How We Can Save New Adult Lit

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

I’ve noticed two things lately that have utterly bummed me out.

  1. The literary category New Adult has become nearly synonymous with “weird soft porn.”
  2. Authors who previously identified as NA writers are now scrambling to escape that description.

This was kind of a cause/effect. I think a lot of authors had certain goals and expectations for NA, then found that readers had another set of notions entirely. I’m seeing more and more frustrated authors. I’m also seeing an almost mass exodus from NA to Young Adult or even adult fiction.

Part of me wants to beg these authors not to leave. The other part of me totally understands. Who the hell can compete with abduction and stalker “romance”?

The problem is, the term “New Adult” became a kind of catchphrase, a wave for authors to ride. Anyone could slap that term on their book and sell it, because there were hungry readers who loved the initial NA invasion and wanted more, now. It didn’t take long for readers to become almost conditioned to think that these non-NA books were NA through and through. Some readers even avoid NA altogether now because there’s a certain connotation that goes with it.

And so the category is dying a fast, painful death. But what can those of us who still believe in NA do? Can we save ourselves from the drowning ship?

I’m seeing some authors re-branding their NA books as YA or adult. While it might make sense for some titles depending on content and subject matter, this is not necessarily the answer. Those three stages of life are vastly different from each other. My problems as a teen, twenty-something, and now nearly thirty-year-old are like comparing VHS to DVDs to Blu-ray. They will continue evolving as I advance.

I still think the lit world needs that bridge. When I was a bumbling nineteen-year-old, I could’ve really used a book like Jennifer Armentrout’s Scorched or Sarina Bowen’s The Year We Fell Down. These books wouldn’t have yet spoken to me as a high school student. As a twenty-seven-year-old—almost 28, oh my—I can read books featuring NA characters and look back on my own years with nostalgia. The older I get, though, the more I identify with books by Jodi Picoult or Diana Gabaldon.

Readers need to be able to relate to characters. Sometimes, those pretend people are all that get us through our days, simply because we know we’re not alone.

If you’re writing NA lit, keep doing what you’re doing. There are people out there who need your books.

I’m not sure that we can defeat those “other” books any more than we can end piracy. All we can do is continue what we’re doing: writing great books that people can relate to. The rest will come.

Update, April 5th, 2016: Wow! When I wrote this post, I figured I was basically shouting into the void. I shared this on Kboards, Stumble Upon, and all over Facebook and Twitter, and the response has been almost overwhelming. thesios on Kboards suggested I band with other NA authors and cross-promote, so I’ve started a little project. For now I’m starting small, by organizing NA authors by genre so that we can cross-polinate each other in our newsletters. The group is growing quickly, and we have a nice variety of genres. I’m so happy that it’s not just me who loves NA so much! If you’re an NA author and would like to collaborate with us, please join our group.

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Elizabeth Barone

Elizabeth Barone is an American novelist who writes contemporary romance and suspense starring strong belles who chose a different path. Her debut novel Sade on the Wall was a quarterfinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. She is the author of the South of Forever series and several other books.

When not writing, Elizabeth is very busy getting her latest fix of Yankee Candle, spicy Doritos chips, or whatever TV show she’s currently binging.

Elizabeth lives in northwestern Connecticut with her husband, a feisty little cat, and too many books.

18 thoughts on “How We Can Save New Adult Lit”

  1. Personally, I think the New Adult category is rather confusing. When you’re 18, then you’re considered officially an “adult.” YA to me is 12-ish to 17 years of age. Of course I’m a mature adult who’s been reading YA lately and enjoying the story lines.

    I know for a fact a lot of authors tried to hide their erotica under the New Adult category due to all the Amazon censoring of erotica books. For me as an author, I’m not seeing the value of a New Adult category. I find it confusing, and as a reader, I’m not particularly drawn to it. Unfortunately for those who like this category, maybe it needs to go.

    1. NA serves the gap between those teen years—which I think are more fourteen to seventeen; twelve is more middle grade—and that “Ah, I’ve got this adult stuff mostly figured out now. I shall go forth!” moment. It’s the “figuring things out” stage of life when you’re no longer tethered to your parents but also not a seasoned “adulting” vet.

      Yep—it was quite the chain reaction that brought us here. Thanks, Amazon. 😝

      I really don’t think it needs to go. Maybe I’m stubborn or delusional. I think it’ll stabilize eventually—if nurtured the way YA was. No one really took YA seriously for quite a while. It was mostly ignored when I was a teen. Then it exploded, becoming more diverse and a category of its own with a wide range of genres. This was only because YA authors kept writing.

  2. I don’t want to see this category go. It’s a great bridge for those readers just leaving their teen years and entering adulthood. But if the category ends up dying out, it will only be a temporary thing before it comes back again. We see it time and again with pretty much all the genres out there.

    I write primarily New Adult Romance, and I currently have no intentions of ‘running away’ from my ‘New Adult’ brand anytime soon. I try to bring a little different flavor to my New Adult books, though. I write multicultural characters, and stories that are told primarily from the male POV. I write what I like to read, and if other people like it, too, then that’s bonus points.

    It’s always sad to see a genre phase out. But just as quickly as it goes, it comes right back again. Usually a movie or bestselling book will make that happen.

