New Adult?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the past six months or so, you’ve probably heard the term “new adult” at some point. But what exactly is it?

Okay, a brief history of the New Adult category:

In 2009, author Georgia McBride coined the term “New Adult” on her blog to describes books that fit the gap between YA and adult, in the period in which you’re not quite a teen anymore, and maybe legally you’re an adult, but you’re not quite “grown up” either. Maybe you’re in college, maybe you’re working full time, but it’s a time of lots of changes. St. Martin’s Press sponsored a contest on Georgia’s website to address the coming-of-age that also happens in a young person’s twenties — figuring out what it means to be an adult.

I was one of the finalists in the St. Martin’s contest, which was really exciting. I then sent in the manuscript that had been requested…and the next day I went into premature labor 6 weeks early. And nothing happened. Not just with my submission, but also with the entire category of books called “New Adult.”

As recently as this past spring 2012, writers were asking “Is the New Adult category ever going to happen?” There was much excitement back in 2009, but then…nothing.

Until 2012 and self-publishing.

New Adult became a viable category with the rise of self-publishing, and now major NY publishers are rushing to snap up indie NA superstars, such as Jamie McGuire (Beautiful Disaster), Tammra Webber (Easy), Colleen Hoover (Slammed). (Although it’s important to note that although Colleen Hoover is always lumped in with the discussions of sexy titles, hers actually aren’t!)

Some other big names in New Adult include Abbi Glines, Jessica Park, Cora Carmack, Molly McAdams, and Jillian Dodd.

According to Wikipedia:

“This category is intended to be marketed to post-adolescents and young adults ages 18 to 30. This age group is considered to be the lucrative “cross-over” category of young-adult titles that appeal to both the young-adult market and to an adult audience. Publishers of young-adult fiction now favor this category as it encompasses a far broader audience. The chief features that distinguish this category from Young-adult fiction are the perspective of the young antagonist and the scope of the antagonist’s life experience. Perspective is gained as childhood innocence fades and life experience is gained, which brings insight. It is this insight which is lacking in traditional young adult fiction.”

Back when St. Martin’s and Georgia McBride coined the term, they were envisioning a category that would be an umbrella under which there would be several other genres, much like Young Adult. And while there does exist some variety in offerings, when you say “New Adult” these days, one type of book in particular comes to mind — the smexy contemporary romance.

But NA Alley, a blog dedicated to New Adult books, insists that it’s a much bigger tent than that. They have a recommended reads list broken down by genre, and they even include movies and TV shows. Their books list is divided by genre (contemporary and speculative). It’s important to note that while many of the books on the contemporary list are of the coming-of-age-through-sex variety, not all of them are. And in fact, there’s a discussion forum on Goodreads in which many readers are looking for more types of NA books, including ones that aren’t sexually-charged.

On Friday’s edition of Nightline, there was a segment on New Adult books, in which they compared the category to Fifty Shades. (Interestingly, the book they used as a lead-in, Colleen Hoover’s Slammed, isn’t about sex. The lead-in to that story and comparison to Fifty Shades was total viewer bait, if you ask me.)

If you listen to the story, the fans were making clear that the category is more about falling in love than sex, but the reporters were trying to make it out to be something it wasn’t. (Of course, what do you expect? The media loves to make the connection with Fifty Shades the second they hear “romance” — I’ve even been asked about Fifty Shades in my NPR interview, and my books are about 14-year-olds, for crying out loud!)

Then there’s the issue of shelving and categorization. NA books are all over the place — mostly in Romance>Contemporary, which is the most crowded market on Amazon. (Although some are actually in erotica.) But some go in Teen, even though the characters are older and definitely in college, rather than high school.

Easy and Between the Lines by Tammara Weber is in these:
Books > Literature & Fiction
Books > Romance > Contemporary
Books > Teens > Love & Romance
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Contemporary
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teens > Romance

Hopeless by Colleen Hoover is in these:
Books > Literature & Fiction
Books > Romance > Contemporary
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Contemporary

The Wild Ones by Michelle Leighton (clearly is more sexual) is in these:
Books > Literature & Fiction > Erotica
Books > Literature & Fiction > United States
Books > Romance > Contemporary
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Contemporary

Each of these books are considered “New Adult,” but since there is no “New Adult” category on Amazon (or in any bookstore I’m aware of), you have to really play a guessing game as to where to shelve it. But maybe that’s the point — because these books are the cross-over between Young Adult and Adult.

