More Than Romance: The Importance of New Adult Literature

The world of publishing changes every single day, with new authors emerging and new stories being created, yet there is still one genre that this world refuses to acknowledge: New Adult.

But why? What is so wrong with a genre of books targeted towards those of the 18-30 demographic? And why is this a genre that has been resorted to being made up of self-published authors writing romance books, and romance books only? To me, a 25 year old “new adult,” it doesn’t make sense that people my age can’t have their own genre with books targeted towards them, or the books that we apparently do have are the constant punch line in publishing and I think it’s about time that we start recognizing New Adult as a true genre.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term New Adult, or NA for short, it began as a “step up” from Young Adult (YA) literature, stories that focused on characters between the ages of 18 and 30 and dealt with subjects and themes like career choices, leaving home, and, of course, sex and romance. The genre essentially started out being a contemporary romance sub-genre, a way to give those in college or in their early 20s a way to see themselves represented in stories they can relate to, but it’s almost like there’s this unspoken rule that the NA genre is only for romance stories. If someone wanted to write a fantasy story with NA-type characters, they either have to write up for the Adult market or write down for the YA market, and that’s not fair for the actual new adults in this world who want to read stories targeted at them. Instead, they have to read YA (which there’s nothing wrong with) or venture into Adult fiction, living in the never ending limbo of being too old for YA or too young for Adult.

I think the real question here is: why won’t publishers finally acknowledge New Adult as a legitimate genre? And sadly, there’s no actual answer. In the beginning, publishers wouldn’t recognize NA because they believed it was more or less a “marketing scheme” which, in my opinion, is quite a bold statement for a publisher to say when almost every single decision not just in publishing but in this world is based on marketing. Remember that influx of dystopian books after The Hunger Games was released? Or how the YA market was vampire story after vampire story once Twilight became popular? And let’s not forget how many books focused on love triangles in the early 2010s because of how important Team mentality was. It’s all about jumping on what’s hot right now and making the most of the market. So to say that making NA a legit genre is nothing but a “marketing scheme” is a laugh.

But the thing that these publishers don’t realize is that by not recognizing NA and giving it its own platform is that they’re forcing authors to change stories to fit the audience that they think it will sell to rather than the actual audience it should be reaching. I mean sure, it’s great that there are different levels of YA books now, with Upper YA making a lot of noise these days, especially with imprints like Wednesday Books, but there’s still a huge problem here. It’s great that the older teens, the 17, 18, and 19 year olds are getting stories that deal with themes and content they understand and can handle, but these authors are writing teenage characters that feel and act like adult characters, and it’s because they have to age down their stories to fit the market. And that then gives the YA genre a reputation of being older stories for older teens and forgetting that these stories were supposed to be for the 14-18 year olds in the first place (but that’s an argument for another day). I understand that publishers are afraid of losing the YA readership that grows astronomically each year, but they have to realize that we’re continuing to grow up and we want to continue to see the same kind of stories we fell in love with in the first place, but in a more age-appropriate genre zone. These publishers can’t continue to publish these Upper YA books that are meant for teens but also not really meant for teens, and refuse to acknowledge NA while people continue to complain that some of these stories aren’t quite suitable for teens and that “there should be a market for Upper YA” when there is one. Because while we want to read YA for as long as we can, we also want to read books meant for us in our own genre.

In my opinion, the biggest problem with not acknowledging NA is that there are so many books out in the world that are getting mis-shelved and getting in the hands of those who aren’t ready for that kind of content. It’s not fair to have a book like A Court of Thorns and Roses being sold as YA when it most definitely is not a story meant for teenagers, and continue to keep it in the Teen/Young Adult section in bookstores, or to read a book like Serpent & Dove and feel like it was trying to be something it’s not because it wanted to be an NA book but had to be written as a YA book to sell. It’s not fair for authors to “straddle the line between YA and NA” because publishers are too afraid to create a new genre for a new audience and understand the type of books they want to see. We need to stop stereotyping NA as being a bunch of college romance books and give it the same kind of freedom we give to YA books. We need to finally recognize not just New Adult as a genre of literature but also as a group of people, and we have to listen to them and trust them.

I promise you, book publishers everywhere, that is very possible to write and sell New Adult books that are more than just romance books. I have no idea where this notion that NA is only for romance books came from, but I do know that this genre can explore any story, whether it be set in a fantasy world, a dystopian world, or a steampunk sci-fi world, and still classify as NA. If you look at books like Touch by Natalia Jaster or Wicked by Jennifer L. Armentrout, both fantasy and paranormal New Adult books in their own right, you’ll see that there can be the balance of both fantasy and romance that is properly suited for the 18-30 year old audience. But barely anyone would know that because these books ended up being self-published and never had a legitimate audience to sell to. I don’t know why publishers are so scared of this demographic. I don’t know why they think adults want to read about 20-year-old problems set in an adult environment or that teenagers want to read about 16 year olds with the problems of a 20 year old or that as soon as someone turns 18 and becomes a legal adult they want to read stories about 35-year-old divorcees “finding themselves” again. I don’t know why they want to dumb us down or age us up without realizing that their biggest market keeps getting older. But what I do know is that there can and should be books meant for us, and the way to do it is through the NA genre.

I believe in New Adult literature so much and it’s about time that the world of publishing did, too.

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