Friday 18 October 2013

So What is New Adult Fiction and Why Should We Care?

What do you think of when you hear new adult fiction? As a reader or even as a writer you may be thinking of the latest titles in adult fiction. If you searched your local library or bookshop you would find a Children’s section, a Young Adult (or teen) section and an Adult section – but it’s unlikely that you will find a New Adult section. What makes it more confusing is that the New Adult category (targeting say 18-25 year olds) is sometimes called mature Young Adult (generally targeting the upper end of 12-18 age bracket) and “new” doesn't seem to be a natural progression of “young.”

Yet New Adult is very much the topic of the moment. A Google search comes up with some 61,300,000 entries – with most written in the last year or two. One Good Reads shelf lists 2,440 titles (most published since 2011).

In 2009 St Martin Press coined the word as part of a competition soliciting novels aimed the 18-25 year old demographic. In other words, aimed at college-aged teens to twenties who are in transition between being under parental authority to becoming fully independent and responsible adults. However, the category (it’s not strictly a genre) didn't take off until 2012 with the breakaway success of self-publishing authors writing for the New Adult market as well successfully published fan fiction. Arguably, E L James’s Fifty Shades of Grey fits into this category as a published Twilight fan-fic with 21 year old college student, Anna Steel, as heroine and “emotionally damaged” hero, Christian Grey.

New Adult fiction has received a barrage of criticism – as being “smut” fiction or condescending to twenty-something adults (as though they need training wheels) or as a blatant marketing gimmick to sell books to a now grown-up generation hooked on reading by Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games. To some extent New Adult fiction can be compared to Young Adult fiction on steroids. It keeps it’s pacey, emotional tone but is likely to contain (more) explicit sex, violence, darker themes, alcohol, drugs, mental illness, suicide, bad language. The majority of New Adult books are contemporary romances whose protagonists often have a complicated past as titles like Easy, Beautiful Disaster, Hopeless and Slammed might suggest.

But before we dismiss New Adult as Shades of Grey wannabees, I think we need to look beyond the stereotypes. Not all New Adult romances major on explicit sex and New Adult is increasingly embracing other genres such as fantasy, thrillers or crossovers.  Moreover New Adult focuses on important "Coming of Age" themes.  Many readers in their twenties identity the need for fiction with protagonists their age and dealing with the situations they face in everyday life – in particular the transitions from teenager to adulthood –  from parental control to new freedoms, from school to uni or the workplace. It encompasses firsts like leaving home, getting the first job, moving towards marriage and parenthood. These are important themes for readers and authors.

New Adult provides Christian authors with new possibilities while avoiding some low points  – or maybe it gives a name for what some authors are already writing – as for example with Paula Vince’s books or maybe the Rose Dee’s Resolution series.

For readers it provides books with the pace and emotion of Young Adult fiction (which many adults also enjoy) which may explore deeper themes, with more complex plots and older protagonists.

The New Adult category is currently in a state of flux – what happens in the next few years will no doubt shape it's future - for better or worse. We can be part of that process.

Jeanette O’Hagan

Jeanette has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology.  She is currently caring for her  children, enjoying post-graduate studies in writing at Swinburne University and writing her YA/NA Akrad fantasy series.  She is actively involved in a caring Christian community. 

You can find her at and

If you wish to explore New Adult further – here are some resources I found helpful:

* Good Reads New Adult Fiction Shelf
* Jane Litte. (July 24 2012) If you Like New Adult Books in Dear Author, 
* What is New Adult in NA Alley,  
* Karen J. Ohlson (February 25, 2013) Why I Didn't Toss Out Fifty Shades of Grey in Talking Writing, 
* Lauren Sarner, (08/14/2013) The Problem With New Adult Books in The Blog   
* Ashley Strickland (October 16, 2013) A brief history of young adult literature in CNN,   
* Molly Wetta (February 24, 2013) So, This Whole “New Adult” Thing: Part One in Wrapped Up in Books,   


  1. It's been interesting to observe the rise of New Adult. I haven't read any, so I'm not really sure what genre they fit in to, but get the impression they are mostly romance (or an offshoot of romance, such as erotica).

    This got me wondering. When I first started reading romance, way back in another century, the heroines were generally young, innocent and rather naïve, while the heroes were older and more sophisticated. There was often an Other Woman, who was also older and more sophisticated (although this trope has, thankfully, almost disappeared).

    Over the last decade, I've noticed heroines are more likely to be in their late twenties or thirties and have an established career. The heroes are still older, but only by a couple of years. This is because romance readers want heroines they can relate to, and the twenty-year-old virgin isn't relatable in the general market any more.

    Of course, this also reflects modern reality. People are getting married older than, say, in the 1970's, and they are establishing careers before they marry.

    All this is to say: is this shift in general market romance behind the rise in New Adult? Just as women in their forties, fifties or older don't want to read romances about very young women, but women in their late teens and early twenties don't want to read romance about women in their thirties? And they don't want to read what the Christian market has to sell either: Amish (not that I can blame them on that score).