Anyway, I might have my own New Adult book. Or maybe not. I haven’t decided yet how I’m going to go with it.

When I originally wrote Party Like It’s 1899, my upcoming time travel romance, the characters were in college — 19-year-old college sophomores. They traveled to Paris for study abroad (much like I did my own junior year). It finaled in the Golden Heart back in 2008 (wowza, I just realized that was 5 years ago!), and editors loved it. I got tons of fantastic editorial feedback. They loved the concept, loved the voice, loved the writing, BUT. (Yes, there’s always a “but.”)

This time the “but” was that they didn’t know how to position it, because the characters were in college. In their minds, it couldn’t be YA because it was set in college, and it couldn’t be adult because it was set in college. And it couldn’t be set in college, because kids in college don’t read.

So Party got roundly smacked down by every publishing house in NY. (I have to wonder what would have happened if I’d been shopping it today rather than 5 years ago.) Most of them wanted me to rewrite it to high school, which I resisted and resisted and resisted until finally I went ahead and did it after a great 45-minute phone conversation with a particular editor at one particular brand new YA imprint at an established house. She gushed about how much she loved the story and wanted to turn it into a trilogy, so I finally decided to do the requested revisions, especially since my then-agent arranged that I’d only have to make the changes to the synopsis and the first 100 pages instead of the entire manuscript.

So my college sophomores became high school juniors, and in the end (after THREE rounds of revisions) that editor went on maternity leave and the editor I got assigned to just wasn’t feeling it. So I got the big R.


I’m going to be indie-publishing this book this fall, and now I’m trying to decide what to do. Should I go with my original concept — college-aged characters, now that there’s a legitimate market for New Adult books, even if I’m fading-to-black during the smexy times? Or should I go with the revised concept — high-school-aged characters, since my “brand” is Young Adult now? (I should note it will be “older” YA than my current sweeter, younger Dani Spevak series, but I’d hardly consider it edgy or sexy in any case.)

What would you do? And what do you think of the New Adult trend? Enjoying it? Perplexed? Haven’t read any? Dish!

38 responses to “New Adult?”

  1. I struggled with this same dilemma when I was preparing to release my first book, The Memory of You. I originally set it in 1973. I shopped it around for a couple of years and got the same response everywhere. Editors all LOVED the book and characters, HOWEVER, their hands were tied because the romance genre doesn’t include stories set between WWII and the present. (Or at least they didn’t then). My arguments for a new romance sub-genre, NOSTALGIC ROMANCE, fell on deaf ears.

    So I reset the story in present day, which is how it finaled in the GH twice and won. Unfortunately, now no one wanted it because, although they loved the story, it had a distinct old-fashioned feel to it. This is why I made the decision to return the story to 1973 where it belonged. It’s part of what sets it apart. I’m presently writing another 1973 POW book. I believe in nostalgic romance because 50s and 60s were a volatile era for men and women.

    So do what your heart tells you, Amanda. Which age group fits the story best. You wrote it with college-age characters for a reason. What were those reasons?

    I know you’ll make the right decision.


    • Amanda Brice says:

      I didn’t realize you’d rewritten it to present-day when you finaled in the GH. That book couldn’t possibly have been set in any other era than the Vietname War, as far as I’m concerned, so I’m glad you made the right choice.

      And I totally agree that Nostalgic Romance should be a subgenre!


  2. Jeannie Lin says:

    Thanks for the breakdown of New Adult! I think, like any genre, it’s a fluid thing and in the process of being defined. I also think with physical bookshelves waning, that clear cut genre-definitions are less de rigueur. Books are not as confined by the question of “where in the store do you put it?”

    I’ve read a few New Adult stories and I’m drawn to the age group. It’s really a time of change and nowadays, twenty-somethings have quite a lot of uncertainty to deal with as well as questions of establishing their identity. It’s an interesting age/time to explore.

