Let's Talk About New Adult Books

From time to time when you read my end of the month reading round ups, under "genre" you'll find me describe a book as "New Adult."

I've been on the Internet for some time now, and for the last several years been active in the book community on the Internet. Therefore, there are many book and writing terms I come across which I read, and I understand immediately what it means. I know and understand the lingo. 

So, when I am chatting with friends and I bring up terms such a "new adult" and my friends are like "what are you talking about?" - it throws me off a it. I tend to forget that not everyone is like me where they live on Instagram and Twitter.  When I thought about it, I realized that when I use this term in my reviews, readers may not know what I'm talking about. 

Over the last couple of months, I've seen a lot of discussion about the "new adult" genre. What it is. What it isn't. What people think it should be.

"It's just an excuse for young adult to have explicit sex scenes!"

"Why is this book shelved as young adult when it's new adult?"

"What is New Adult????"

These are some of the things I tend to see floating around when this discussion comes up.

If you've hung out around my Twitter, you've probably seen that I have also chimed in with my own opinions. And well... I have OPINIONS. 

Mostly stemmed from my being selfish as my current work in progress I'd consider "new adult." But as of right now, it wouldn't be shelved as such. I'll go more into that later. For now, let's dig into what New Adult is, where it came from, what it isn't, and what I think it should be.


What IS New Adult Anyway?

Officially, New Adult fiction is a sub-genre within romance. Yes - romance specifically. Not any other genre. JUST ROMANCE. 

It was created by romance writers/publishers/editors to specify a younger age range. They are books about college-aged protagonists in their first intense relationship- but very adult relationship. Sometimes, this age will spread to mid to late 20's. (I read this through the Nelson Literary Agency Newsletter a couple weeks ago.) 

Therefore, when you are querying an agent with your brand new shiny manuscript - if your new adult book isn't part of the romance genre, your book is NOT new adult. Sorry to burst your bubble and ruin your hopes and dreams. But as of right now, that's how it is.

Examples of books that are New Adult:

  • The Reluctant Hearts Series by Brighton Walsh
  • The Ivy Years series by Sarina Bowen
  • The Off-Campus series by Elle Kenedy

So... why does it seem like New Adult is just trashy romance books?

Well... because that's what they are. They are a sub-genre of romance. 


What New Adult is NOT

This brings us to my next point. There seems to be a disconnect where readers and writers assume that just because a book's protagonist is no longer a teenager, they aren't necessarily dealing with the same issues dealt with in adult books, and the prose might read like a young adult novel, it must be New Adult.

According to the publishing industry - this is incorrect. 

Books people label as New Adult but are not would be:

  • A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J Maas
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann

These books may have romantic elements to them - but they are not strictly romance novels. Therefore, according to the publishing industry, they are not New Adult.

Make sense?


In My Humble Opinion, What New Adult Should Be

"But Emily, you label books as "New Adult" in your reviews all of the time, but they aren't romance!" I hear you say.

Yes. I'm aware. 

Because I'm of the stance that it's time we expand how we define New Adult books. When I look around on the Internet, people seem to really be craving this genre/age range. Something that's like a young adult books but deals with more mature issues, while not being a full out "adult" novel. For me, I love the young adult genre and the writing style. It can talk about deeper issues, but in a way that doesn't put me to sleep. (Not that all adult novels put me to sleep - that's not the case by any means!) But sometimes I want something that is similar, but more about people my age or closer to my age. Or, I think about books I would have loved to read when I was in college or just graduated college. If New Adult was a thing back then, I would have devoured it. 

Or, more selfishly, I think about the novel I'm working on at the moment. If I have it completed, I would love to submit it for Pitch Wars at the end of the summer. But, I would have to pick between Young Adult and Adult. It's not a full out romance, so New Adult wouldn't fit. Even when I someday query it, I'm going to have to pick between the two, even though I genuinely don't see it as either one.

My youngest "main character" is 18, all of the others are in their early to mid-20's. None of them are in school. They're dealing more with issues such as their future, marriage, etc. It can be violent and yes... they may even have sex. (Gasp!) Not that young adult doesn't deal with these issues - especially when the book is fantasy. But the way it's dealt with in a New Adult book is going to be very different than in a Young Adult book. Yes, perhaps I could push it toward adult, but I genuinely don't see that as my audience.

