the best new new adult books out there. According to the chatter at writers conferences, new adult projects are automatically hot commodities just by virtue of their genre. At the moment, new adult is a good place to be.

How Do You Know If Your Book Is New Adult?

Your character’s central conflict might be the most important factor in determining if your book is new adult. Are your characters at a time in their lives when they face important, first-time, adult experiences, such as:

  • First job
  • First promotion/firing
  • First serious/sexual relationship
  • First engagement/wedding
  • First apartment or home
  • First year out of college/high school
  • First time taking care of a family
  • And so on.

If so, you might be looking at a new adult novel. Read some new adult novels before you decide if that’s the genre you’re writing in.

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How Do You Know If Your Book Is Straight Young Adult?

Young adult novels can also be about “firsts,” but often in the context of youth as opposed to adulthood. Also, young adult novels tend to preserve a sense of innocence throughout the story. Young adult characters grow, but they do so without necessarily losing the innocence that make them young adults (as opposed to full adults).

Also, young adult novels tend to eschew too much bad language and explicit sex or violence—though some say the limits of explicitness are constantly being pushed.

Questions for WritersQuestion: Do you think publishing needs a “new adult” genre?

8 Responses to New Adult Fiction: The Next Big Thing In Publishing?

  1. I really like reading a post that will make people think.

    Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

  2. I have written a book approx. 130,000 words about a 25 year old virgin, who discovers himself by becoming obsessed with visiting Thailand as a sex tourist. I have tried to get it out there through the mainstream, but it seems to be too dirty, but it’s not porn. I think it would be well suited to this ‘new adult’ genre. anyone got any tips on what to do next?

  3. Great article! I know my book fits in with this classification, but when I submit my publisher I have to choose between YA and Adult firstly. Anybody have any suggestions? Language and sexual content and themes are tame, but MC is 20.

  4. This is perfect for my novel about a teenager’s foray into the gang world and his first experience of extreme violence. It means I don’t have to water down the language or violent content. I am excited about this genre and to be writing a New Adult novel.

  5. Jane I disagree completely about this genre being pointless. New Adult isn’t dumbed down adult fiction. It is a genre with heros and heroines between a certain age range that face issues and dilemmas that most YA and Adult fiction doesn’t cover.

    I’m 25 and I read YA and Adult fiction but its so refreshing to read about characters having the same experiences that I have or have had. Teens read YA to read about characters like themselves facing issues they do. Adults read to be reminded of a time in their life that’s passed and of course good story telling. New Adult fiction fills the gap between YA and Adult and I think it’s terrific and hopefully will grow outside of the Romance Genre.

  6. I think this is an interesting genre, but I hardly see the point in it. Not ready for adult books? Young readers are a lot more sophisticated than people give them credit for. I didn’t have this genre when I was coming of age, but I was better off for it. I sought out books that challenged me as a reader and as a person. This just seems like delayed development.

  7. At first I resisted the extra splitting of categories, but now I’m becoming glad there’s a distinction placed on high-school-themed fiction versus college-or-around-that-age-themed fiction. Age 18-25 or thereabouts has always been the age range I’ve most liked to write about, because of all the interesting transitions and maturations people have to go through in that phase of life; and it used to be awkward for me to pick a genre to describe such stories. If the protagonists were 18 or 19, YA editors often said the situations were a bit too adult, because they had to keep 13-year-old readers in mind. Meanwhile chick-lit or women’s fiction or romance editors said the characters were *so* young, and couldn’t we add a few years to their age? But now we have a genre for it, and a popular one at that. Hurray!

  8. Funny, my new novel, ‘I Know You’re There’ fits in several of the criteria that you have listed to qualify as a new adult genre book. However, I am finding that women baby boomers are really LOVING it too! Go figure…

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