    Best of luck with “1899”! I loved the version I read and I think it would go well with either YA or NA, but I would lean toward upper YA. Mostly because what I’m really drawn to in NA is the contemporary issues that new adults must face. Since your book throws them into the past, no doubt they’ll still deal their own growth and identity, but the main appeal of NA for me isn’t there. Whereas, the YA market seems very open to adventure and speculative fiction. So that’s my two cents. 🙂


    • Amanda Brice says:

      Very good point about the location on the shelves not being as much of an issue as before. I have no doubt that was a big part of why that book never sold to NY. eBooks just weren’t a big priority for the Big Six back then — they were still focused almost exclusively on physical bookstores.

      Interesting point about YA being more open to speculative fiction. It’s funny, because back in 2009 when St. Martin’s glommed onto the term “New Adult”, they were actually holding up paranormal series as their examples of New Adult — P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast’s House of Night series in particular. (Which is set in high school, incidentally — although not a high school any of us would recognize.)

      But now (despite some titles listed under speculative fiction on the NA Alley blog), when you hear the term “New Adult” you automatically think of contemporary. So yeah, there’s definitely that for me to consider.


  3. Shoshana says:

    What would I do? I guess I’d try to forget that one version was mine and one was a revision at an editor’s request and make as objective a decision as possible about what worked better for the story. Yeah…I know I’m no help at all. 🙂

    Thanks for the list of NA titles–will have to check some out.


  4. Addison Fox says:


    What a great point. This genre is super hot and I think it’s great those stories that seemed to fall through the cracks based on the protagonist’s life stage can finally be recognized.

    To that end….obviously you need to do what you feel best about, but if the goal of your book was to set the characters in college, you have nothing to lose by returning to your original vision. That said, I think 1899 is a fun concept no matter the age!! (and I LOVE that cover!!!)



    • Amanda Brice says:

      Yes, I think it’s great that good books now don’t have to be constrained by an artificial idea of what sells and doesn’t. 🙂 Kinda amusing to see NY stumbling all over themselves to pick up self-published books in a category they themselves came up with but then didn’t do anything with!

      I’m going to have to think some more. Although I think maybe I might split the difference and set it during the summer between graduation and starting college. Hmmm…


  5. Rita Henuber says:

    Great post Amanda. I’ve been watching the New Adult category with great interest ever since I saw the first call for submissions. I think it’s a brilliant move on the part of publishers. They are giving readers they hooked in with YA a continuum. Do I want to read it? Not necessarily. My tastes run to the older more experienced hero and heroine. Just like with New Adult, I think we’ll see books targeting the over 35 women. My overall feeling is that independent publishing has nudged the whole industry into providing a better variety of books. Offering opportunities for authors and readers alike.


    • Amanda Brice says:

      Oh yes, I’d love if indie-publishing nudged NY to publish more books with “mature” heroines/heroines. I think everyone’s better off when there’s a wider variety of stories out there!


  6. Diana Layne says:

    Hm, Jeannie made a good point about YA and speculative fiction but who’s to say that the NA crowd wouldn’t pick it up? Summer between h.s. and college is pretty good too, that’s such an exciting time I imagine (since I was married by then and didn’t go to college).

    As for my story that is now “NA” age, I think I want to make it more about the falling in love vs. the sex thing. I have not read 50 shades and will NEVER read 50 shades-not what I’m interested in at all. 🙂


    • Amanda Brice says:

      You make a really interesting point about what it means to be an “adult.” I saw you mention on a different thread once that you were married at age 17 and had your first child at 19 — and that it wasn’t terribly far off from the norm. Yet today, that phase after high school generally isn’t considered “grown up” even when the individual is an adult.

      Personally, for me, the college phase (18-22) and even the immediate post-college phase (from 22-24 when I was working full-time prior to going to law school) was a time of pretending to be grown up, but not really. I was definitely still finding myself and it was such a period of changes. Sure, I was an adult, but I certainly wasn’t “grown up.” (Heck, I’m still not quite sure I am sometimes, and I’m well into my mid-30s now with a husband and two kids!)

      [I should also note I didn’t meet my husband until I was 24 (we married when I was nearly 27 and he was nearly 32). I had my first child at 32 1/2.]


