Thursday, April 18, 2013

My thoughts on New Adult (and a contemporary wishlist!)

There have been a number of articles written lately defining what “New Adult” is. Talking about whether it’s a new genre, a new age range, or just a passing fad. And there are people who have expressed opinions much more eloquently and have far more insightful thoughts about New Adult than I do (and if you have not read Dahlia Adler’s amazing interview with Diana Peterfreund,you are MISSING OUT! It’s about many awesome things, but has a particularly great question/answer about New Adult. Seriously, go, read it now!) but I wanted to talk briefly, as someone who is actively acquiring books, about what New Adult is to ME.

When I first started reading YA, I was about 11. It wasn’t called YA, but it was newly shelved in its own section for “Older Readers” in the library. The section consisted primarily of high school-aged series books (Sweet Valley High and the like) and about one, fairly empty, shelving section of books that had teen protagonists. Some of these were marketed by the publishers as children’s book and some as adult, but all of them were YA before YA was a thing and I wouldn’t have discovered any of them if they hadn’t been shelved together in my library and specifically designated as “FOR TEENS”. 

By the time I was in high school and then going into college I moved to the next age-appropriate section of the library (and bookstore) which was Adult. I devoured classics and chick-lit and historical fiction and magical realism – but the majority of these books featured “grown-ups” and while I loved many of them, I definitely wasn’t at a place in my life where I related to them on any kind of deeper level. And since they were written for – and marketed to – adults, they weren’t necessarily meant to resonate with me. 

By the time I WAS what society deems a “grown-up”, YA was becoming a thing and I was all too happy to dive back into reading books that took me back to what it was like to be a young teenager: dealing with parents, and high school and teachers, and changing relationships with friends, and first loves, and broody boys who just happened to be vampires…these were all things that I could relate to (mostly) because I had been there. 

But the thing is that I kind of feel like I skipped a step. I can’t help but think how great it would have been when I was in late high school and early college to have had a section of the library and bookstore to go into and be able to easily find books about 18-25 year olds and what they were going through. To have stories about guys and girls who went to college and those who choose other paths. To live vicariously through fictional friends who were navigating the changes that I would soon be facing – like falling in love and deciding whether or not to make that love a lifelong commitment, or living without the rules and regulations of parents for the first time, or deciding what to DO with my life. 

That is what I hope New Adult will grow to become for countless readers who are getting ready to hit those points in their own lives. And for readers who are past that point in their lives and want to vicariously discover the paths-not-chosen by them. For me, reading has always been both an escape and a chance to discover possibilities. And there is no time in your life when there are MORE possibilities that YOU have to make decisions about than that time at the end of high school and into college. As an editor, I want to be one of the people finding those books and putting them out there under a banner that says “FOR NEW ADULTS” so that the people who want (or need) them most will be able to find them easily.

To that end, below is a short list of some of the things I would personally love to see in my contemporary submissions inbox:

* Life in college, particularly Greek life or intensive programs in life-encompassing fields like medicine or law

* Stories with MC’s who are dealing with issues closer to the middle/end of college (i.e., internships, career choices, graduate school, “where am I going to live now that college is over” etc.)

* Life after high school stories about MC’s who choose a path other than college, whether by choice or circumstance

* High school or post-high school stories about MC’s from different social backgrounds entering a larger community (i.e., from homeschooling, closed-off community or super strict family going into public school or large college/university)

* Military stories, particularly girls in the military and/or focusing on the decision to enter the military and how that affects various relationships

* Vacation or travel abroad 

* Long distance relationships (especially told in a unique way)

* A LOVE ACTUALLY style story 

* Sweet romances with nice guys/gals who finish first 

* Modern day royalty 

* Series with large cast of characters who are navigating various types of relationships (a la Gossip Girl, Dawson’s Creek, Friends, etc.)

