July 22, 2013
How hot is “New Adult”?
by Claire Kelley
Ever since the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago this year, I noticed that there’s a new term being thrown around with increasing frequency in library circles. Even before that, at the end of May, Publishers Lunch announced that the same term would be new sub-genre in their publishing deals roundup. “New Adult” is now the new catchphrase and hot label, but the books it refers to are different from “Young Adult”—the other popular crossover category that sounds deceptively similar.
In a panel at ALA Annual called “New Adult Fiction: What is it and is it really happening,” librarians Sophie Brookover, Kelly Jensen and Elizabeth Burns discussed the genre with a packed room. In their session description, they offer a definition of “New Adult”:
Depending on who you ask, NA either demands its own section of the library or is just a new name to describe books about twenty-somethings, which libraries have always carried. Maybe it’s “young adult books with sex.” Maybe it’s books about emerging adults trying to figure out the world before an uncertain future happens.
Although the term seems to have been coined by a St. Martin’s contest back in 2009, coverage in the mainstream, publishing, and library media has increased in 2013, and everyone is chiming in with a definition.
In April 2013, USA Today explained the basic idea: “Mix the high-octane emotions of youth with the freedom of leaving home and you’ve brewed up a potent new book category called ‘New Adult.'” In June 2013, The Philadelphia Inquirer described NA books as “Navigating the exhilarating, sometimes dangerous chasm between adolescence and adulthood, these novels — aimed at readers out of high school…the setting often is a college campus and the vibe is intense as only young love can be.”
There does seem to be a romance element to the genre, or as Nicole wrote on her blog “Word for Teens,” “new adult is a genre of literature that takes place once a character attends college and slightly after, roughly in the 20-26 range. So far, they’ve been coming of age stories that heavily feature sex and sexuality.” But before getting carried away with the sexuality angle, Cindy Hwang, an executive editor with the Berkley Publishing Group, said during a panel discussion put together by the Publishers Advertising and Marketing Association that “New Adult” might just describe “coming-of-age stories, set in (or just after) college rather than high school,” cautioning that “New Adult” is not merely “sleazy YA.”
So is this new genre really something to fuss about? Could it be that Melville House published a “New Adult” book—The Fallback Plan by Leigh Stein, which is a novel about a girl in her early 20s who has just graduated from college—without even knowing it?
Or on the flip-side, “is a new genre name really all that necessary?”
Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.