Becoming a Storyteller: New Adult, or, Wizards and Vampires and Sex! Oh My!

New AdultNew Adult (NA) Fiction is a burgeoning category in literature circles these days. In my search for just the right genre for my WIP, I’ve come across this term more and more often. As recently as a few months ago though, this was a complete mystery to me. It wasn’t until I attended an author event at Books & Books in Coral Gables that I actually heard the term in question.

Leslie Kaufman of The New York Times described the genre  “as Harry Potter meets ‘50 Shades of Grey‘” in her December 2012 article. She said that publishers are hoping to keep the loyal young readers of series like Harry Potter, “The Hunger Games”, and “Twilight”. These readers, though, are looking for slightly older characters, and significantly more sex.

In April of this year, USA TODAY ran an article that described the genre as one that explores “the terrifying and wonderful chasm between adolescence and adulthood.” In the article, Jaime McGuire, best-selling author of NA smash-hits Beautiful Disaster and Walking Disaster, credits the “self-publishing revolution” for the explosion of New Adult and creating a niche where none existed, filling the gap between Young Adult (YA, for readers ages 12-18) and commercial women’s fiction for readers in their 20s and older.

What is New Adult?

The all-knowing Wikipedia says the following regarding New Adult Fiction:

New Adult (NA) fiction is a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18-25 age bracket. The term was first coined by St. Martin’s Press in 2009 when they held a special call for “…fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult’.” New Adult fiction tends to focus on issues such as leaving home, developing sexuality, and negotiating education and career choices. The genre has gained popularity rapidly over the last few years, particularly through books by self-published bestselling authors like Jamie McGuire, Colleen Hoover, and Cora Carmack.

The genre was originally met with some criticism, as some viewed it as a marketing scheme, while others claimed the readership was not there to publish the material. In contrast, others claimed that the term was necessary, with a publicist for HarperCollins saying that it “is a convenient label because it allows parents and bookstores and interested readers to know what is inside”. It has now become widely accepted with most traditional publishers now publishing NA books and Goodreads, Amazon and Kobo adding it as an official category.

Examples of books in the new-adult genre include Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster, Colleen Hoover’s Slammed, and Cora Carmack’s Losing It.

Young Adult (YA) fiction is a very popular category these days, and, in my perusing of the titles slotted therein, is very versatile. The YA genre has a slew of subcategories like YA Fantasy, YA Mystery, YA Sci-Fi, and, perhaps the most popular, YA Paranormal Romance. So, with the relatively recent birth of NA, we’ve started to see, and read, the works in the developing subgenres.

To learn more about the genre I reached out to a few of the authors that originally introduced me to the term. Karen Amanda Hooper, author of Tangled Tides and The Kindrily Series, took a moment to reply to my Tweet:

But it was YA author and literary agent Lucienne Diver, that came to my rescue.  Diver is author of the hugely successful and entertaining YA Fantasy series, Vamped, and the Latter-Day Olympians Contemporary Fantasy series. Diver is also a literary agent at The Knight Agency.

A Four-Pack of NA Questions for Lucienne Diver

DLFwriting: What are the major differences between YA and NA beyond the age range of the protagonist?

Lucienne Diver: There’s no hard and fast line between YA and NA.  Often it has to do with the age of the protagonists and where they are in their lives (for example high school versus college or just beyond, say getting  their first jobs out of school).  Or with how large a rule sex plays in the book.  So much of young adult already appeals to the adult market.  To say that NA is young adult with more adult themes is perhaps oversimplifying, but that’s what it boils down to for me.

DLF: Can you see a successful YA series transition into the NA genre?

LD: I think that’s a tricky thing.  Clearly, readers grow and age along with the protagonists and may be ready for more intensity than they see in YA (though I’d argue that there’s quite a bit of intensity there already).  The problem comes with where to shelve it then and what to call it, because you don’t suddenly want to reshelve a series mid-way through.  It would be tantamount to starting a film series in PG and moving it to R or NC-17 and thus leaving some of the audience behind, though, of course, you might reach others.

DLF: What are the major benefits of going NA?

LD: In NA you have more freedom to use language and explore things that would be difficult to touch on in YA.

DLF: Have you considered taking Gina Covello and “Vamped” into NA? Would you say Tori Karacis and the Latter-Day Olympians are NA?

LD: I think the Vamped series lends itself to staying in the YA realm.  I don’t want my readers to suddenly encounter something they might not be expecting based on the earlier books, which have some teasing and some tension, but nothing very serious “on-stage”.  I do step up the sensuality in my urban fantasy series.  I think it’s a natural progression for older readers of the Vamped series to move onto it, so yes, maybe it could be considered NA, though I consider it primarily for adults, and thus get into somewhat racier territory from time to time.

My Final Word on NA

I travelled up to New York City in 2012 to pitch my completed novel manuscript to a few agents. (I wrote about my Pitch Slam experience here.) In one of my meetings, the agent told me my story sounded like “aged-up young adult”, or, that I had taken an essentially young adult story and put a full-adult protagonist in it. That sounds a little like NA to me, I guess.

I can’t thank Lucienne enough for her taking the time to answer my questions about the new genre. As I continue to work on my WIP, I haven’t decided whether to make my main character 16 (YA) or 18 (NA), and while it seems like a relatively inconsequential choice, it will make a big difference in terms of where my story is eventually shelved. (And oh, yes, it will be shelved!)

14 thoughts on “Becoming a Storyteller: New Adult, or, Wizards and Vampires and Sex! Oh My!

  1. Great post! And thanks for the shout out. 🙂

    There’s a lot of controversy circling around that some authors are using the New Adult label as a way of writing (and selling—rather well, I might add) erotica, but just making the MC college age and claiming it’s NA. That and some NA books are really over the top when it comes to sex, violence, drugs, and other mature subjects.

    Personally, I still think of NA is a story with a MC who is 18 or over and facing some of those “finding yourself” scenarios in life. Of course their can be sex and mature issues because that’s true to life in many cases, but if it gets too dark and crazy, or feels too much like erotica with no strong storyline then it’s not for me.

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    • Thanks for reading! I’m inclined to agree with you in regards to the dark, crazy and erotica. I would imagine some 18 years olds get there, but I don’t know that NA is really the place to explore those stories. Thanks again!

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  2. Thanks for this interesting and enlightening post, David. I really had not thought about (or maybe I just hadn’t heard about) the New Adult category. I’m very fond of some YA series, and would probably enjoy some of the NA stuff, too. It will be interesting to see if there really is a market for that two-year gap between 18 and 20, and if it is strong enough to support a whole ‘nuther designation. I suspect there will be a lot of crossover readers, both older and younger, which will help.

    For myself, I simply can’t imagine writing for either. It’s been too long since I was a young adult, I guess. I don’t think I have the mindset to write from that perspective, but I’m sure glad a lot of other writers can, and do.

    I’ll be following your progress and wishing you good luck as you decide which way you want to develop your WIP. And good for you for knowing that it will be shelved…in a good way, of course! 🙂

    Happy writing!

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