New Adult & Shelving

Rachel (who still needs a better cognomen) and I have a household imp or a brownie. We’ve given him a name–Elijah–in the hopes that will appease his tricksy ways. (He’s especially fond of hiding our silverware.) It seemed to have worked for a while, but we may now need to leave him a plate of bread and milk at night. This morning I tore my apartment apart looking for my work ID (which I swear was in my wallet last night) only to find it sitting very nicely on my desk right before I ran out the door. I hope you like doughnut holes, Elijah!

I’ve received a few questions about New Adult that I will try and answer to the best of my ability. Clearly this is a new venture, so I can’t foresee/predict/broadcast anything concrete yet. However, I will address questions as I can.

Where does New Adult belong?

On the adult shelves. The target audience are people in their late teens and twenties, the college-aged and post-undergraduate crowd. Now, this doesn’t mean we don’t want other readers picking up our books, of course, but for marketing purposes, this is what Dan is telling the Powers That Be. Now, the question of whether or not “New Adult” will be it’s own section in a bookstore (the way YA is its own section) is largely up to the booksellers, but we are hoping there is enough momentum in this category to warrant that. One of the things I love about YA is that all of the genres are shelved together: contemporary, science fiction, fantasy, romance, etc. and I hope that one day this will happen for us as well.

Aren’t there already books published in this category?

Yes, there are, but the category has not yet been created. A few examples (I’ve tried to include a few genre examples as well):

  • THE GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING by Tracy Chevalier
  • EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • The KUSHIEL’S LEGACY series by Jacqueline Carey
  • KAFKA ON THE SHORE by Haruki Murakami
  • NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman
  • THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA by Lauren Weisberger
  • THE NANNY DIARIES by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
  • The NIGHT HUNTRESS series by Jeaniene Frost
  • BLACK SWAN GREEN by David Mitchell
  • MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA by Arthur Golden
  • THE TIME-TRAVELER’S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger
  • SECRET SOCIETY GIRL by Diana Peterfreund

YA novels that I think could have been published in this category:

  • A CURSE DARK AS GOLD by Elizabeth C. Bunce
  • ASH by Malinda Lo
  • THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak (yes, I know this was published as adult in Australia)
  • GRACELING by Kristin Cashore (also published adult abroad)

Why do you need to create a New Adult category?

It’s not a question of need so much as it’s a question of niche. Before picture books, MG, and YA were created, all children’s books were shelved together. I remember seeing “Young Adult” shelves in my favourite bookstore when I was about 12 or 13 and now it is its own section of Vroman’s. (I learned later that I had my boss to thank for that. He was instrumental in developing the YA genre–publishing for “older children” or teens.)

Every niche has a target audience: for MG it’s 9-12, for YA it’s 12-18, sometimes 14-18. This, of course, doesn’t mean that its readers are ONLY those ages. I love YA and it’s been years since I graduated high school. I’ve had criticism leveled at us for being “ageist”–that was not our intent. I find it interesting how many people in their 20s don’t consider themselves “grown up” yet. One of my friends refuses to refer to herself as a “woman”–she is a girl, thank you.

“Why?” I asked. “You’re female, you’re 25, are completely independent of your parents, and you have your own life.”

“Because,” she said, “I’m not settled yet. I have a job, but it’s not my career or vocation. I have a boyfriend, but I can’t even think about marriage or family right now. I pay my own rent and bills, but I’m struggling with my finances and figuring out how to be responsible with it. Where am I going? What am I doing? I have no idea.”

We might have jobs, marriages, and some even mortgages (lucky bastards), but we still haven’t settled into our adult skins. I still think of myself as a “girl” too–I’m 24, engaged, and I’ve been a “responsible” adult for over 4 years now, but somehow I still feel like a fraud.

I remember being 20 years old and starting my first job in the “real world”, as my parents call it. It paid very well and I became financially independent of Mum and Dad. I was also one of the youngest people in the office. In some ways, I found being a young adult in the “real world” a lonely place; my friends still in college suddenly seemed so much younger than me, even if the age difference was only a matter of a few months. My best friend and roommate Sofa (who, like me, had just graduated and was working a high-paying job at a law firm) and I spent a lot of nights drinking cheap wine out of coffee mugs and smoking cigarettes in our stairwell, waiting to feel “real”, to have that sense of confidence, competence, belonging, and all the markers of being a “grown up” that seemed just out of reach. Our parents were still the first persons we called if we needed help–emotionally and mentally, but even for what was common sense advice about who to call if we had a mouse problem (and boy, do Manhattan apartments have mouse problems).

