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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Year - New Adult

B. A. Binns here, back with the Genreistas again, with a little fable I hope you'll enjoy.

Once upon a time there were two kinds of fiction books, children and adults. Marketers loved this, because the primary audience for both were the same – adults. Children were stuck with the books purchased for them by parents and grandparents.   

One day, an entrepreneur noticed how much disposable income young teens had, and began marketing directly to kids who hated the idea of looking for books in the same shelves as Peter Rabbit or The Bobbsey Twins. The Young Adult category was born. (That whole seeking independence from parents thing ) Now, older adolescents and teens have books, both edgy and sweet, that appeal to directly to them. Many adults also read YA, usually after some book like Harry Potter or Hunger Games takes the teen world by storm and the winds whip all the way to adulthood. 

Technically, Young Adult remains part of the Children’s category, but voracious young readers in the 12-16 age bracket have made it a class by itself. (Yes, I know, kids as young as 10 and old as 18 will read YA, but the core market, the kids who buy and tell all their friends, remains in that middle.)
The End.

Not really.

There is a gap. There are few books about life after high school and before the thirties, when young adults are turning into newly minted adults. New Adults books belong on the Adult shelves, but chronicle the story arcs of protagonists in their late teens or early twenties. They tell stories that belong in college, or during the first years in the workplace, the period some call the Quarterlife Crisis

These books often have trouble finding readers. Many teens are not yet that interested in life after high school. Readers are split, with many twenty-somethings so busy with college and/or getting started in the workplace that one of the last things they want to do with their leisure time is pick up a book. I've heard a number of reader comments about a New Adult category, such as:

  • I can't imagine anyone wanting to read books about 20 somethings learning how not to be mooches and leeching off family and society or wondering what to do next while they work to get out of debt. I wouldn't even consider reading such depressing topics for entertainment.
  • I'm 21 and fresh out of college, and I'm stuck living at home and working in retail. In some ways I'm grown up and in other ways I might as well be 16 all over again. I can definitely see a market for books dealing with characters in this situation.
Is there a market for New Adult books – probably. How authors/publishers can reach that market is the great unknown.  

Last year I discussed the New Adult category with authors writing for that audience. Heather Burch, author of a new paranormal series about beings called Halflings, Clover Autry with her books in the Annointed series, and Ophelia Julien author of Saving Jake. Here are their thoughts:


Protagonists need to be old enough so they aren’t bound by normal teen restraints, but young enough that things like first love are still monumental. (As monumental as saving the world).


 My plots usually have something to do with accepting who you are despite what everyone else tells you that you need to be, and finding ones way back.


 My protagonists had to be old enough to go off on their own without parental guidance (tracking demons). They have also passed the coming-of-age situation and have more confidence. They are good at their job and know it, while at the same time they feel the weight of responsibility for others. Younger YA is more inner reflective of who am I. New Adult is more where do I fit in society, can I make a difference in the world?

What do you think?

How do you feel about New Adult books? Is there really a need for these novels? Would you be interested in characters meeting the challenges of this time of life? Comment below with your thoughts. If you have a favorite New Adult book, tell the world. Besides the works of these authors, some of my favorites can be found in a New Adult post.

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Diana Mcc. said...

Very interesting post! I had no idea that a New Adult category existed.
The only YA books I've read are: "Don't Die Dragonfly" and The Twilight series, just to find out what all the hype was about.

Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

In the 90s I watched an entire "after college" generation switch from books to movies. They were still interested in great stories, but they preferred to get them via the multi-dimensional video method. If the movie was good, then they read the book it was based on. My daughter graduated college last year, and her group made the same transition. I think it's just part of the process: as they become self-directed consumers creating their own life-story, the "outside" stories they are attracted to have to fit into very tight schedules as they work and explore the world.

LizbethSelvig said...

Hi Barbara,
I sure hope a category like this takes off, for several reasons. I think it would be great to have a "safe" home for topics that are so important to older young adults: being caught up in the world, trying to make it in the world, learning to take responsibility, transitioning from learning to doing and all the pressures and temptations that come along with it. I'm relatively new to the YA market in terms of reading, but I love it. Can't imagine the amazing writers out there wouldn't come up with amazing older YA books!

Paty Jager said...

It sounds like a niche that hasn't really been thought of before. I can see the constraints but I can also see where there would be readers for such books. Interesting.

Ophelia Julien said...

I didn't know there was a category called New Adults, but I like it. I think YA has just gotten so popular due to Harry Potter growing up, the success of The Hunger Games, and of course, Twilight. I find it thrilling and amusing to see how many recent and upcoming movies are based on books for the young: I Am Four, The War Horse, and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, to name a few. In the end, the age of the protagonists doesn't matter - in a well-written story, what hooks the reader/viewer is becoming involved with sympathetic characters dealing with whatever situations they find themselves in, and rooting for them to succeed.

Heather Burch said...

Its interesting to see the connection between books and movies here. Halflings has received quite a bit of attention in Hollywood before the book came out. It releases in a few days (btw) Hollywood is scanning New Adult titles for movies! Looks like things are getting ready to burst open.

Sarah Raplee said...

do you think that Chic Lit was a New Adult sub-genre?

I believe there is an audience for these books. 'Where do I fit in society' and 'how can I make a difference in the world' are vital questions for older youth.

I would add the themes of, 'Who do I choose to become?' and 'what do I want to spend my energy doing?'

B. A. Binns said...

I fear too many people in their twenties don't understand the value of a good read for entertainment. That's a part of the problem, the people who might be the real readers don't understand the value of books. So the bookd have trouble getting traction. But we still right htem, because they are the stories in our hearts.

jamieayres said...

I first heard about the New Adult at RWA Nationals 2010. I was very intrigued b/c I feel like my books could fit very well into that category, but it's difficult for an agent/publisher to take a leap of faith on a unpubbed nobody like me, let alone with a new genre, right? Speaking of which, if any of you are seeking an agent, I'm hosting a query contest on my blog this week so check it out or spread the word if you're so inclined:):)

danya said...

Thanks for this post! I definitely think there's a market with untapped potential there — not just for the 20-somethings figuring out their futures, but also for the older teens who are wondering what college/work/life-after-high-school is like. In fact, I'm hosting a reading challenge this year for "New Adult" books, if you'd like to check it out. I'm hoping to get this category of books and reader demographic some more attention in the blogosphere!

Judith Ashley said...

Interesting post, B.A.

I agree that many older Young Adults do not see the benefit in a good read; they prefer movies, etc. I'm afraid the shorter and faster the better rules many of their lives and the joy that I experience from spending an evening or a day reading a good book is seen as 'boring'.

However, since they are movie lovers - screenplays might be the way to go. Has anyone writting a book based on a movie?

Shanna said...

I think it would be profitable to have a genre like this. I am 25 and I know a lot of people who read both adult and YA books. I feel like most adult books are written for people older than me (30s and above), while YA can be more geared toward teens. However, I personally know lots of people my age who still read YA because the characters and themes there are often grown up enough to support their interest, even if the characters are not their age. I like reading YA because of that reason and I even read J Fic because of that. I am a J Fic writer though. I think if the theme and the quality of the book is good enough, all ages will read it. However, it would be nice to have someone to relate to when I am 25 feel like I'm stuck between teenagehood and adulthood. I am still living at home even though I have a college degree. I think that experience needs to be put out there. It's a unique one, yet a lot of us are living it behind the scenes.


B. A. Binns said...

Judith, I attended a seminar from Michael Hauge - and now know enough to know it's not my area. It is its own genre, with its own very strict rules. And trying to write a book based on a movie would have the same copyright and licensing issues as a movie based on a book.