      • Diana Layne says:

        Ok, but I’ll ask: what defines grown up? I have never stopped learning and growing and while I still have young kids, I also have gray hair and grandkids, so am I not a grown up yet? I just think the definition of grown ups is interesting these days. It also seems to be harder to make it on your own these days too when you’re in your twenties. I’m not quite sure why. OTOH, I remember some months we had $10 left at the last week of the month which was enough for me to buy milk and bread for our family of five (I had 3 in 3 years) before the paycheck came at the first of the month (husband was paid once a month then). Is that a normal thing now or do young adults expect more and not to have to pinch pennies so hard? I know I hate to see my kids having to pinch pennies but then again you grow and learn doing that, right? Very interesting times indeed, I’m wondering where we’ll be when my youngest two are “adults”.

        On Saturday, my oldest daughter (22) came back to town to go to the funeral of a friend who committed suicide. There she connected with other friends who’d come back for the funeral. One young woman, also 22, married her high school sweetheart at 20 and a year later had her daughter, and many of the friends were ragging on her-why’d you waste your life? She answered, I didn’t waste it, I always wanted to be a wife and mom and now I have a reason to get up in the morning-which is how I felt way back when. The only thing I worry about and why I want my daughters and DIL’s to all have college or develop a career though, because what if, like me, they find themselves middle age, divorced and no school or career to fall back on? But if they can be married, have kids, go to school too, go for it. No one plans to get divorced, but it certainly happens with all too much frequency and that’s the only reason I worry about young women. Other than that, though-you’re never “grown up” IMO-I don’t think there’s a magical definition if that’s what people are looking for. Just get out there and live your life and stop being limited by others defining who you are.

        Ok, climbing off my granny soapbox, lol.


        • Amanda Brice says:

          Oh, I definitely agree! I find various definitions of “grown up” to be really interesting, personally. Really ripe for exploration.


  7. Vivi Andrews says:

    It is a gap in the market and I’ll be interested to see how New Adult develops in coming years. I tend to focus more on whether the story and characters interest me than in the age of the protagonists, so I’d say write it however it feels most authentic to you – especially since you are the boss in self-publishing. Good luck, whichever you decide!


    • Amanda Brice says:

      Thanks! Yeah, I guess I’m not sure anymore which way felt more authentic. I’ll have to do some rereading and see what I can figure out.

      Although I must say, I’m kinda liking the idea of splitting the difference and setting the story during the summer btwn HS graduation and college. It’s an age that really has so much possibility, which in turn would lead to a ton of story possibilities!


  8. Great post! I learned so much : ) I haven’t read any New Adult yet, but plan to now. I guess publishers just felt like romance in general could revolve around that age bracket, but now that we have older heroines and heroes, a new subgenre is emerging.

    I love your cover BTW! I’m looking forward to reading it : )


  9. Tamara Hogan says:

    Earlier today on Twitter, I saw someone reference what seems to be a new category on Amazon: “Coming of Age.” Do you think that means New Adult?


  10. Kate Parker says:

    oooh, junior year abroad in Paris. I love the sound of that, and love your cover. Personally, I’d rather read about college age people than high school aged people, maybe because life was more interesting in college. Maybe because people are more interesting once they hit nineteen or so and have lost the uber-drama of the teen years.

    I agree that self-publishing has opened a lot of eyes to subgenres and times of life not looked at by traditional publishers in the past. There’s a British TV series not shown in the US called “New Tricks” that is a police procedural along the lines of “NCIS” but funnier. Three of the four detective leads are retired and about 60. Obviously no sex is shown and it’s not primarily a romance, but you get a “hint” of their romantic lives, some of it very touching. An example of another underserved element in publishing today.


  11. Liz Talley says:

    Okay, I’m skipping down to give my opinion and then I’ll go back and read to see if anyone agreed with me.

    Though your book is obviously college-aged, it doesn’t really seem to fit the mold of new adult. Since there is no sex and it’s not dealing with modern dating and issues (or at least I’m assuming it doesn’t since it goes back in time), I would suggest making them in high school and finding the kids who loved Magic Tree House in their elementary school days. And since you already have a middle grade series, you already have a nice lead in to that age group.

    I feel like New Adult expects some sex and adult like situation. But that’s my impression from the covers of the New Adult that seems to be selling.

    I really like this category, and always thought I’d like to write for YA, but felt as if I couldn’t nail that vibe. But now that there is this new category, I’m flirting with it a bit.

    Okay, now up to read what everyone thought 🙂 I may revise my opinion.