*Any of the above with LGBT characters


* Stories set in culinary school

* Stories with NA aged professional athletes and Olympic hopefuls/participants!
Do you think New Adult has potential as a lasting, independent demographic? What do you want to see it become/not become? What kinds of New Adult books would you be dying to read?


  1. I WANT ALL OF THOSE THINGS. And thanks so much for the shoutout! <3 One major thing I'm dying for is a NA ms set in culinary school. It's fascinating to me how early some pros get their start, and I think it'd be really fun and interesting and intense to observe. Also, would love to read some pro athlete NA - I'm continually mystified by how young some MLB superstars are, and I'd love to see that in the written form.

    And for the love of God, OLYMPIC HOPEFUL GYMNASTS. MIOBI needs to be a book, stat!

    1. would it be weird to say right here that I have a MLB NA story and an Olympic Hopeful gymnastics story?

      I'm only mentioning it because I wrote them as my personal guilty pleasure books. That's what I wanted to read and couldn't find hardly anything YA or NA with these plots.

      I hope this means more people are going to write us some baseball and gymnastics books! Culinary school would have such a wide appeal, I think.

      Sweet Valley was my YA too and Lurlene McDaniel books which are so different than the edgy stuff I love today.

  2. Seeing your list makes me agree with you on why we need New Adult. I think part of the reason New Adult is being hungered for is that our lifestyles have created that in-between age that didn't used to be there a generation ago. Not everyone went to college, and graduating high school equaled adulthood. With the huge percent of kids going to college, we've created a different set of expectations socially and professionally for them. And yeah... we want to read about it!

    Dahlia, I want to do the pro athlete stories!!! Love sports heroes. Love them. And you're right, some of them are so darn young. And cute...

  3. I'm curious as to whether there's an interest in dorm life as well as Greek life. As a big fan of GREEK, I totally find that realm fascinating, but I wonder if there'd be readership for stories outside the Greek system...

    1. If the story was interesting, I'd certainly find dorm life compelling enough - that's sort of like "The Best Years" instead of "Greek"! Obviously I watched both.

    2. One of the things I found interesting when my series came out was how often I was contacted by people who wondered why (almost) all my characters were living in the dorms -- dorm life is very central to life at Yale, because of the college system, but that's apparently a rarity in a lot of school. I got a lot of "no one really lives in dorms except freshman who don't know any better" comments, especially from people who'd gone to larger schools -- so I guess a dorm life thing really depends on the culture of the college you are writing about -- make sure to get it right!

      I also loved GREEK.

    3. Diana, that both surprises and doesn't surprise me. I encountered some of that attitude when I first enrolled - dorms are just for newbs - but I lived in dorms all four years and I went to a big(ish), public university. And there were a lot of us who were there the whole time - although, these were the swankier, "upperclassmen" dorms, too. Hundreds of students crashed in the less swank dorms freshmen year and then moved into Greek houses or into off-campus housing.

  4. Great post! I would love to read some books from people who just finished or are about to finish college. I am at that point of my life and I would love to read books about that. And also how people deal with being jobless for example and what they want in a job. Or what they want to study and why, what they want to do with their life and what their dreams are.

    Also because I live in the Netherlands I just love reading about how american college life is. I think the NA genre is here to stay, it just fils a gap in the book genres. A few years ago I remember people already talking about why there are so less books that are set in college and now finally those books are here!

  5. Hello, I have a question. Does New Adult always have to be contemporary or slightly paranormal? All the books I have read/ heard about that are NA are all contemporary or have only a small hint of paranormal. I am currently writing a modern day King Arthur story but it is fantasy-romance. My protags ages range from 19-22 so how would I pitch this? Upper ya or NA?
    I am a neophyte author so I am still trying to figure these things out as I go. If you have any advice I would love to hear it!
    Thanks so much!

    1. If it were my book, I'd actually classify it as adult, but a lot of it depends on content and the life experiences your characters are going through. A good place to explore is - they might be able to help you figure out if your book fits with NA.