New Adult Novel Category

by Alice Beesley

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My first novel—a contemporary adventure/romance about a young woman who fights forest fires one summer in order to earn money to study art in Paris—has a protagonist who is eighteen years old and has justgraduated from high school. At the time I wrote it ten years ago, I thought I was writing a YA novel, but an editor at a conference told me my protagonist was too old for YA.

But my character was too young for adult. So where did the story fit? I finished the novel and set it aside after submitting it to publishers and receiving rejections. There seemed to be no category for a novel about a college age protagonist, so I retired my manuscript and worked on a novel with a younger protagonist.

Recently, when a publisher called for romance novels, I pulled my old manuscript out, dusted it off (well, actually, I opened the old file on my computer), revised it, and again submitted it as a YA novel.The editor took an interest in the story but said I needed to add about 30,000 words for it to fit into the adult category.

Huh? So was it an adult novel or a YA? I was so confused. Turns out it’s neither.

The protagonist in my third novel is also a high school graduate. One of my critique group members told me my novel had the same problem as oneof hers—an eighteen-year-old protagonist. Too old for YA. Too young for adult. What to do? Scrap the novels? Change the ages of my main characters? No and no.

Another writer friend of mine who has published in the YA genre told me my story was new adult. Hmm? I’d never heard of that category before but felt excited to finally find a home for my novels. A previous critique partner of mine hosted a query contest on her blog, and I was excited to see that many of the agents involved were looking for NA novels. Intrigued, I did a little research and here’s the scoop on NA novels:

  • NA bridges the gap between young adult and adult genres.
  • It typically features protagonists between the agesof 18 and 26.
  • NA fiction is a recent catregory of fiction for young adults first proposed by St. Martins press in 2009 when they held a contest for NA fiction.
  • NA addresses the coming of age that also happens in a young person’s twenties. They are still finding their way in life and figuring out what it means to be an adult.
  • It’s a lucrative cross over category of YA titles that appeal to the YA market and adults. Publishes favor NA novels because they encompass a larger audience.
  • NA involves the insight often lacking in YA. It involves life experience, loss of innocence. Perspective, experience, insight an deals with the past, present, and future, not just the here and now.
  • It’s becoming increasingly poplar in self-publishing. Publishing houses are taking self-published authors of these titles and acquiring them for mass market sales.
  • Content tends to be more mature and involve more explicit sex and romance scenes. Most of the titles I looked up reminded me of Harlequin romances on the cover with semi nude bodies embracing. (Since I don’t write that sort of thing, I hope there’s room for books without that!)
  • A couple of NA titles are Tammara Webber’s Easy, and Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster.

“As much as I dislike the term ‘New Adult’ (I find it confusing and, frankly, boring), there is a strong need for books about characters ages 18-24,” wrote Karen Van Sleet Grove, who identified herself on the Publishers Weekly website as editorial director and senior editor at Entangled Publishing. “They’re no longer dealing with the minefield of high school but are now testing the waters of being ‘adult’ … A story told from this perspective of ‘newness’ and experimentation will speak to those embarking on a new life in the adult world.”

About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

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6 comments
Nikki Trionfo
Nikki Trionfo

Yeah, I keep telling myself that New Adult is really just a romance category and not for my kind of standards, but then again, once the shelf is there, it'll need to be filled, and that might mean a broader scope, eventually. Have you heard anything about whether there's room in NA for something other than a romance story arc? Say, a suspense?

Chas Hathaway
Chas Hathaway

Awesome! Glad to know there's a term for that. I've met a ton of authors that write for that group, and I didn't realize there was a term for them. Thanks, Alice!

Jennifer Bennett
Jennifer Bennett

18 and older is considered "New Adult". I think it's a fun new category. These are all the kids who grew up with Harry Potter and expect a good story from writers. The possibilities are endless. Look at this as an adventure!

Konstanz Silverbow
Konstanz Silverbow

I find this very interesting. I am currently writing a book where the main character(s) are all between 17 and 19. So I am assuming it would fall under New Adult? But like you said, there is no "adult" content. (Language/sex) So what do I do? Just make it very clear in my query letter that it is a clean novel for that genre? Thank you for all the information though. I will hold onto this post for future reference.

alice
alice

I keep looking for NA novels that aren't romance but haven't seen one yet. I hope there's room for suspense and other genres! I have learned that since my novel for that age group does not contain sex it would be considered older YA even though my characters just graduated from high school and are college bound.

Alice Beesley
Alice Beesley

I don't think you need to point out that your novel is clean or not in the query letter. You can just say what it's about and let it speak for itself.