    What I think is sad, based on the New Adult reviews I've read, is that these books feature unhealthy relationships. There is certainly a place for Christian authors to write novels that illustrate healthy male/female relationships, whether for the Christian or secular markets.

    I suspect Spiralling Out of Control (Michelle Dennis Evans) fits in to this New Adult genre. It is dark and disturbing, but as someone who has copyedited the sequel and read the rough draft of the third book in the series, I can assure you hope is to be found.

    1. Hi Iola, You make some interesting points about romance and I think you are right, it does represent changes in demographics and lifestyles. These days there seems to be a longer transitional period between young adults (18+) leaving home and establishing themselves in a home of their own - often yo-yo-ing between new digs and returning to the parental home.

      Contemporary romance is by far the biggest category of NA to such an extent that some make that the defining feature of the category. However, this doesn't have to be so and there is a growing number of other genres in NA.

      I also get the impression that many NA romances focus on unhealthy relationship - often with a dominating (abusive) older man - and it seems this is a spin off of the popularity of 50 Shades and some would say the Twilight series. It is a worrying trend - as Karen Ohlson cogently argues in Why I Didn't Toss Out Fifty Shades of Grey. Again I think we have a great opportunity of providing an alternative that promotes healthier and more respectful relationships.

      I've just started reading Michelle's book - about 25% way through. From want I understand from one review the themes she deals with would certainy fit in NA category - though her protag just turned 15 at the start of the book, the story is centered on High School and she is living with her parents - which would fit more with YA though no doubt she is older and more independent in the sequels.

      My own WIPs start with seventeen year old protags but as the series develop they become in their late teens to twenties which is why I was excited when I first discovered the NA category last year.

      Thanks for your comments :)


    2. Iola said: All this is to say: is this shift in general market romance behind the rise in New Adult?

      Iola, I think this is a fair assessment and a reflection of the type of contemporary romance stories that readers are looking for in the general market. The alpha hero will always be popular in romance.

  2. Great post, Jenny. Thanks for unpacking New Adult Fiction.
    Coming of Age stories are always going to reel in the reader. Whatever the age.
    I've read I'm in the 'second adolescence' demographic now. (shrug) I am yet to read an historical which tackles the mid-life crisis in women, and I suspect I won't anytime soon. I guess it's the stuff of mainstream contemporary fiction. But there's no arguing, there's something for everyone. :)

    1. HI Dotti
      Of course trends are not prescriptions though sometimes they influence us to fulfill them. Not all teenagers are rebellious after all and not all twenty-somethings are in their second adolescent - many such as yourself have settled down, married, had children and are responsible adults while some people in their 50s and 60s could still be living like adolescents :).

      Interesting point about historical fiction and mild-life crisis in women. Did women have mid-life crisis a couple of hundred years ago or is it another modern "invention" like adolescence/teenagers or even childhood (to some extent)? My father's older siblings left school and started full time work at 13, were married in their early 20s. If you read Jane Austen - women and men were consider elderly, were often dowagers or widowers by their early 50s (I think this is true of Mrs Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility).

      And yes, I guess it is providing something for everyone.

  3. Fascinating Jenny. You pots was enlightening.

    And Iola interesting discussion around the romance genre. What you say makes sense, twentysomethings looking for novels more relevant to themselves.

    Great download of information for our community, ladies. Thank you.

  4. Thanks Jenny, it was good to have this unpacked with some links to look through. I agree with others that this may be an area for Christian authors to produce quality books that both satisfy the market and offer hope for the readers every day life.

  5. I hadn't heard the term until just recently so it was good to have it explained.

  6. This is really great, for somebody who never heard the term before but can identify with it.
    Now I'll be able to tell everyone I write in the New Adult genre, and they'll ask me what that means and hopefully it'll snowball from there. Great conversation starter at parties, at the very least :)
    Seriously though, I like the fact that it's being separated into a class of its own. Thanks for the post, Jenny.

  7. Thanks Paula. Have fun at the parties with your new icebreaker ;) Having read some of your books, I thought you might have an affinity with NA as you write this age bracket so well.

  8. Jenny, great post! Thanks for your detailed critique of the New Adult category. I had associated NA fiction with 'coming of age' contemporary romances and erotic fiction. It's interesting to see how the NA category is evolving and consider the potential opportunities for NA stories in the Christian market. It has also been good to read all the comments :)

    1. Thanks Narelle - I think it can only be a good thing if NA, like YA, has broader boundaries - focusing on the "coming of age" "transition to adulthood" themes in a range of genres including contemporary romance. As a writer of fantasy fiction, I am certainly hoping it does :)

  9. That was a very helpful post, Jeanette. I now need to change my demographic in book proposals. I think I should say my historicals are more suitable for 25 years and up. Either you are into contemporary novels or historicals. However I often write plots twists where my heroines often make bad choices and face the consequences. And being in the Christian sphere I feel we need to offer Jesus as the solution to their problems.(without being heavy-handed.)

  10. Thanks Rita
    Most NA are contemporary but it should be possible to have historical NA if it focused on the late teens, early twenties age range and covered "coming of age" or "transitional" themes.


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