No Longer a Teenager, Not Quite an Adult

The Sweet Spot of the New Adult Seven years ago, St. Martin’s Press ran a contest requesting “cutting-edge fiction with protagonists who are slightly older than young adults (YA)... fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an older YA or new adult.”

Readers and writers alike clung to the phrase new adult—publishers and bookstores not so much. But the genre was born without them, with indie and self-published writers tapping away at their keys and doing it well themselves.

The new adult genre, as it’s known today, typically focuses on characters aged between eighteen and thirty. It involves mature themes that might be glossed over or not included in young adult literature —such as sexual assault, drug and alcohol abuse, and sex and sexuality.

Author Cora Carmack, one of the early new adult authors wrote on her blog in 2012, “

New Adult is the ‘I’m officially an adult, now what?’ phase.” Carmack felt so connected to new adult that when publishers were still wary of the genre, she self-published her first novel Losing It.

Shortly after the publication, Carmack signed with an agent, ended up on the New York Times ebook bestseller list, and received a six-figure three book deal with HarperCollins. And it shouldn’t have been a surprise. A 2012 study by Bowker found that fifty-five percent of what publishers deem young adult books are bought by people over eighteen—with the highest concentration of buyers being between the ages of thirty and forty-four. And seventy-eight percent of the time they admitted they’re buying the book for themselves.

Other authors, such as Jamie McGuire and Abbi Glines have followed suit in self-publishing their work, marking a trend for the genre as a whole. That is to say, many new adult books are being released by the author, primarily in ebook format.

This is because finding a place for new adult work in traditional bookstores can be tricky, after all. A steamy and damaging college football romance doesn’t belong on the same shelf as a John Green novel. Nor does it belong with Nora Roberts or Junot Díaz. It defies traditional classification.

But, with the genre finding spots on the New York Time Bestseller list, publishers have started to change their tune. Experimental publisher Entangled even created a New Adult imprint titled Embrace.

That’s not to say that the genre has gained complete recognition and acceptance. A lot of people in the industry still debate about whether New Adult should be considered a standalone genre, or if it should be lumped in as a subgenre of young adult or adult fiction. There’s also controversy around the content, because the way some people describe New Adult is the bridge between Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

Yes, the books do have more explicit sex scenes than your typical Sarah Dessen novel. But, then there’s the fact that twenty-somethings have more relationships that result in sex than young teenagers. And while there’s going to be a couple books that are just overdone with the drama and sex—a couple books that just aren’t good, the same can be said for any genre.

Personally, we like the sex scenes, but what does our opinion matter?

Photo by Soleil Hyland.