Special Edition: What’s the Difference between New Adult and Young Adult Fiction?

5writers is happy to welcome to our site, guest blogger Jill Elaine Hughes.

JillHughesheadshotcroppedbigger(1)Jill Elaine Hughes is a Chicago-based freelance journalist specializing in personal finance, careers, and health/wellness issues. She has written for the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader, Phoenix Forward, and many regional magazines. She is also a New Adult novelist. Her New Adult books include TEMPLAND and its sequel, PERMLAND, as well as the New Adult paranormal novel, ZOMBIE, INCORPORATED.

Visit her on the Web at www.jillelainehughes.com. Twitter: @JillEHughes, and on Amazon.

What’s the Difference between New Adult and Young Adult Fiction?

By Jill Elaine Hughes

New Adult fiction is all the rage these days, with many overnight bestsellers coming from that genre. If you troll the New Adult lists on Amazon, you’ll find many of its titles in the Top 100 Kindle bestsellers there. But why is it so popular? And why isn’t New Adult just another version of Young Adult?

After all, Young Adult fiction has had the “Coming of Age” subgenre for years (think Baby Houseman in Dirty Dancing or both of the Endless Love movies—the 80s one and the one that’s in theaters now), but New Adult is a little more grown-up than that. It doesn’t always involve star-crossed eighteen-year-old lovers passionately losing their virginity to one another and thinking the world will come to an end if they can’t see each other for five minutes (although that’s one of the more popular New Adult plotlines out there). No, it’s deeper than that. New Adult fiction focuses on switching gears, from depending on our parents to becoming full-fledged, independent adults.  This means everything from choosing your college major to getting your first apartment to starting your career, and even learning how to buy groceries, clean your bathroom, and balance your checkbook. (The financial angst of being young and broke is another big theme in New Adult fiction, and in my books especially).

Oh, and sex. A big part of growing up has to do with sex. Just putting that out there. (Seriously, do you remember how horny you were when you were nineteen? Even if you weren’t actually having sex back then, I can guarantee you were thinking about it. A lot.)

The term New Adult was coined by a couple of St. Martin’s Press editors in 2009, because they were looking for ways to appeal to the generation of kids and teens who had grown up reading Harry Potter and were now entering adulthood. This is how they defined it, according to a 2010 Writer’s Digest column on the emerging genre:

New Adult is about young adulthood, when you are an adult but have not established your life as one (career, family, what-have-you).”

So, it’s about transition. The transformation from child to adult doesn’t happen overnight—just ask as anyone who is or has been (or is a parent to) a teenager. But the transition from teen to adult doesn’t happen overnight either. There’s a period of time where adulthood feels like a new pair of shoes.”

Most New Adult characters are aged 18-26, and are going through all the turbulent changes that come with that exciting time in our lives. Meanwhile, Young Adult fiction tends to be about younger teens and sometimes even preteens, usually ages 12-18 (although 12 and 13 tends to be more MG). So there can be some overlap, but Young Adult fiction tends to be more about the transition from child to teenager, rather than from teenager to adult. (Most characters in Young Adult books still live with their parents, are still in regular school—not college—and can still get grounded, for example).

And while New Adult fiction is a relatively new shelf category according to today’s publishers and booksellers, it doesn’t necessarily mean it never existed before now. As a matter of fact, I’ve been writing New Adult fiction for years, but my books were constantly getting rejected by editors due to “lack of shelf category.” (i.e., they didn’t know where it fit in the marketplace).  Fortunately for me, readers had other ideas because New Adult is a genre where readers really drove the marketplace, rather than publishers.  Traditional publishing by and large wasn’t putting these books out, but that doesn’t mean authors weren’t writing them. The New Adult books I wrote ten-plus years ago never got published, but that was before the Kindle self-publishing revolution happened. Me and a lot of other New Adult authors who found that our books didn’t fit anywhere in the regular bookstore in days of yore suddenly found there was a ravenous readership out there who were perfectly willing to gobble our books up, regardless of whether New York had caught up to the marketplace yet.

And why is that? Well, frankly, it’s because everybody grows up. There isn’t a person alive on this planet who didn’t go through a lot of crap in their late teens and early 20s. And you can argue that life for today’s twentysomethings is a lot harder than it was a generation ago, what with student loans, and a crap job market, and society’s changing expectations about relationships, marriage and family. (i.e., my own parents got married when they were nineteen, which was common back in 1969—but who does that now? Almost nobody!)

If you’re a lover of Young Adult fiction who has outgrown Veronica Roth and Harry Potter, then New Adult fiction is probably a good fit for you. There are tons of great books out there to choose from, many of them self-published. There are subgenres, too—paranormal NA fiction, contemporary NA fiction, historical NA fiction, both sexy and non-sexy. And New York publishing houses are also starting to catch up, putting out their own New Adult lines and even acquiring a lot of formerly self-published NA titles. So, get reading. (And if you don’t mind, start with me!)

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  1. #1 by Heather Marshall on March 3, 2014 - 10:35 am

    Reblogged this on Heather Marshall.

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