Update (4/23/13): In the three months since I originally wrote this post, New Adult has progressed significantly to the point where some of this information is obsolete or opposite from what I wrote earlier. So I’ve revised the post below to reflect new changes in how NA is developing. And this info might well go another 180-degrees within the next three months.

 

If you participate at all in the online YA writing publishing community, you’ve undoubtedly heard the term New Adult (NA) bandied about. For those unfamiliar with the term, New Adult refers to

novels for the 18- to 25-year-old set, often college-bound, but almost always dealing with the challenges and vagaries of experiencing life on their own for the first time.

Sure, there’s a definite subset of readers there, but that doesn’t mean those readers are looking for those kinds of books.¹ And it definitely doesn’t mean anything to the publishing world until bookstores begin shelving books and libraries begin categorizing them as part of a New Adult section.² I would say that less than 1% of people have even heard the term New Adult, let alone know what it means. So as of right now—and in the foreseeable future—there is not a New Adult genre. Sorry.

 

New Adult is not a genre on the verge of becoming a genre

 

So how does this impact writers? For those who write books with protagonists and plots geared toward this subset, it means that they have to decide whether their book should be seen as upper young adult or as adult. NA are books that in the past have been referred to as crossover titles—they fit into that narrow window of not quite teen anymore but not yet adult.

The biggest difference between NA and adult or YA literature is the tone. Just like not all books with teenage protagonists are considered Young Adult, not all books with 18- to 25-year-old characters fit into this classification. I would say a majority don’t. It’s the narrator’s voice and what the characters deal with that sets it into this rather narrow category.

These books are about striking out on your own for the first time. About uncertainty and newness. About college or first job post-college. About being dumped into the real world to fend for oneself right out of high school. About dealing with life stuck at home taking care of family while friends are off having the time of their lives in college. About countless other situations that all have a common theme: High school is over. What the hell am I supposed to do now? And how in the world do I figure it all out?

Now we get to the part where I explain how it applies to me as a children’s literary agent. Even though I represent YA and even some mature upper YA,

 

I don’t rep New Adult

 

Why? Because the editors who are acquiring books along the lines of New Adult are generally editors of adult fiction. Yes, there are some books labeled YA that fit better into the NA mold, and this might well change in the future, with more NA being published by YA imprints, but right now, if you want to pitch a New Adult book, you do so to an adult agent or editor.

 

To sum up:

  1. As a genre, New Adult does not exist—at least not yet is still evolving.
  2. No one outside New York City has a clue what New Adult is. Very few people outside publishing or in the media know that New Adult is even a thing. 
  3. If you’re pitching a book as New Adult, you should probably do so to an agent or editor of adult fiction.
  4. I don’t represent New Adult titles. So don’t query me with them.
  5. And I’ll add one more, which could be its own post: New Adult is not YA with more sex.

 

Footnotes

1. This is still accurate, though it’s likely to soon change. Most readers have no clue what New Adult is—especially those within this demographic—but as the genre receives more attention, more readers will begin to seek out these books.

2. When I had my little bookstore (Fire Petal Books), I had a room for New Adult books. The King’s English in Salt Lake has a similar section they call On the Edge, located in the room for adult fiction. Utah is such a conservative community that it made sense for me to give older YA their own area to address parental concerns about mature content. Then there’s my local library, which labels books for readers 16 and older as adult novels and shelves all upper YA in the adult section. In general, though, bookstores and libraries—especially larger ones—have yet to recognize NA as a separate category, let alone consider it a genre.