    And look on the bright side: the more authors pull out of the NA category, the less competition for you 🙂

    Don’t lose hope! Keep writing what you love! 🙂

  3. Love your thoughts – really didn’t know this stigma was attached to NA! I’m kind of dumbfounded right now, since I’ve been querying my new book at NA… let’s hope those agents don’t read “creepy stalker.”

    So sad, because I would love to have a genre that’s a step above YA, but with the same gist. So frustrating!

    1. I wouldn’t sweat it. Keep querying! I think there are still plenty of readers who want NA books, who are looking for something different from the overaggressive alphas.

      It’s super frustrating but I think as long as we keep writing it, we’ll find our audience. 🙂

  4. Before someone invented the NA classification, new adult novels existed–but they used to be called *bildungsroman* (coming-of-age) novels. They were distinguished from YA in that the YA main character stays in that limited age range. A bildungsroman, in contrast, might include some childhood episodes; what it always includes is the main character’s full entry into adulthood.

    Familiar examples of the bildungsroman include Jane Eyre, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, David Copperfield, Little Women.

    Some of the classic examples of the bildungsroman were considered *hot* in their day–The Red and the Black, Tom Jones, and Wuthering Heights.

    Even that limited list of titles shows us that coming-of-age novels can be significant, popular, and enduring.

    Maybe we can use the phrase *coming of age* (COA) instead of NA, and start afresh?

    1. Great point! The classics went there long before we did. They were just never marketed as NA.

      I’ve seen coming of age themes in a lot of YA books, so it might trip people up if it became its own genre and replaced the NA category. I’ve filed my books under coming of age before, especially an NA that has hardly any romance. (Amazon has NA as a sub-genre of romance at the moment.) Who knows? It could work!

  5. Thanks for this blog entry! It covers something that’s concerned me for a while.

    I wrote a New Adult first draft two NaNoWriMo’s ago and am now revising it for query. There was a little sex, but I was told to add more. In the end there are ‘scenes’; but it’s not what I’d considering soft porn. Being as it takes place the MC’s senior year of college, I don’t think it could be anything but NA.

    I’ve had nothing but fun with this MS, so I hope it can find the right market.

    1. Thank you for stopping by!

      For what it’s worth, most of my NA books only have one or two sex scenes. Two have zero (but there is kissing), another is merely fade to black. I don’t think NA has to be synonymous with “sexcapades.” Keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll find it! And you can always self-publish. We have cookies. 🙂

  6. I think what NA *could* be is a younger skew on contemporary romance. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a contemp romance about characters my age (30s) or younger who sound NOTHING like people I know. The guys don’t play video games (neither do the women, and I’m a gamer AND I pay a mortgage–imagine that!), they use Facebook but not other forms of social media, and the language about dating sounds more like what someone who is older might have gone through.

    Being a fellow romance writer (YA) I’ve been to the writer conferences and I see the ages of romance writers–they skew mid-life and older often. I think what NA offered was a younger angle to romance that definitely was missing.

    I agree with you that NA can’t simply be switched to YA–they are different, and it’s irresponsible to readers to pretend they are the same just because of a market swing. I think there is room for YA set in college and also think contemporary romance needs to build readership with a younger audience. In the same way I gravitated toward The Devil Wears Prada and Bridget Jones back in the 2000s, there are savvy readers who want more than small town cowboy romances. The authors who get this I think will survive. It’s not a gimmick, it’s about filling that gap in the market that you describe.

    Now that indie publishing is evening out a bit, I think we’ll see which brands/ authors survive. I’m all about more stories reaching more people 🙂

    1. See, I only see romance as a sub-genre of NA. It’s more like a demographic, the same way YA is. There are YA urban fantasies, YA dramas, and YA romances. Their common thread is the age group. I was really hoping to see NA branch out more like YA did, but I think it may need some more time. It took YA quite a while, after all.

  7. I too strongly believe that NA is an important genre that needs to stay, and that it needs to move away from the “twenty-somethings having lots of sex”.

    Where YA is coming of age, figuring out who you are, NA is about defining yourself as an adult both in your own eyes and in the eyes of your parents, (and other adults).

  8. I hope NA can expand because it’s a worthy category that needs to go beyond the sexual relationships of 20somethings. That’s an important part of being a new adult, but there are other sources of conflict and tension when everything is new to characters.

    1. Agreed! Sexuality is a huge part of early adulthood, but there are many more struggles that NA lit can explore. I love sex, so don’t get me wrong. I just don’t want to see NA continue to be stigmatized as “trashy.” Like YA, NA is a big playground full of opportunity and ingenuity.

  9. This is a great article, and I too believe NA is an important way to not only classify books, but to represent characters I never used to see.
    I started writing/publishing NA Mystery because I never got the representation of college-aged main characters, or main characters who were just beginning their careers (be it as a police officer/detective, or the female sleuth out her own for the first time, etc.) in my previously read mystery, suspense, and thrillers.
    Like you, I love the fact that as I’m turning 30, I can relate to those NA characters, having just been there/done that. I hope people continue writing these books, and making it known they are NA, because readers are still looking for them.
    I believe it’s more difficult for them to find NA books in sub genres like mine (which they would probably find completely different plots from NA Romance, and perhaps a fresh take), but the themes of becoming adults, and being on their own for many firsts would remain throughout.

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