    • Marion says:

      This is an area that is going to have to be addressed and I think that the writers of YA/NA(myself included) are going to have to force the issue… and here’s why…

      I first thought that my books were adult themed but many people told me that the characters were too young. Then I struggled with YA and was told that the issues were too adult..

      Several things need to be remembered (assuming College kids don’t read), the first is that people who do read, usually read above their age. Readers learn a lot about life through the books they read.

      Another is that all agents read differently – when you’re searching for an agent who claims to be a YA agent yet says a story about a girl (17-18) falling for an older fella (22-25) is not realistic or acceptable, look for a different agent because that one is reading from a mom’s point of view – not a young ladies who is following her heart and hormones.

      Liz, I agree with you in this: “Though your book is obviously college-aged, it doesn’t really seem to fit the mold of new adult. Since there is no sex and it’s not dealing with modern dating and issues (or at least I’m assuming it doesn’t since it goes back in time), I would suggest making them in high school and finding the kids who loved Magic Tree House in their elementary school days.”

      Recently I had the pleasure of hearing a Hollywood agent speak about genres. He said that when someone submits to him and claims it is a YA book, he is expecting the age range of 14-29! He understands there are different levels of maturity. Both of these are wrong: to tell someone who is fourteen and has a baby that they shouldn’t be talking about sex, and, to talk to someone who is twenty-two and saving her virginity for marriage that she is a prude. He said you have to write the book that is in you and find the agent that appreciates it.


    • Amanda Brice says:

      I didn’t say there was no sex in the book. I simply said there was no sex ON-SCREEN in the book. (The YA version has nothing more than kissing. The college version SHOWS nothing more than kissing, but there is a very strong allusion that more than that is happening off-screen…the ubiquitous face-to-black.)

      That’s because I don’t write sex scenes, but that’s not to say my characters don’t have sex.


  12. Elisa Beatty says:

    I’m still cracking up over the idea that college kids don’t read…..

    I wonder about the question of whether the book would be better as college age or high school. I think I agree with Liz that high school would benefit from the lead-in from your Dani Spevak books.

    All I know is that young people are interesting, and deserve good books. I hope yours reaches the right audience!


  13. Thanks, Amanda. Your post clarified several things. I do know I like these New Adult books! Love your cover and look forward to reading Party Like It’s 1899.


    • Elise Hayes says:

      I’m with Bev–I LOVE the cover!

      And I’m going to be useless in terms of which way you should go, because I’ve been under a rock and hadn’t even heard of NA until your post (sigh, too much going on in my work world to let me do half the reading I’d like to be doing. I’ll be crawling back under my rock now…)

      Good luck with whichever path you choose!


  14. Thanks, Amanda! I feel like I’ve been living under a rock lately. I hadn’t heard the term NA until I read your post actually, and I wonder if some of what used to be categorized as YA would now fit under the NA umbrella.

    Very interesting post…I learned a lot! And I love the cover for your Party Like It’s 1899!


  15. JL Mealer says:

    Wonder if I can turn “Slongin’ MacDongin’ Scottish Highlander Gone Rogue” into a 18 to 30 year old… Well, he does time travel, so it might work. (NOTE: The book that pokes fun at everything the ladies like about Scottish Highlanders…)


    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Sounds like New Adult erotica to me! 😉

      Come on, people. You know it’s just a matter of time.


      • Amanda Brice says:

        Actually, there already is. In my comparison up above of “where do you shelve New Adult” I showed the Amazon cataloging of three popular NA books. This was one:

        The Wild Ones by Michelle Leighton:
        Books > Literature & Fiction > Erotica
        Books > Literature & Fiction > United States
        Books > Romance > Contemporary
        Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Contemporary


      • JL Mealer says:

        Slongin’ is… But more of a spoof.

        The turn of the era romance SHOULD work out real well. Wonder why the editors (run by the pub companies) keep their heads ‘up’ the wrong direction so often?


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  17. Gina says:

    I LOVED THIS POST. I started writing a NA back in 2011 and was told I was a fool, because it’s no man’s land. Ha! Look at it now!

    I’d like to reference this blog post on my website, your insight is spot on! I’ll contact you off thread!

    And go for the self-publish for PARTY. Wishing you the best!


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