Friday, June 14, 2013

Is New Adult Just Steamier Young Adult? And What Does That Mean for YA?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

It's always exciting when a new genre or market appears in the writing world, and New Adult writers have finally broken though the wall and have become their own market. (Way to go NA authors!) However, their market link on Amazon appeared as a subgenre of romance (and only in Kindle e-books), and that got me thinking about what New Adult is and how it fits into the marketplace.

I read a lot of book review blogs, and I see a lot of New Adult titles popping up there. I've heard NA writers do readings and sat with them on panels. I'm not sure I've ever seen a NA title that wasn't romance in some aspect.

A look through the NA covers on Goodreads is pretty much all romance. Plots often surround the intensity of the teen experience, yet with more adult sexual encounters. Characters are typically in the 18-25 range, but still dealing with "teen" issues, just on a more adult stage.

The more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder...

Is New Adult just Young Adult with slightly older characters and steamier sexual situations?

Going from high school to college does up the ante for sex, so being more adult there is realistic. It's also not surprising to see its popularity since romance is one of the top-selling genres out there, and adults make up 55% of young adult book buyers. Giving those readers the same emotional intensity plus sex has got to be a huge draw. I've seen plenty of reviews where the only negative was, "I wish the characters acted a little older." They always struck me as an adult reading a young adult novel and wishing it was more, well, adult.

If so, then what might this mean for the young adult market?

If a large chunk of those 55% start reading NA titles instead, is a big drop in YA sales looming on the horizon? Is NA going to be the next big boom?

Chances are, all it'll take is the NA version of Twilight to launch it.

It'll be interesting to see where things go and how this shakes out.

(ETA: Commenter Juliana Haygert linked us a great post she wrote on what New Adult is and why it's not just YA with sex) It's nice to see the NA writers out there educating readers about this new market. I also think one reason this attitude exists, is that right now, romance is a major focus of the NA market. Considering the power of romance and the tenacity of romance writers, this isn't surprising. 

What are your thoughts? How do you feel about the New Adult market and how it might affect the Young Adult market?


  1. I've been researching the NA market recently, after wondering if my Sci-Fi Romance was NA (since the main character is 19).

    However, from the responses that I've had from a couple of reviewers from an NA group, they do seem to be expecting something rather steamier, more fast paced and exciting. It's an interesting trend. I'm planning to write a post about it next week.

  2. This is an exciting new niche. I tend to write in a younger voice, but not as young as YA and so I might have finally found my comfort zone. Typically I have to adultify my rough drafts as I get complaints that my heroines sound too young for their age (usually late 20s) though they don't sound much different from me, LOL, but perception is hard to fight. Anyway, I'm currently in the revision stage on one and am so excited to see if it works as NA. I didn't realize a year ago when I was writing the rough draft that that was what it was, but when I started hearing about the themes and the age range, I realized that's what I'd written.

  3. In response to Rinelle, my book DESTINY GIFT is a NA UF and features a 19yo MC and there's no sex scene on it, only a kiss scene. Some readers complained because they expected steamier, but NA isn't about sex. NA is so much bigger than that.
    I co-founded a group blog, NA Alley (, only to talk about NA - we have a page called "What is NA?" ... maybe you should read it.
    One of our members writes horror - and there's ZERO romance on his books.
    We're very active on argumenting NA ISN'T YA with more sex. It actually bother us very much every time people make that assumption.
    I wrote a guest post about it a while back:
    I hope that helps!

  4. Rinelle, very cool, you'll have to link it back. Romance does seem to be the primary NA grene, but I imagine the market will broaden as more and more write for it.

    Angela, that's great that you've found your niche! I get that "too young" comment, too. Frustrating for the same reasons.

    Juliana, thanks for the link! I admit, I'm one of those who feel this way because that's what I see the most of. It's good that you guys are working to educate folks about the market, and I imagine that'll be an uphill battle for a while. Once more non-romance NA is out there that will likely change.

  5. Great post, Janice! I completely agree. I also don't think NA is "YA with more sex." (Because YA novels are all kinds of novels, just with teens in them, and there's plenty of sex in YA!).

    I think NA is "contemporary romance with college-aged characters." I think this not because there is a writer or two out there who is writing, as Juliana said, horror novels and *calling* them NA, but because in contemporary romance prior to the advent of NA, there were virtually NO novels about this age group, ironic given the number of people who do find their life partners at that age (I did!)

    There have always been fantasy novels and science fiction novels and horror novels and mystery novels published for the adult market that had 20 year olds in them. The "title" NA is not adding anything there. There have always been novels of ALL genres with teenagers in them published as YA. But what there hasn't been, to the great consternation of a LOT of writers (to judge by my emails of the last 8 years), is contemporary romance novels and women's fiction with college kids in them. And that's what NA is offering to the market now.

    I think a lot of the thought process on "what is NA" is backwards. They are trying to co-opt a lot of other things rather than say "what are we offering that's new?"

  6. I've been very interested in this genre lately, but it's been hard to find what it is and isn't. I totally agree that there needs to be something out there for late teens and early twenties. Not that that age group will have much time to read between college essays and finals, but they will need something to relax every now and then and NA has the perfect age group focus for it.

  7. Julianna - I wasn't just talking about sex when I meant more exciting and fast paced actually. I think there is an expectation for more excitement in everything. I had a lot of responses that it didn't move fast enough etc from the NA readers, far more than from romance readers.

    My novel is on GoodReads, Reckless Rescue, if you want to see a sample of the reviews.

