|(Photo credit: Blue Train Books)|
Have you heard about that New Adult category of books, being created practically before our eyes? Other terms for it include: Upper YA, Crossover Fiction, and Mature YA. How did it start and what is it about?
Now you have to admit those topics aren’t exactly new so why publishers think we need a new category of books? That is the question and the answer is as old as the publishing business or perhaps even older – money.
I still blame in the first place “Twilight“, with the horribly skewed version of the alluring nectar of forbidden love it presented. I know, Twilight itself remains firmly in the YA paranormal romance realm but it was a step toward the NA direction. Stephenie Meyer has achieved a lot, earned a lot and her mind-boggling success undoubtedly inspired other authors and the whole publishing world. For example an author I love to hate, hiding under the pen name of E.L. James, as her “50 Shades of Grey”, a cheesy, kinky juggernaut, is so obviously modelled on Twilight. It spawned in turn “50 Shades“-themed bondage classes and single-handedly boosted the book industry (which should be nevertheless thoroughly ashamed of themselves). The book series once dominated the number one, two and three spots on the New York Times Bestseller List (New York Times, shame on you, your bestseller list doesn’t exist in my universe anymore). 50 Shades books are still not NA positions but the success of the series, like that of Twilight, definitely helped to create the NA phenomenon – it showed you can create a certain market niche and then make it brimful of curious readers. And line your pockets nicely in the process. It was too tempting not to try it.
So if you asked me what New Adult books are about I would say: in a nutshell it is about merging the former young adult themes with erotic fiction. In other words the publishers want to lure people who liked novels as children and teenagers, offering them something better-fitted to their more mature tastes. Buying and reading erotica? Some people would still consider it a social taboo. Buying and reading New Adult? Not a problem – it sounds almost posh, almost respectable, with that dashing, naughty flavor some appreciate so much, and it promises content that actually makes sense, a real plot in which those steamy moments are just inserted here and there like raisins in a bun. In fact, after having read some of New Adult positions I must admit I found these books a bit like the old Harlequin romances, just set in modern times, with younger characters, many of whom are in college, coming of age and often exploring their sexuality. Think Smut Fiction with some window dressing so it looks respectable and…kind of new, at least to me (I’ve never read those pesky Harlequin but I’ve heard STORIES).
Of course I am sure there will be plenty of fans and several book sellers who might disagree with such an assessment. They claim New Adult covers a wide range of themes and issues, not focusing solely on sex. That’s why some view New Adult fiction as only a category of literature—meaning, it gives readers general content expectations, but it does not dictate strict, genre-based criteria. Typically, a novel is considered NA if it encompasses the transition between adolescence—a life stage often depicted in Young Adult (YA) fiction—and true adulthood. The fact is that it rarely (if at all) avoids the description of sexual encounters so if you ask about the main difference between YA and NA here it is – the later features more hot scenes, often described in great detail and covering the whole gamut of preferences.
Let me also quote here the explanation offered by one of the NA authors, Cora Carmack, why this category/genre should exist at all. Carmack thinks we’re only just now hearing the term “New Adult” because:
…the world is a very different place than it was when YA first became an accepted genre. It used to be that many people got jobs straight out of high school, and only some people went on to college. And usually those who did go to college were more financially and emotionally dependent. Now, it has become the norm to go to college, and for young adults to remain in contact or even dependent upon their parents for years after graduating high school. College is the new high school, and as such that “growing up” phase has been stretched to include a few extra awkward years.
Hmm… with all due respect that sounds like waffling to me. Authors have been writing about the transition from childhood to adulthood and those ‘extra awkward years’ like forever. Jane Austen, anybody? Some of her characters, like Anne Elliot from Persuasion, definitely prolonged their ‘forming years’ quite a bit. The Sorrows of Young Werther ? (damn that Goethe, he was good – have you noticed how he sneaked that ‘Young’ into his title?) Girl Interrupted? The Dangerous Liaisons? Maurice? Fanny Hill? Gosh, I can even quote here some stories straight from the Bible and they would most definitely qualify for being New Adult– for example the first part of the life of David who later became one of the most prominent kings of Israel. All of them share one basic feature: they present a newly emancipated person on the cusp of discovering themselves, where they fit into life, what allowances they will make, and how they relate to others. Unrequited love, forbidden love, friendship, committments, leaving your old family behind, real-life challenges – you get everything there as well.
Let’s be honest and let me get to my point: those are marketing gurus who really need “New Adult” fiction to be a stand-alone category or genre, not readers. They want the millennials to believe it is a bespoke literature segment created to fit their unique needs. So what the content is hardly new and often presented in a very crude, sometimes even amazingly tacky voice? As long as you believe it is good and you are prepared to pay extra for the ‘novelty’ factor they are going to do cracking business.
Take into account the fact that this new category is intended to be marketed to mostly female readers ages 18 to 30. Quite coincidentally that particular age group is considered to be the most lucrative as it consists (but is not limited to) readers who are already active on the job market at least part-time so have a larger disposable income than, say, your average primary and secondary school student. They have money, they want to have fun and they don’t want to be limited in any way. Ready for harvest.
It reminds me of the term “teenager,” which, crazy as it might seem now, didn’t even exist until the mid-20th century. Today, teenagers are a consumer group worth about $200 billion. Youth became a sought-after commodity but it didn’t happen overnight, the whole process was rather an evolution than a revolution – it needed some generations to solidify. Today, with the digital publishing and the Internet connecting most of the world, it will be definitely something more dynamic.
Will marketers be able to pull the same trick with kinda-youth? It seems they’re certainly going to try – compartmentalizing the market has never been a mistake so far. Before you go to your favourite library and shop for a New Adult novel ask yourself a question, though: what do I really need to read?
The idea of this essay was implanted in my silly brain by Bloddeued and Rameau helped me with the editing and supported me morally on Twitter – thank you very much, girls, I owe you and you rock!