Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New Adult? Wuss Up?

It looks like we have a new category thrust upon us. It's acronym is NA, standing for New Adult. It seems to be picking up steam since my peers (and I) have seen requests for it from agents and publishers. It's gained popularity in just the last year or so. But hey, it's really always been with us, if you stop to think about it. It features characters who range in age from 18 on up to...you name the 20s. I've seen it explained as college kids between the ages of 18 and 22, from 18 to 26 and from 18 to 30. I've also seen it meant to represent 21 to 30. The thing is, everybody has a different idea about the age range but it's safe to assume that it features young adults in their 20s who are in college or fresh out, or just young and on the job hunt with the intention of starting their lives. In comparison, YA characters might still be living with mommy and daddy.

What brought this new category to our doorstep? I keep hearing about the influence of 50 Shades, how racy and daring it was. That book also topped the charts and spawned a huge host of imitators. So is it ambulance chasing? Maybe. But like I said, I think it's always been with us in contemporary and genre form from the very beginning. I'm thinking of the young cast of Starship Troopers, albeit a SF military adventure, but the age range fits. Is it a new marketing tactic designed to draw in a younger or newer readership? I think that might be the case. We all know how the literary world operates; one trend can catch fire and then burn out, but the profits are realized for that short burst. I'm reminded of SF romance and how that was hyped and became popular. Yet SF romance didn't quite burn out as much as it settled in, to shoehorn itself in between space opera and hard SF—a very welcome genre, if I do say so myself. Didn't Alien spawn SF horror? Well, I suppose, but we never let SF horror really get off the ground as a genre unto itself.

Is NA just an excuse to allow the inclusion of some unbridled sex scenes, legalized drinking and perhaps some experimental drug use? Now that would depend upon who the publisher was, wouldn't it? A Christian or non-Christian outlook and tone? One thing is fairly certain, the contemporary genre will most likely dominate in the beginning since those have been the most often requested books from what I can see. Will writers be primarily confined to the college life or can we expect to write about any lifestyle facet for this age group? What about genre? Can you imagine NA—NF, or NA, urban fantasy, SF, military, epic fantasy, thriller or horror. Strike that last one. Horror seems to feature lots and lots of persons in their upper teens and early 20s.

I can't help thinking that this extra category is superfluous in many ways. As a tag, it seems to be suggesting that YA fans read up and that it's perfectly fine for adult fans to read a bit down. Sounds like another marketing gimmick, wot? Pretty redundant when you consider YA readers lust after adult books and vice versa. Why so cognizant about age when it's really the story that matters? A great book is going to be read over all age determinations. Just exactly where is it going to go on the books shelves? Under YA, or Children? Or do you think there's room for a new category when retailers are having a hard enough time finding shelf space for anything that will sell? I also thought that college people were having a hard enough time getting their assigned course study reading done, so if they are the new target market in any way, it's going to be a hard push. And, so help me, I'm just one of the many who didn't attend college and I would find it hard to identify with the academic aspect of it. And boy, is this new category wide open for cliches—I can smell the nerds and jocks coming from here.

I can just imagine watching a reader browsing the library and picking up a book that has a small NA logo on it, thinking that it's something new and revolutionary. Then after finishing the book, slamming the cover shut and and whining, “But I've read books like this before! Where's the new beef?”

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  1. It's a good idea for readers to have an idea of what type of book they'll be getting - but I think too many overlapping genres are confusing rather than helpful.

    Wouldn't most people be more interested in whether it's for example a romance, horror or Sci-Fi book and less bothered about the precise age range of the characters?

  2. Yep, that's usually how I purchase--by genre, regardless of the age range. I'm apt to read a fantasy whether or not it defines a certain age range. It's really redundant, and I'm inclined to believe it might hurt sales if age range tags are mentioned on the cover or inside the front matter. I'm not discounting the viability of NA as a separate category, I do hope it brings in more readers and that's the bottom line.

  3. There's something about the "NA" genre that I don't like. So many people say that the books are all the same, but I always look past that and look at the individual elements inside the particular book I'm reading. So, it's not that I don't like.

    It's the fact that so many of them and their covers are connected to the 50 Shades series or similar books. There are a lot of NA books that are so much more than just that sort of thing, or aren't even that in the first place. The ones I read almost always feature some sort of "issue" like depression or abuse, and I read them for the characters' journey in those areas and not because they are "racy."

    Also, a lot of NA books are also just mature YA (recommended for ages 16 and up), while seem like full on adult (18 and up). It's like there's a divide inside one age category, and I don't like that.

  4. Yeah, I see and hear a lot about the 50 shades comparisons, and that in itself, just turns me off. It's like ambulance chasing the newest trend and giving it a new coat of paint to disguise the innards.

    Although I welcome New Adult, I don't care for the age division, setting it apart from our traditional view of YA and all it represents.

  5. Hey, Chris. Thanks for the comment on my blog.

    I think that there is potential in NA as a legitimate age category as opposed to the current form which is more like a sub-genre of Romance.

    Back when St. Martin's had just coined the term, and I was trying to argue for the validity of stories about college kids and other people that age, I got a lot of depressing responses about how it would never work, and that that stuff never sells. So the idea of NA was something I really hoped would take off, if only to convince publishers that those stories were marketable.

    I still don't know, four years later, whether we've gotten any closer to that goal. The current glut of romance and 50 Shades clones in the genre disappoints me, but maybe it will open the door for other stories in the NA age-range--which I'd put at 18-26, personally.

    While it's true that there have been come books in that age range in the past, it hasn't been common outside of a few specific periods and in a few specific genres.

    I do have to agree somewhat with publishers that you can't really shelve these books under YA, as so many characters are no longer teenagers. Whether or not there's enough difference from traditional "adult" fiction is yet to be determined.

    I agree that it's worth it if it can create some more readers, which even the Romance-y versions seems to have succeeded at. And if it can open up the market for books that were well-written but couldn't find a home, I'm okay with that, too, even if the category itself eventually fades away.

  6. I agree that the plus side to this might open up a new and loyal reading public and for that I'm optimistic. So long that it evolves into something intelligent and substantial.