What Ever Happened to New Adult?

Over a decade ago, readers, authors, and publishers alike started to recognize a widening gap between the young adult and adult fiction genres. While the young adult genre tends to encompass stories targeted towards readers ages twelve to eighteen, adult fiction almost always features thirty-year-olds and older. This left out an entire market of twenty-somethings who wanted their stories told as well. Hence, in 2009, St. Martin’s Press coined the term “new adult” to describe this subgenre of fiction that bridged the gap between YA and adult.

In the following years, the new adult genre saw a surge in popularity, especially in the self-publishing community. However, it was almost immediately written off by major publishers as a marketing gimmick and dismissed as a credible genre. Publishers believed that readers’ needs were already being met through YA and adult books. This led best-selling authors such as Cora Carmack and Jennifer L. Armentrout to go down the self-publishing route in order to get their new adult fiction into readers’ hands.

Although this new genre proved promising in the early 2010s, and even started to become more and more accepted in traditional publishing and bookselling, the genre has fallen off in the last five years. Mentions of the genre have all but disappeared, even though books that technically fit the requirements are still being published by major publishers. Take Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, or House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas, both published in the last year. Both feature characters in their early to mid-twenties, and both pull elements from YA and adult fiction. Reading them, it’s clear that they don’t quite fit into either category, and instead lie somewhere in the middle. And yet, in both cases, they are marketed not as new adult, but just as adult fiction.

Some of the resistance to using the new adult label has come from the way the genre has been portrayed over the years. When new adult had its first surge of popularity, the majority of books being published and marketed in the genre were romance or erotica. This led to the stereotype that new adult was just “YA but with sex,” and prevented it from truly branching out into other subgenres such as sci-fi and fantasy or thriller and horror. Without being able to break out into other subgenres as YA and adult fiction have both accomplished, new adult is stuck being seen as a small subgenre of adult fiction that encompasses romance books for the twenty-somethings. This failure of the genre is the main reason why it just can’t seem to rise to the same popularity as a genre like YA.

Despite there being a proven market for new adults that are seeking stories about people like them, the genre seems to have failed to truly establish itself as a staple in publishing. Books continue to be published that fit the category, but they are still few and far between, and are refusing the label “new adult.” It is hard to say what the future of this genre looks like, but it seems that for now, the new adult revolution has officially flopped.

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