Saturday, May 4, 2013

New Adult: What Is It?

Today I got into an interesting conversation on Twitter about what the phrase "New Adult" means to people. It wasn't that long ago that agents and editors were saying it's not a thing. But recently, Publishers  Marketplace made a new category for New Adult in its deals listings. So I guess that means it is a thing now.

I personally don't know much about it. In my head, "new adult" means contemporary romance featuring college-aged or twenty-something protagonists. Much of what I know, I learned from the Clear Eyes, Full Shelves podcast on the topic (You can go listen to that now, I'll wait). But on Twitter I was told it is so much more than that.

So I decided to do some research. I went to the New Adult category on PM and looked at the sales they list. There are only 24 sales there right now, and I am sure there are plenty of self-published or indie published NA books out in the world--these are just the ones that were fancy enough to rate a mention in PM.


The above graph shows how many of the deals where for original works vs how many were for books that had already been self-published. Honestly, I rather assumed that self-published would be the majority. (I should note, however, that some of the deals that were sequels, prequels or otherwise based on already self-published works are in the "original" category so long as that text wasn't actually already published.) But it's still pretty even. Readers are still finding these books, and publishers are getting in on it.


Another thing that interested me is where are these books going to be shelved. That was a problem I have discussed with numerous other agents and editors. Ultimately, a book can be shelved in one part of the store. So are they adult or children's? I looked at which imprints were buying the books and sorted them by adult imprints or children's imprints. And you can see that, NA books are not really going to children's houses as much as they are going adult places. This sort of confirms my impression that "NA" is for adult publishers who want to get in on the "YA" market & readership.


Should I ever acquire a NA novel, I'm going to want to know which houses to send it to. These are the places those 24 deals were with. You can see that William Morrow (at Harper Collins) and Atria (at Simon & Schuster) the top buyers of NA. These are both adult imprints, of course.

Surprisingly, St. Martin's--which kind of coined the term "new adult"--is not on the list. 


Finally I looked into what genre NA books are (besides being NA, duh). Like I said above, I associate NA with contemporary romance but I've been pitched Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Mystery NA which sometimes confuses me. (Why not just shelve it in those genre spaces instead of worrying about the fact that NA doesn't have shelf space at the moment?)

Anyway, I am not entirely right. There are NA sales that are not contemporary romance. These sales were fantasy and dystopian--kinda of younger paranormal romance. I've also heard from a couple NA authors on Twitter who wrote historical new adult novels that got picked up before this PM category was introduced.

So that's what NA means to Publishers Marketplace and to me. What do you think of when you think of "new adult"? And do you have any favorite new adult novels?


  1. I think of NA as College aged characters (19--22). Maybe up to 24 with life still mostly revolving around school.

  2. I'm excited for this creation of the New Adult genre. Like you said, it's strong and it's coming, but it's also still phasing in. It may be met with scepticism, even, but most new things are.

    The last time an age-group genre was created like this was in the 60's with the publishing of The Outsider's. It took a long time, but as the millenium can plainly tell, Young Adult novels have since become one of the most popular genres in the publishing industry. New Adult may or may not have this same effect; all we know is, it's creating a new market. With new markets come more room for authors, and audiences.

    Personally, I'm all for something that will encourage people to read. As a "new adult" college student, I would also appreciate a generation of novels geared towards those in my condition, or age. I may technically be an adult now, but I know there are parts of me that are still a child. It's a unique stage, and one literature needs a hand in.

    Great post, Ms. Keyes. I always enjoy stopping by to view your musings, inside looks, etc. New Adult is definitely something to keep our eyes on.

  3. Thanks for the shout-out to our podcast!

    Interestingly, since that podcast, I've received a ton of review pitches for non-contemporary NA titles, with historical popping up several times in recent weeks. This is intriguing to me because there already were a lot of protagonists in adult historical fiction in the NA age group, and the premises aren't anything different from what I've already heard about in the historical genre. However, with NA becoming a thing, some publicists have jumped on the term, seemingly shoe-horning anything they can under the NA umbrella.

    As a reader, for genre fiction (I love urban fantasy, which NA-aged characters pop up in quite frequently), I don't find the NA shelving particularly helpful because I'm first looking for the genre, not the age group. I have no idea if that's typical or not.

    1. Hmm! My opinion is that NA is only going to work as its own category if it's about that time in your life between childhood and adulthood. So it's not just the character's age, but also the themes and stories. So I'd question whether a historical book that just happened to have 20 something protags is really NA--since a 25 year old in the middle ages would be an actual adult.

      I mean, I see a lot of queries for books that should be adult fiction but they query as YA (because the character maybe starts off young) because that market is doing better right now. That doesn't make sense to me. If it's not addressing the issues the reader of that genre wants to read about, then shoving it into some random genre isn't going to help that book do well. It might hurt it.