YA vs. NA: The New Adult Genre

books

We do like things in categories, don’t we? Especially when it comes to books, and where to shelf them in the bookstores.

Most writers I know don’t set out to write a particular genre. They have a story in them–one that won’t go away. This story, like a petulant child or annoying friend on Facebook, pokes at their brain until they can’t stand it anymore. They have to let it out.

This is how my stories come to be. I’m working on one now that I have avoided for 36 years. (Why, you ask? Because it involves a serial killer that was very real in my life and I really would rather not go down the road. But it’s very clear when it’s a story I’m meant to tell that I must tell it.)

My debut novel–not the serial killer one but the one before that–is called First Break. Again, a story I had to tell. The plot line goes like this: 17 year old girl from a small town moves to a big city to go to college and two weeks in starts hearing voices telling her to kill herself. (You know. Your average Rom-Com.) Paige finds herself in the vortex of a psychotic break and doesn’t know what’s happening, a coming of age story with a brain that’s in crisis.

When I started to write this story, I didn’t think, “What genre is this?” “Will it be a problem that she steps on a college campus?” I just knew this was a story that needed to come out. Poke, poke.

Because I’m a conference junkie, I’d listen to many editors, agents, and writers affirm my decision: “Don’t worry about the genre. Just tell the story.”

After I finished the 8,527th draft, and prepared to submit to agents, I started hearing this: “Love your writing. Show me anything else you do. Problem with this story is the protagonist steps on to a college campus. True, only for two weeks before she goes to the psychiatric hospital, but those two weeks just may take it out of young adult and then where would we put it?”

Really? But don’t we want our children to go to college campuses? Are we really sure they’re not reading? I mean, as an English major I had to read 10 books per class and still read for pleasure. I wasn’t buying it.

I had more than one agent ask me to rewrite it with her only on a high school campus, but because turning 18 is a key theme here, that seemed rather challenging.

I started calling it “Young Adult Crossover.” Not that it mattered.

And then guess what happened? More studies were done to suggest 18 – 25 year olds actually DO read books after all and maybe the market share had been wrongly calculated. Ha! Having one of my own–a transitional youth, that is–I knew this to be true. My son had friends. They definitely read for pleasure. And went to college.

Enter “New Adult,” the old YA Crossover. That’s what we’re calling it. I’m guessing there’ll be a spot for it soon in the bookstores if there isn’t already.

My fantabulous agent, Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary, explains it like this.

“New Adult” is this genre emerging for an age group that never previously had a voice because people didn’t think it would do well, and that is the college age to early 20’s bracket. (If you want to think of it another way, it is what “tween” books are to the gap between middle grade and young adult literature, but between young adult and adult fiction, usually women’s fiction.) It’s come to attention recently that there may be more of an audience for this genre than previously assumed. The big problem with trying to write that college and fresh out of college age range into literature before was that, even though they are technically “young adults,” they are not in high school. They are not living at home–they have an independence that sixteen-year-old readers can’t identify with, so editors didn’t quite know what to do with them. These books also deal with self-discovery and finding your place in the “real world” and identifying as a proper grown-up for the first time, which is really a little mature for proper teenagers and a little immature for 30, 40+-something readers. However, once people figured out that adults were actually buying a ton of YA literature, minds were opened to expanding the definition of who reads a genre a little more.

What this basically means for you, the writer, is that an editor or agent who sees your manuscript about a college freshman isn’t going to automatically reject it based on her age. Rather, they are going to consider it as a possible fit that can be pitched as “New Adult”. At the end of the day, it’s all about figuring where it’s going to sit in the bookstore.

Hallelujah! Now I have a name for both the stuff I like to read and the stuff I like to write. But it really doesn’t matter. The next story I have to tell will be the story it is no matter what. We can worry about making up a new genre later.