Or,  think of books such as A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas. It's so similar to mine in that none of the characters are teens and it deals with and handles certain issues in a way which I personally don't consider to be for the young adult genre. The same goes for her later books in the Throne of Glass series. But there are a ton of others like this as well, and not just fantasy. Let's Talk About Love, Wintersong, The Paper Magician, Just One Day, Grave Mercy... all of these are about characters in that "in between" time when they are no longer a teenager, but they aren't a "full" adult  yet. 

However, I do understand the conundrum. New Adult started as romance, and it would be incredibly difficult and take a very long time to create a whole new genre. When you think about it realistically, that's a lot to ask. 

Because technically, young adult is children's literature. Yup. You read that correctly. According to the publishing world and the way it's set up, young adult is still children's literature. Therefore, a sub-genre that is part of adult publishing would have to make the jump to children's. Or children's would have to make the jump to adult. It would be ridiculous.

So... I have a suggestion for a compromise.

When I walk into my local bookstore (usually Barnes and Noble) you find the different sections divided up. Children's usually has a whole corner to themselves. Then you have a couple of shelves for Young Adult. Then there's a whole part of the store for general fiction (adult) that's divided up by genre. Usually something along the lines of Fiction, Romance, Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, on occasion I've seen Western.

But, even on those few shelves for young adult, there's a bit of division. You'll see one portion for new releases, another for Fantasy, for awhile there was Paranormal Romance, etc. That way, customers could more easily find the genre and style of book they're looking for within the young adult/adult/children's section.

Why can't we do something similar for New Adult? In the young adult section, have a few shelves dedicated to "older young adult" or "new adult" so readers who want those stories can easily pick them out. Or perhaps do this in the adult section of the store/library. It wouldn't have to completely revolutionize the publishing industry. Just some rearranging so people can see the difference between a book intended for a younger audience, and a book that is for an older audience.


Wait... are you talking about censorship for young adult? That's not right!

I agree. I'm not a fan of censorship by any means. 

But I am talking about marketing books according to what's age appropriate. I mean... I've gone to places where a Sarah J Maas book will be shelved in the same section as Nancy Drew.

Um... no. That's not right.

A person can like and enjoy books covering all genres and age ranges. I know full grown adults whose favorite books are middle grade. I know teens who read adult novels. There is nothing wrong with this, and in fact I think this should be encouraged. Most teens know how to self-censor anyway. When I was in high school, a friend of mine let me borrow a historical romance novel. (A bodice-ripper if you will.) I was so scared I was going to read something I would be uncomfortable with, I didn't get past the first chapter. I knew what I would and would not enjoy. 

Probably because I thought all romance writers were like Ms. Perky in 10 Things I Hate About You.

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Yes, I did watch that movie every day one summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school. Yes, I still maintain it's one of the best movies ever. Fight me.

The point is - I knew what I was and was not comfortable reading. So, if a teen picks up a book and aren't a fan of the content, they'll probably put it down. However, that romance book my friend let me borrow was never shelved in the young adult section. It was very clearly in the adult romance section. 

When I go to the romance section and see shirtless men on the covers, I know what sort of book I'm picking up. But if when I was younger and I was browsing the young adult section and picked up a book that seemed interesting and then half way through there's this super explicit or violent scene that isn't found in other young adult books, I probably would have felt very betrayed and gotten into something way over my head that I wasn't ready for. That's just not fair. 

Having a section to give me a heads up that there would perhaps be content suited for a more mature audience, is something I probably would have found useful, and something I still would today. That way, the reader can choose to read it and decide if they're ready for it themselves. (Although, not all New Adult necessarily has explicit and violent content.)

And people are asking for this genre. They want it to be a real thing. I'm all for romance novels and have zero problems with New Adult being part of that genre. But I'd love for it to have a chance in other genres too. Characters on the brink of adulthood, on their own for the first time, figuring out life. I simply want the book and publishing industry to see that. 

From what I can tell, independent authors can do this and are pushing those boundaries. Which is awesome! But the traditional publishers need to catch up. People always seem to be worried about the traditional publishing industry and it keeping up with the times. I'm not saying adding New Adult to the mix will fix those problems. But embracing new ideas like that could be something helpful. 

That's why in my reviews I classify some books as "New Adult" even if technically they aren't classified as such. That way, people can see what the age range the protagonist is and it's focused more on that in between time of life. 


So, what are your thoughts? Have you heard about New Adult books? Have you read any? Which do you like? Do you think the publishing industry needs to expand in this genre?


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(Affiliated link - I get a teeny tiny commission if you use it. But don't worry - no one is sponsoring this post! No one told me to write about New Adult books in exchange for anything! All of these thoughts are my own and I came up with this topic because of conversations I've been having with people.) 

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