PN 3443 → Exploring the 'New Adult' Genre

Recently, the words "new adult" have been showing up a lot more over the publishing industry and has been increasingly making it's way into mainstream news and blogs. The New York Times, Huffington Post, Jezebel, and USA Today have all produced recent pieces dedicated to examining the growing popularity - and marketing - of the new adult genre in the reading world.

But what is it?

Many - trust me, many - people have already tried to define it for us. Elizabeth Burns over at SLJ Blog has a great summary of a lot that's been put out there so far on the genre.

For example, the New York Times, in an article entitled "Beyond Wizards and Vampire, to Sex," described the new adult genre as "books that fit into the young-adult genre in their length and emotional intensity, but feature slightly older characters and significantly more sex, explicitly detailed." Likewise, a recent article published in USA Today notes "new adult is 'the perfect middle ground' for a YA writer ... who wants to explore more mature issues" and that new adult readers are likely women that are 18 and older or those who have nostalgia for the college life.

When I first heard the term, I admit, I rolled my eyes a little bit. It does seem a bit too much like a marketing ploy by publishers to create a new 'must have' genre. In a piece in Publishers Weekly from last December, it is noted that publishers are increasingly worried about losing prime audience as teen readers age out of the YA genre. It probably helps the new genre that a reported 55% of YA materials are bought by people over the age of 18. Hence, the growing marketability of the new adult genre aimed at readers in the 18-23 age range - which, quite frankly, seems somewhat of a narrow age range, though I understand it can vary depending on one's definition of the genre. 

So, yes, I rolled my eyes. But I gave it a try. I started by reading True (by Erin McCarthy). I heard through various people on Twitter that the title - which will be formally be released on May 7th - was available for a free download via Goodreads. I was familiar with McCarthy from her 'Fast Track' romance series based on professional race-car drivers - though I had admittedly become tired of the series many books ago. Right away I could see how people would want to classify this differently from YA materials. Set in college, True focuses on the interaction between Rory, a virgin, and Tyler, the bad boy in town. While the characters may be typical for a YA, the inclusion of issues such as drugs, broken homes, and sexual assault is enough to push this title into the more mature category. I thoroughly enjoyed the read - it was short enough to tackle in a day or two, but heavy enough in content and subject matter that I felt a bit invested with the characters by the end of it all. Enough to look forward to the planned sequel that was excerpted at the end of the e-file. 

And, I found that I was invested enough with the genre to learn more. I read Rush Me (by Allison Parr) next. This title focused on a recently graduated woman, Rachael, in New York City who is struggling to fit into the publishing world, when she meets professional football player, Ryan. While this title had the age range and the whole "struggling in a post-college world" thing down - it did still strike me very much as something that would be better marketed as a contemporary romance. It was a decent read, but not a lot jumped out at me that screamed 'new adult.'

While marketers may need new adult to differentiate between YA and more mature themes, I'm not entirely sure why it can't simply be slotted in with something like the contemporary romance genre. It's a difficult line to walk, I'm sure. Many contemporary romances focus on the late-twenties-through-thirties age range, but share similar themes of having characters struggling to 'find themselves' and find success in their respective careers well into this age range. In fact, even in real life people struggle to define who they are in relation to their loved ones, their careers, and so on well into their thirties. 

The new adult genre certainly needs a bit of time to grow and find it's footing in the publishing world. It's a genre that is currently spurred on by the growth of self-publishing that is happening, and I'm sure that it will expand it's reach and further define it's audience with time. It's certainly something that I want to keep an eye on - there's always new lists being created on Goodreads, of course, and I can certainly see how it can succeed with the proliferation of YA titles in the current market.

So, what are your thoughts on this new genre? Have you read and/or enjoyed any NA titles recently?

Attributions: Header image created by author; book cover images taken from Goodreads with links to title in text.


  1. I find this genre fascinating too! I've read three different "New Adult" books and they all fit really well into the SLJ definition. I think its great that there are more books now bridging the transition of YA readers to adults, and I'm curious to see how this genre will transform itself. Will bookstores eventually give New Adult its own section? Will libraries? Where should New Adult even be shelved? At Chapters the New Adult books that I've found are mostly kept with the adult fiction, which I guess makes sense considering its target audience is 18+....

    1. I find it really fascinating too! My main exposure to it has been through Goodreads' lists and recommendations, so genre classification can sometimes be off - but I'm really interested to see how it grows. One of the articles I read (I think it was the NYT one) noted how it's been beneficial for industry people so far (agents pitching books to publishers, etc.) in order to define the book in question. But if mainstream publications like NYT and USA Today are writing about it, then the term is certainly growing on the consumer side of things too. And that likely means it will be impacting book stores and libraries soon enough.