Wednesday, July 6, 2011

For the Genre Confused: New Adult

Girl with a Pearl EarringSecret Society Girl: An Ivy League NovelThe Time Traveler's WifeGracelingThe Devil Wears Prada

I started the Genre Confused series of blog posts to share interesting lesser known genres.  If you remember from my first post, my own novel doesn't fall perfectly into a genre and part of me wishes that one day I'll stumble on a genre that describes my novel perfectly...and of course it would be nice if that mysterious genre was also the next biggest thing that agents craved.

Today, that actually happened to me when I read this blog post by Vickie Motter.  I thought, "Hey, that's my genre!"  It doesn't totally fix my confusion, but it does help with my YA vs. adult confusion.  

My MC turns eighteen in chapter three and her love interests are eighteen and twenty.  When I was writing my book I didn't realize that my age choices might cause my book to fall in an awkward area between YA and adult.  There is no specific age limit for a book to be called YA, but an MC under eighteen is the norm.  I found myself wondering...can you write books about college students or are their stories destined to be unheard?  Maybe they're just too busy with required reading for school?

New Adult refers to books that fall between YA and adult, in age of characters, theme, and voice.

The characters are likely to be college age, about 18-25 (although 18 and 19 can fit into YA). You know, the age range people call "young adult" in every way except for in literature.  And just like being YA is about more than just having a teenage MC, New Adult books need the have the appropriate age characters and have the voice and themes that fall between YA and adult.  This is how Vickie explains it, "The subject matter probably isn't as serious or explicit as Adult, but neither is the character experiencing a bunch of firsts as in YA. But the character probably is experiencing a new avenue in life."

Kristen Hoffman explains it this way on the GLA blog: "There’s a period of time where adulthood feels like a new pair of shoes. The expectations of independence and self-sufficiency are still new, still being broken in. NewAdults are the people who have just begun to walk in those shoes; New Adultfiction is about their blisters and aches."

The term "New Adult" was born in winter of 2009 when St. Martin's Press held a contest specifically for the New Adult genre.  Dan Weiss and S. Jae-Jones are credited for coining the term.  S. Jae-Jones has several posts about New Adult on her blog.  Here is one of her fantastic posts on the topic: Postadolescent or "New Adult" Fiction.  I got the examples in the photos above from her post New Adult & Shelving.

It's exciting that college-age adults have their place in the genre world, but don't get too excited.  New Adult is obviously a real thing and most agents probably know what it is, but I would think twice about pitching my book as New Adult (unless it's to St. Martin's Press.)  I'm not an expert by any means, but I have read a lot of interviews about what agents are looking for and first one I've seen mention it at all is Vickie Motter.  Many agents probably are open to New Adult, but I would be hesitant to call it that in the query if the agent doesn't specifically say they want it.  Some people advocate for a New Adult shelf on the bookstore, but until it's actually there your book will be classified as YA or adult anyway.  I suggest deciding whether or not your book is YA or adult, going all in one way or the other, and pitch it that way.  If it does turn out to be a crossover enjoyed by "new" adults, then that's gravy.

If you aren't sure whether to go YA or adult, you're not alone, but you must choose!  Here are some articles that may help:

YA vs. Adult: What's so different anyway?
Writing YA versus Adult Fiction: What's the difference?
The Difference Between YA and Adult Literature


  1. I'm currently writing a novel INVOLVING teens but with adult themes and language, which has me concerned when it comes time to find an agent/publisher. The teens help solve a murder that occurred a few decades before they were born.

  2. Hi Library Lady! If your main characters are 14-17 years old and you're writing for a teen audience, then you fit the mold of YA as far as an agent/publisher is concerned. YA books often have "adult themes" and language. There are no specific rules about content allowed in YA, it's all very subjective.