I’m 24, engaged, with an actual career, my own apartment, and my mother is still listed as my emergency contact.

I don’t see a lot of fiction in the adult market that deals with this strange in-between place, with “post-adolescence”. And if it’s there, it’s not very easy to find.

What about chick lit?

A lot of chick lit would fall into this category, absolutely. But I think there are other genres that might dovetail nicely. A lot of urban fantasy, for one. Perhaps the reason a lot of urban fantasy is popular is because often the protagonist is thrust into an entirely different and new world (“adulthood”) and must learn to cope with and navigate it. I like post-apocalyptic myself: when the world has ended you gotta grow up pretty damn fast, even if you’re not ready or don’t know how.

What about YA and New Adult? Do you expect younger readers to read up?

As much as I expect us older readers to read “down”. I freaking love YA and I don’t consider it reading “down” (even if the industry does). Teens read adult fiction as well as YA–I did when I was a teenager.

Then why New Adult?

I will be straight–adult fiction is flailing. Why? I can’t possibly tell you. Are publishers are looking to “tap” into YA’s popularity? Of course. Why is YA popular but adult fiction not? I don’t know. Personally speaking, most of my discretionary income goes into buying YA, not adult, and I’m not YA’s target audience. Do I find great fiction in the adult sections of the store? Absolutely. But it’s harder–I have to wade through all lot that doesn’t interest me: divorces, having a family, affairs, mid-life crises. I’m closer in age and in place in life to teens than I am to someone who is 35.

Another issue is, there is a lot of great fiction out there with younger protagonists that languish unsold because it’s “too old for the YA market”. I know of writers who have had to “age down” their protagonists to fit it into what the publishing industry thinks will sell. Why aren’t they published as adult? I think there are certain expectations of adult fiction that don’t exist in YA–the same way there are expectations of what being an “adult” is. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but the honest truth is that there just isn’t a defined market for this sort of fiction and my boss thinks there is.

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13 Responses to New Adult & Shelving

  1. Kelley 13 Nov 2009 at 6:30 pm #

    About. Time.

    Forget the imp. Your boss deserves a donut hole.

  2. Jodi Meadows 13 Nov 2009 at 7:39 pm #

    Thanks for more on this, JJ. You’ve answered some great questions. I hope this will put minds at ease. I *love* the idea of NA; I really hope it takes off.

  3. Claudia 13 Nov 2009 at 7:52 pm #

    That’s a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius…

    Sort of surprised to see Time Traveler’s Wife on the list. Seems pretty mainstream/all ages to me.

  4. Kristan 13 Nov 2009 at 8:36 pm #

    I agree with Claudia: I’m not sure about ALL of your choices… (Oscar Wao, for example, struck me as odd. I didn’t feel that it spoke to a wide audience of “new adults” – but rather *about* a niche group, in a way that appealed to people of many ages.)

    BUT your overview of what New Adult is, and *why* it is, and why it’s going to be a part of the future literary landscape, is excellent! Thank you! I totally identify with the descriptions you gave, and I look forward to reading (and writing) what emerges in this genre.

  5. Cate Hart 14 Nov 2009 at 2:04 pm #

    Here,here! I’m thirty-five and I still don’t want to read about divorces, mid-life crisis, terminal illness, ect. In fact, most of what I’ve read in the last few years is on your list – Memoirs of a Geisha being my favorite. I definitely think that NA is going to take off. And I think that you could add Jane Austen to that list; Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility fit 19th Century characteristics of new adults.

  6. Steve 16 Nov 2009 at 1:47 am #

    You said:

    “I will be straight–adult fiction is flailing. Why? I can’t possibly tell you.”

    I can tell you in one sentence. Most of what is in the adult fiction section of the bookstore is just boring.

    Maybe this is because YA is looser in what “rules” have to be followed to be picked up by an agent or publisher.


  7. Barb Ferrer 16 Nov 2009 at 8:39 am #

    I think it’s really exciting and something that’s been needed for a long time– my first two YA novels had protagonists that were 17 & 18/19 respectively and moreover, were the youngest characters in the books. Neither one was set in high school and the themes they explored weren’t necessarily of the dark, preternaturally adult type, but more of the going out into the world and learning who you are type.