    I think it's part of finding your audience, and after experimenting with the NA audience, my novel doesn't seem to fit with what they're after, despite it covering some of the topics (A 19yo finding out who she is, and fighting for love, even though it's not what her community agrees with).

    I think there is more of a style of writing and plot, as well as a topic?

    Rinelle Grey

  8. Diana, you make an interesting point. There *have* always been novels with 20ish characters, so it's not so much about the stories but the market. NA appeals to readers who are looking for a particular experience. Just like YA isn't so much about the age, but the subject matter.

    Just because you have a 22 year old protagonist that doesn't make you NA. Same as a teen protagonist isn't always YA. Other aspects are what make the market the market.

    Identifying what those NA elements are will probably be crucial in solidifying the market. It's not about trying to write a "new" market, but to cater to readers in that market who aren't being serviced.

  9. Christina, I also wonder if "the college experience" is too narrow for it. College students *do* tend to be swamped, and not every reader is going to A) want to read about college, and B) be able to relate to college. I think there's probably more to it than that.

  10. Yes. I would agree it is more than age. My first thought was almost every regency romance would've been NA, considering 27 was deemed ancient, dried up spinster, so most stories are 18-25 heroines. Yet, I would believe most don't fit the NA market given pacing and plot expectations.

    That said, it's fun watching and helping a new market expand. Thanks for the links of examples, giving me some summer reading ideas.

  11. I'm a college student who just turned 21, so I have my own take on NA. :) My range of reading is pretty diverse; I still read MG and YA novels as well as adult novels. The wording of "New Adult" is something I find a little exasperating, because 18-25 is still really "young" adult. Many of my friends bristle at the idea of being a new adult, while they whine about "getting old" and having their "quarter-life crisis." It's kind of funny, but I see what they mean. You turn 18 and suddenly society expects you to know everything about being adult and having adult responsibilities. I hope NA books address some of those issues, not just relationships. Hell, relationships are are a cakewalk compared to holding three crappy jobs and paying rent while your professors tell you your generation is doomed but they have to teach you anyway.

    As for what it means to YA, I don't think it's a threat. There have been and will certainly continue to be YA books with older protags; it's not about age but about style. Clearly NA fills a demand that YA didn't, and I don't think readers will go to college and drop all their old reading habits. "NA" just seems like a handy label for a new niche.

  12. I've been fascinated by NA, but a bit disappointed that it seems to be focused around contemporary romance. I don't mind the idea that it might have more sex in it, especially due to the age group, but I don't think it should be a necessary story element.

    The manuscripts I'm working on would likely fall into NA category (science fiction/fantasy). The characters are 18-20, and while the voices lean YA, some of the experiences they're dealing with are that of an adult realm. One of the manuscripts does have sexual tension, while the other has a character that barely recognizes the guy likes her. So... yeah.

    I don't think NA is really a threat to YA, being that it's likely a genre that will have cross-over appeal. I've read a few books on both sides that I think could easily be considered New Adult.

  13. I have to agree with Laura W. I'm a college student (21-years-old) and I also roll my eyes at NA. There are some YA novels that are just as steamy as said NA, though I think those don't do as well for a reason. The adult market is flooded with steamy romance and erotica. I think people read YA to break away from all that. I do. I'm not prude, but I just want something more toned when it comes to romance. Not sex every novel I turn to. I don't pick up adult novels, and I honestly don't see myself doing so because many adult novels lack--I'm not sure I can pinpoint it--but lack something that a lot of YA has.

  14. You know, this is weird, because I never ever thought of NA as just being a steamier version of YA romance. My NA novel isn't really a romance at all - it features new adults, yeah, but it is more about family drama, growing up to stand on your own two feet, overcoming hardship, etc. It does have romance in it but that's not the main focus.

    So I have no idea why NA got lumped in the ONLY romance category (don't get me wrong, I love romance). But shouldn't it be the same as YA in that YA doesn't only have to be YA romance?

  15. Myka, great example.

    Laura, you might have just nailed what NA is all about. The bridge between being a kid and being an adult. Like a new rite of passage.

    Sbibb, from what NA folks here have been saying, it seems like romance is where NA is getting its foothold, and I suspect the broader range of genres will start appearing.

    I don't think it'll threaten YA per se, (we'll always have YA) but I think the big boon sales might shift.

    Erica, I can understand that. I prefer books without a heavy romance component. I don't mind some, but if that's the focus I do tend to get bored. YA typically has great stories about a person struggling with something personal. Not always of course, but more often than not.

    Trisha, I think it'll get there. I never used to see it at all a year ago, and now it's popping up all over. Based on this discussion, I think NA took off in romance so that's where the focus is. Now it's a matter of carving out their niche and identifying what the market actually is. Hmmm...this gives me an idea for another post.

  16. While I don't necessarily like the name New Adult (mainly because it has so many critics) I definitely love how its opened up a category for stories that wouldn't have made it otherwise.

    I wrote a story with the MC starting her first year of university. I couldn't find an reputable agent who wanted to rep a story with an MC of that age "because those books don't sell." I was asked to rewrite it to make the MC at high school, so I did. But when I was picked up by a publisher they found out I had a NA version they wanted to see that and it's that version that's getting published. Amazing the changes in just 3 years. A story that was unpublishable is now getting published.

    There's no sex scene in my story but there's definitely romance. As the category grows and expands into other genres so will people's view of NA.

  17. SM Johnston, great story, and it really shows how things are changing. Best of you with your book!