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The New Adults

2012 November 19

Have you read The Hunger Games trilogy? What about the Harry Potter series? The Fault in Our Stars?  Most likely, you’ve read at least one of these books, even though they’re technically considered “young adult” fiction, or YA. There is a very large community of adult readers who prefer reading YA fiction, for a multitude of reasons. I’m not one of those people, even though I do read the occasional YA book, but I can certainly understand the appeal.

It’s no secret, following the wild success of YA franchises such as Twilight, that YA is a huge boon to the publishing industry. The books appeal not only to kids, but to adults as well, and often have tons of marketing potential for movie tie-ins and the like. So, I suppose it’s not surprising that there’s a new genre on the rise–“new adult” fiction.

Cora Carmack, author of a popular “new adult” title called Losing It, defines new adult fiction as books depicting people in the 18-25 year-old age bracket, figuring out how to transition from adolescence to adulthood. With the new economic landscape, more and more 20-somethings are living at home following college, unable to get a job or sustain a stable relationship. It’s this demographic that publishers are aiming to court with this new genre of books.

To me, this whole “new adult” thing sounds like exactly what it is–an effort by publishers to capitalize on the success of the YA market. It’s not a new type of story, by any means. Authors have been writing books about 20-somethings navigating the rocky terrain of early adulthood for centuries–why do these books suddenly need to be boxed into a category?

An article in New York Magazine last month went even further, deriding the new adult phenomenon as being the wrong thing to attract adult YA readers–in fact, they claim it’s the opposite of what these women want to read. Whereas much of YA fiction involves vampires, dystopian societies, and cookie cutter romances, the new adult genre aims to depict real life situations and relationships. New York counters that the audience reading YA lit is in seek of an escape–they aren’t looking for a novel about a character struggling with the same problems they may be facing in their lives.

New adult fiction also seeks to capitalize on another facet of today’s popular fiction–sex. You’ve doubtless heard of, or even read, the infamous 50 Shades of Gray series. Now imagine similar series geared toward a slightly younger audience, with younger characters and slightly less-risque situations (Losing It is about a 22-year-old college senior determined to lose her virginity by having a fling).

What do you think of the new publishing trend? Do these books sound like a good idea to you? Would you or have you read any of these books?


10 Responses Post a comment
  1. November 19, 2012

    “Whereas much of YA fiction involves vampires, dystopian societies, and cookie cutter romances, the new adult genre aims to depict real life situations and relationships.”

    Don’t go breakin’ my heart, Jill. YA has WAY more than that!

    • Jill permalink
      November 19, 2012

      Oh no, I would never break your heart Annie! I was over-generalizing, yes, mostly for the sake of argument. I know there are many YA books (like Speak or The Fault in Our Stars) that deal with very complex and emotional situations, and I would never dismiss them as valid literature!

  2. Rebekah permalink
    November 19, 2012

    this is really interesting, and the first I’ve heard of the trend/idea! and while I know everyone is different/I don’t stand for the whole, I’ve always found YA appealing for exactly the reasons Cora Carmack suggests–less so for the escapist reasons New York Magazine says–that YA explores what it’s like to be a child beginning to face adult issues. you’re right that none of these themes are not new in regular “adult” literary fiction. my only thought is that I feel like recently there’s been a lot of criticism of child narrators in “adult” literary fiction; I have no idea why that is–I love child narrators. maybe it’s being poorly done, or just over-done. in any case, maybe regular “adult” literary fiction is trying to distance itself from issues of youth for some reason. so the divide gets bigger.

    • Jill permalink
      November 19, 2012

      It’s an interesting question. For instance, “The Marriage Plot” features main characters who are in college–they would technically fall into this “new adult” category, but that book is thought to be literary fiction. Same with “The Art of Fielding.” One person I know said she was tired of reading about 20-somethings because “they don’t matter, no one cares about what they think.” I was shocked, because I really think that age group, as well as those younger, is one of the most rich and complex to write about and read about.

    • November 21, 2012

      It’s my personal opinion that yes, they are trying to distance themselves from issues of youth, whether it be subject or narrator in whatever genre. And I don’t think it has to do with the quality of the literature at all, but from the issues surrounding youth itself. Youth makes people uncomfortable, especially in the literary world, from what I’ve observed. Anything having to do with youth is inevitably seen as less mature, less meaningful, and made of lower quality, regardless of whether any of those things are true. It’s like we’re somehow forgetting that the vast majority of our best/most lasting cultural heritage relies heavily on trying to understand or reclaim youth in some capacity. Adults have been trying to understand youth for a long, long time–even before vampires. /stops ranting on Jill’s blog :)

  3. Joe permalink
    November 19, 2012

    I think both YA and New Adult will be absorbed into big-tent Fiction and these debates will be rendered largely irrelevant. In the 60’s, you could have written similar articles about how young women were drawn to The Beatles.

  4. November 19, 2012

    I think New Adult is actually trying to tap into a market that isn’t currently being reached, which is young, sexual women, ages 17-25. After having spent some time doing comp research for our upcoming titles, I think that this is really just a way to repackage romance, which frankly needs to be done (have you SEEN some of the Harlequin covers lately?). The publishing industry still hasn’t figured out if these books are going to be shelved in YA or adult (almost all sales reps would argue these should be sold to adult buyers and shelved in the popular fiction section), but I do think they are actually tapping into a specific market. Many college girls don’t just want to read about meeting the right guy and getting married, a la Emily Giffin, they want to read about all the bangin’ that happens along the way. I agree with Joe that these will all be eventually absorbed into Fiction with a capital “F,” but in the near future, I think we’ll see this genre more associated with adult romance than YA fiction, but marketing departments will do their damnedest to keep the antiquated word “romance” far, far away.

  5. November 21, 2012

    In general, almost every single article about YA written from the “adult” publishing field has filled me with some sort of rage and/or frustration, as I feel each one is the “adult” market freaking out and being insecure and trying to find some way to not-so-secretly slam and/or be openly jealous of YA for being successful. I do think that “New Adult” is, like you said, simply a publishing ploy to cash in on these markets. There’s nothing new about it, just a different way to market the books. What Joe said about it all falling eventually into the category of “fiction” is interesting, and what I believe will/should eventually happen. YA has been around for a very long time, albeit not in the same fashion it is right now. But “classics” like Catcher in the Rye and the Lord of the Rings, etc.–even if people don’t want to admit it, these are very much YA books, and are still classified in libraries as such.

  6. Raquel permalink
    November 25, 2012

    Interestingly, there are sociological schools of thought that are now saying the decade of our twenties is a new age group. Just as decades ago, they had to prove that adolescence was a distinct life stage, now sociologists are at it again claiming that the period of transition, growth, and whatnot that happens between the end of the teenage years and the actual onset of adulthood (defined as starting a career, moving into one’s own place, marrying/partnering, and having kids) is a real stage of maturity and development as people in their twenties work to define themselves and their life goals and take longer to achieve all those “adult” things. Basically, they’re saying these people are adults, but not QUITE adults in the traditional sense. It’s taking them longer to “launch” in a sense. This new trend in literature seems to be mirroring this same concept. I’m not sure I buy into it entirely, either in society or in books. If anything, I think it’s more of an economic thing than anything else–it’s effin’ expensive to be an adult, and recent college grads overall just can’t afford traditional adulthood. So they take that extra time while they save money to figure out what the hell they’re going to do once they HAVE money and can afford an “adult” life.

    When it comes to literary categories, I’m of the school of thought that a good book is a good book, intended audience be damned, so I suppose I roll with Joe’s Fiction definition. And I’m no longer technically a “young lady” and yet I am still drawn to The Beatles. :)

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