The missing genre
How New Adult novels are redefining fiction
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 16:09
Bookstores everywhere are changing, and changing dramatically. Simply walking into a Barnes & Noble, one can see that the Young Adult section, which used to be broken into new titles and everything else, now has just as many subgenres as the Adult section. But according to some in the publishing industry that is not enough; many writers, readers and editors seek a genre that bridges the gap between where Young Adult ends and the Adult genre begins.
The New Adult genre rose out of the idea, or rather the fact, that one does not go from being a teenager to an adult overnight. The genre was coined by Editor-At-Large of St. Martin’s Press Dan Weiss and his editorial assistant S. Jae-Jones, or JJ. In the words of JJ, “New Adult is about young adulthood, when you are an adult but have not established your life as one (career, family, what-have-you).” Simply put, the New Adult genre is about transitioning from one stage of life to another.
Adjusting to a new phase in life is often a major theme in novels, so writers everywhere are overjoyed at the prospect that their manuscripts have “a place” where they belong. All it takes is a Google Search of the term to find various blog posts by writers in support of the genre. As a result of social media and the Internet, New Adult authors are developing communities everywhere, from Twitter to the blogosphere with popular blogs such as NA Alley that are devoted to spotlighting all things New Adult.
However, nothing changes overnight in the publishing industry, and many key players are reluctant to adopt this new genre. As Suzie Townshend, literary agent at the prominent New Leaf Literary Agency, stated on her agency’s Tumblr, the problem with the New Adult genre is that, “I can’t call editors and say I have a New Adult book because most will say ‘a what?’” Even Kristin Nelson, agent of NY Times Bestselling Authors Ally Carter and Marie Lu has her concerns. While she supports and understands Weiss, she wonders, “Where [do we] put these books so they can be found by their target audience? Do [they go] in the teen section or in the general fiction?” In short, the line is blurred.
Additionally, there are those who believe that the New Adult genre is just a new name for a dead, unwanted, rarely profitable and barely stocked genre—chick lit. Many of the books that fit into this genre, books with protagonists aged 18 to 26 who are in the process of finding themselves, would also be defined as chick lit.
Later, on her blog, JJ agreed with this definition but added that the New Adult genre does not only include chick lit but also books such as “Girl With a Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier. In this novel, the main character is a girl named Griet who serves as a maid in a rich household. The book follows her relationship with her master, the painter Vermeer, as she deals with issues such as growing up and having her first job. Even though the book is set in the 1660s and Griet is 16, she is transitioning into adult life. Therefore, the book could be considered New Adult.
If the New Adult genre is to be recognized by editors, literary agents and bookstores, it will be up to readers to support the genre. Publishers such as St. Martin’s Press recently hosted a contest to raise awareness for the genre by calling for the submission of New Adult manuscripts. Undoubtedly, the contest made an impact; however, the New Adult genre won’t catch on unless the readers who read crossover books such as “Harry Potter,” “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” see a need for it. If they do, then the New Adult genre could potentially take away readers from the Young Adult genre, a genre that in a recent study by Bowker Market Research was shown to be read mainly by adults. While only time will tell if the New Adult genre is here to stay, the recent signage of bestselling indie-pubbed, New Adult novel “Easy” is a sure sign that the genre isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.