What the Heck is New-Adult Fiction?

by Rebekah Hunt
If you’re getting old like me, you’re probably feeling more and more confused by what all the young people are up to these days. Now, that’s a joke, and I know I’m not anywhere near getting old, but sometimes I happen across a whole new cultural phenomenon that makes me feel like I’m getting old and out of touch. The new-adult category of fiction is one such phenomenon.
I am familiar with the different age categories that books are marketed to. At least, I thought I was. Then one day I saw the term “new-adult fiction” on a website, being applied to the demographic that the book in question was intended for. I had never heard of this, so I thought it was an affectation of this one particular book reviewer. When I googled the term, however, I found it all over the place. It even has a Wikipedia page. So, what the heck is it and where did it come from?
According to the aforementioned Wikipedia article, NA is “a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18-25 age bracket.” So, the most important distinction of new-adult fiction (NA), apparently, is that it is not exactly YA, but not exactly general adult fiction. It sits in the twilight zone between teen and adult audiences. Which is fairly appropriate, since Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series is a prime example of the genre. But it didn’t start with Twilight.
The term was coined in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press, when they put out a call for fiction submissions, saying, “Since twenty-somethings are devouring YA, St. Martin’s Press is seeking fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult.’” And thus, NA was born. Though initially seen as a marketing gimmick, publishers have been rushing to sign authors of NA books in an attempt to capitalize on the emerging market.
In a recent article for the New York Times in the Books section, Leslie Kaufman describes the appeal the new genre holds for publishers. “The goal,” she says, “is to retain young readers who have loyally worked their way through series like Harry Potter, ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Twilight,’ all of which tread lightly, or not at all, when it comes to sexual encounters.”
She explains further, saying, “Providing more mature material, publishers reason, is a good way to maintain devotion to books among the teenagers who are scooping up young-adult fiction and making it the most popular category in literature, with a crossover readership that is also attracting millions of adults. All while creating a new source of revenue.”
While I stand by my earlier statement about Twilight being NA, since it deals with sexual themes, violence, and rape (and I don’t think anyone young enough to be interested in it is old enough to read it); I see the appeal for publishers in grasping the revenue stream NA could offer. Sex sells, and that seems to be the major defining characteristic of the genre. But will T&A be enough to sustain interest in NA? We will see. While time will be the true test of its longevity, it appears for now that NA is here to stay.