    My third YA I just recently sold to St. Martin’s– I have no idea if it’s going to be considered within this “new adult” designation, but I suspect it might– again, I have an 18 year-old protagonist, she’s the youngest character, and very little of the story takes place within a school setting, and in fact, the basis of the story is Carmen, so it’s not exactly a light and fluffy read.

    While I’ve never had anyone request that I change the ages of my protagonists, I’ve lived in fear that it might be requested– especially with Carmen because of the nature of the story.

    I’m definitely just this side of cautiously optimistic and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.


  8. Linda 16 Nov 2009 at 6:56 pm #

    Great post. And a welcome discussion of what is YA and what makes some novels appealing to younger adults and to all the ‘other’ adults. I’ve had agents love my story, love my writing, but tell me to either age down or age up my protags so they could sell my tale. I’m sticking to my story, and hoping ‘New Adult’ sticks as well. Peace, Linda

  9. Christine H 20 Nov 2009 at 6:49 am #

    I am following this contest with immense interest, because it answers a key question that has stumped me for a while about my WIP: who is my audience?

    This whole issue of how to market something once it’s written is terrifying for a new author… especially when the book isn’t done yet. I keep thinking, should I be doing this differently? Am I making huge mistakes that will make it unsellable?

    I thought I had to choose between teenagers and adults, and the book really doesn’t fit with either. So I’m really hoping this takes off because I think it is the perfect niche, and one I myself prefer to read.

    Yeah, most adult books are boring. Not to mention depressing. Argh!

    I am 39 and even though I am a wife, mom, and a professional on my 3rd career – well, fourth if you count being an author too – I only JUST started thinking of myself as a “grown-up.” I think it’s because of those tiny brown spots I found on my cheek. Age spots? ME? You MUST be joking!

    And the fact that a couple people I know have died of cancer. Not funny. Suddenly, losing people makes you feel old.

    Sorry, now I got depressing!

    I think my story is a nice escapist, coming of age, post-teen fantasy. I’ll keep working on it for the next contest!

  10. Shalanna Collins 21 Nov 2009 at 6:54 pm #

    Christine–I want to read your escapist post-teen coming-of-age fantasy! It has been a LONG time since the Powers That Be have said a coming-of-age novel was marketable. The ones I wrote while I was in college (at SMU, in the Creative Writing program, just this side of juvenilia, I suppose) were supposedly perfectly good coming-of-age stories, but the problem was that NO ONE was buying coming-of-age. “Everyone’s read A SEPARATE PEACE, SUMMER OF ’42, and all that, and it’s over,” said one agent who felt like being frank. (But she wasn’t Frank. I think she was Rose. I’m not sure–this was the mid-1980s.) Anyway, coming-of-age is one of my favorite types of stories . . . not always about a sexual coming-of-age, either.

    And of course I am already ready to read Barb’s CARMEN book! I love opera and can’t figure out why someone hasn’t novelized COSI FAN TUTTI. Well, perhaps I *can* kinda see why. But maybe if I figure out how to do it right. . . . (I’ve already done my take on THE MAGIC FLUTE. *grin*)

    I can’t wait to see the chosen ones out of the current contest, and see how quickly we can have the finished books in our hands. Yum!

  11. Name (required)Finny 24 Nov 2009 at 3:20 pm #

    I have to say that I COMPLETELY RELATE to the sensation of not actually be quite there — that mysterious land of the “grown up”. I think you described it really well…

    P.S. I’m glad someone thinks there’s a place in the market for New Adult. Can’t wait to read some of it.

  12. Empty refrigerator 24 Nov 2009 at 9:45 pm #

    I just found out about this contest tonight – and it’s over, of course. Oh, also, I just found out about this GENRE tonight. I could go on and on about my newly completed novel and the discussions my librarian sister and I have had about whether it should be queried as YA or adult. You can imagine my joy at discovering this genre – and my hair-tearing angst at missing the contest by four days. So here’s my question – for those of us who missed the contest…what can we do? Are any agents specifically looking NA, or is it just too new at this point? Can we submit directly to you – or would that be too overwhelming, not to mention wrong? Please, please answer this.

  13. Kell Andrews 15 Jul 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    “Why is YA fiction popular but adult fiction is not?”

    Huh? Popular with whom? There are plenty of adult bestsellers and adult writers breaking through — more than YA lately.

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