Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Is "New Adult" the new "Young Adult" reader age category?

I came across the term "New Adult" recently as an emerging reader age range (not "genre" as it is often mislabelled) and wondered what it was. After all, we already have Young Adult and Adult fiction...

What's the gap in the market that New Adult claims to fill?
What is New Adult anyway?

As with "Young Adult" - its well established predecessor - the definitions can vary widely enough to confuse.

What's "Young Adult"?

Young Adult can also be described as "young adult literature" or "juvenile fiction" - and is often given the acronym "YA". It's generally aimed at adolescents/teenagers and young adults, although many adults read YA work.You could characterize a YA novel by use of a teen protagonist, key issues relating to that age range as a focus for the storyline, or a "coming of age" theme.

YA work can span across all genres - as YA is an age range, not a genre in it's own right - and work tends to be characterized by work appealing to the generally assumed teen audience.

The age range varies, however. Some argue that YA is 13-25, some 16-25 (preceded by a "Teen" age range of 10-15), some 13-19... You see the problem! We get the general idea that it's aimed at teenagers generally - but crudely speaking, what age is "too young" for YA? What's "too old"?

Here's where New Adult appeared to help out a little - but as with everything, each silver lining has a hidden rain cloud.

What's New Adult?

New Adult (or "New adult literature", or "NA") was first marketed by Martin Press in 2009, who decided there was a gap in the market for "fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an 'older YA' or 'new adult", although that's been translated as "basically a Young Adult book with sex and cursing thrown in."
This suggests that NA could encompass all genres, yet Angela James, the editorial director of Carina Press, describes NA as "a genre that fills the gap between YA and contemporary romance." That seems far more limiting and perhaps gives an impression of NA as a shady romance genre too mature for teens/minors, but not mature enough for an adult romance audience. Is that a correct perception? It's hard to say.

Again, the age range of "ideal" readers varies, although it seems to be consistently described as around 18-25/30 years old. It still raises the same questions, however; what age is "too young" for NA? What's "too old"?

Why is NA different to YA?

An NA novel could be defined by a protagonist/characters older than those in YA - of a similar age to the intended audience - but one key difference seems to be the inclusion of more mature themes. The NA fiction range appears heavily focused in the romance genre - whether it's strengthening in other genres such as SF&F (Science Fiction and Fantasy) remains to be seen. 

I recognise that NA aims to further focus marketing by the publishing industry, but on the other hand, it could be quite a constricting measure that disengages readers. Rudimentary age ranges are used in both YA and NA fiction marketing - however, in reality, reading transcends age, so should readers be put into such boxes, labelled and classified by age? Who's to say that an adult couldn't still enjoy the works of Enid Blyton, or a child the works of Tolkien?

This was a particularly heated extract I found. It raises a really valid point about the perceived quality of classifying writing into age groupings;
New Adult is a label that is condescending to readers and authors alike. It implies that the books act as training wheels between Young Adult and Adult. For the New Adult books that are particularly childish, the label implies that they are a step above Young Adult--which is insulting to the Young Adult books that are far superior. For the New Adult books that are particularly sophisticated, the label implies that they are not worthy of being considered "adult." It's a lose-lose situation for everyone.
"The problem with new adult books" by Lauren Sarner, Huffington Post.

So, is NA the new YA?

Ultimately, we have a proposed new reader age range on our hands here, which requires us, as independent authors, to make a conscious choice on how we define our work when it's on the adult side of YA.

Should we market our books as YA, or NA?

I find this especially difficult to decide given the potential grey area on mature content which may crop up in the second Book of Caledan. I personally don't think I could market book 1 as YA, but then book 2 as NA - I'm sure that would split, confuse and frustrate readers.

However, I wouldn't class the series itself as NA overall. Besides, in what appears to currently be a romance dominated category, I get the feeling I'd only be shooting myself in the foot if I marketed my current series as NA, despite the fact that yes, my protagonists are older teens/in their early twenties and yes, there may be more mature themes on the way in book 2.

Furthermore, NA has been around for 5 years so far, yet is not particularly well recognised. When did you last see "New Adult" pop up on the categories list at Amazon? Well, it doesn't. Similarly, few other publishers/retailers recognise it, despite growing interest and a growing number of particularly self published authors classifying their work as NA.

Should we jump on the NA bandwagon and help it diversify into genres other than romance? Or do we stick to good old familiar YA? Is there even a need for NA when we already have YA and Adult categories?

NA certainly doesn't seem to be a replacement of the YA category - and I don't think NA will ever replace YA - just a niche within/crossing into it. For now, I'll be sticking to YA, but I'm interested to see where NA is in a few years time - I think it has potential, but I don't feel it fulfils it yet.

I'd love to hear what you think! Please comment below, or catch up with me on facebook or twitter to have your say.

Ciao for now,



  1. Interesting post, Meg! I agree that defining YA and NA etc by the age of the reader, or even the protagonist, is a slightly pointless exercise.

    I tend to regard NA fiction as a genre in its own right - it's not the age of the protagonist, or whether or not there is sex and swearing, that determines if something is NA fiction. Instead, it is the type of issues that characters in NA fiction face. To me, NA fiction is all about the struggle to find a meaningful foothold in the adult world. It's about trying to make the transition to adulthood but finding something is lacking, that your expectations aren't met. And then figuring out how to make a place for yourself that works for you.

    Anyway, that's just my opinion, but it's something I've put a bit of thought into:

    1. Hi, Thanks for the comment & link, Linda! :-)

      I'm on the fence as to whether it's best to regard it as a reader demographic/genre in its own right - but I do agree with what you say. I think there's no point in excluding readers/writers based on the age of their characters, but rather the purpose of the text.

      I think that YA is so strong because it's less limiting than what NA currently seems to be and successfully encompasses a really broad range of work under it's umbrella. As you say in your article.. it's dangerous to try and generalise YA and NA. Sadly, I think it's inevitable when you put such indicators/labels such as age range on a piece of work, and more confusing still when you consider the shifting/overlapping age ranges between YA, NA, middle grade, etc.

      I wonder... if you could change "NA" for a genre label that better describes it... would you and if so, what would you choose?