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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

New Adult Fiction: An Untapped Potential


Not a Young Adult novel, and not yet an adult novel, New Adult fiction strives to find its place in the world.  ♦ 
As a reader just coming into her 20s, I’ve found myself in a frustrating predicament. I feel I’m somewhat too old for Young Adult novels and the way they seem to focus on high school teens who fall in love with vampires, or who must band together in a dystopian society to defeat their dictatorial adult leaders while juggling a love triangle. That’s not to say there aren’t great Young Adult novels out there, or that I haven’t read some I really enjoyed. It’s just come to the point where practically every book I pick up for that age-group seems to be a variation of The Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars. The YA genre seems to be slowly morphing into one that follows the Hollywood approach to movies: originality is dead — long live the rewrites.
     At the same time, I haven’t reached the point in my life where I am ready to commit to what’s marketed as Adult novels. The content offered in them, which usually involves characters already settled in jobs and relationships, tackles issues largely unrelatable to someone my age. As a reader, I want something that is catered to me, the college sophomore who has no idea what she’s doing half the time and is just trying to figure it out, someone who is learning what it means to be on her own and is trying to navigate without her training wheels for the first time. This content isn’t available in the bulk of YA novels, even in the realistic fiction subgenre, since most involve characters and conflicts revolving around popularity struggles and prom mishaps and other adolescent drama I’ve since left behind.
     What is the solution, then, for those of us who want books more relevant for our age and status in life? The answer may lie in New Adult fiction, a term only coined back in 2009. These books are written with the 18-25 age-group specifically in mind and promise to deal with the difficult transition from the teen years to adulthood, involving struggles and emotions often faced by people my age. These novels focus on characters making discoveries about themselves and their world and navigating the obstacles they must face after they have come of age.
     At least, this is what New Adult fiction was supposed to be, but on bookshelves, the genre is definitely lacking. It’s difficult to know exactly why this is, but it seems in part a failure of publishing houses and their advertising efforts which has allowed New Adult fiction to earn a reputation of being “smutty,” or driven by sex, and allowed what could be true New Adult fiction to be published as “Young Adult. Take for instance one such “YA” series by Megan McCafferty, the Jessica Darling series. This five-book arc follows Jessica as a sixteen year old navigating through high school through college and grad school, and ends with her as a young businesswoman. Along the way, she grows up, and that’s exactly seems exactly the kind of novel a new adult reader, like me, would want to read. Good luck finding it, though, because McCafferty’s books are labeled Young Adult and get lost among the masses of YA published every year.
      Bottom line, as of 2015, New Adult fiction lacks the literature many readers of my age are looking for and becomes a genre only suited for those looking for a specific type of sort-of-more-mature YA romance, and that seems like an awfully missed opportunity. While it may seem counter-intuitive to publishing’s mission to make money, it appears to some as though publishing is holding back New Adult fiction because they fear what it would mean to back yet another genre. As many online outlets have pointed out, recognizing New Adult as a legitimate genre means bookstores and libraries would have to re-organize stock. Molly Wetta of Ebsco’s Novelist addresses this very question, “The publishing world continues to debate the nature of and need for the category, but what does that mean for librarians? Should it have its own space, separate from adult and young adult fiction collections, or should it be spread between the two? How do new categories change collection development practices or cataloging for librarians? These questions are still up in the air.” Meanwhile, Jane Jorgenson of Library Journal talks about how there is still much debate over taking the time to create more genre shelves in libraries (and bookstores alike), “we’ve discussed for years whether it’s better to break out the genre fiction or keep it all in the fiction section so that authors who write in several different genres can have all of their works found.” This idea of shifting an entire system that has been around for years is one that library branches and booksellers seem opposed to, and publishing seems unwilling to push for.
     The question then becomes, shouldn’t publishing cater to their customers/readers instead of simply agreeing with bookstores and libraries? Brian Klems writing for Writer’s Digest may have the answer. He says traditional publishers are “relying on targeted packaging and social media marketing to reach the New Adult audience in the absence of designated shelf space.” While expanding into social media marketing is smart given we live in a technological age, this apparent rationale doesn’t help readers when we walk into brick and mortar bookstores and have to scour the stacks in the hopes of discovering where novels of this genre are hidden.
     Not to mention, when you go looking for New Adult, all you find is lists of romance novels about young college students who are only interested in scandalous sexual affairs. With only the steamiest of these books being labeled New Adult fiction, it’s no wonder that readers don’t take the genre seriously. New Adult fiction isn’t meant to only give women their fill of raunchy debauchery, though, there is so much unexplored territory on the subject of early adulthood that would hit the sweet spot of the New Adult audience, yet you have to dig deep to discover such titles.
     Bestselling author Jenifer L. Armentrout said about the genre, “While universally acknowledging that the strongest subcategory of new adult is romance, many authors are itching to broaden the boundaries. For new adult to be anything other than a flash in a pan, it has to break out into different categories.” In her article, Naughten also said “Already, we are seeing romantic suspense, thrillers, and there are several upcoming paranormals and science fiction new adult novels.” Naughton’s talking about expanding past what’s next for New Adult authors and novels, with excitement for a new future for the genre with many added subgenres featured besides romance.
     What all this means is that New Adult novelists are being forced to either allow their books to be called YA (or sometimes Adult fiction), or to self-publish, which makes it awfully difficult to be a New Adult novelist. Their genre is hardly recognized off the internet, where only the trashy content is advertised, and this is a real issue. How are readers supposed to find titles under a genre that is currently being hidden or written off as a completely different one instead?
     New Adult fiction has a lot of potential to help bridge the gap between Young Adult and Adult novels and appealing to a originally designated “new adult” audience, if the publishers, authors, and prospective readers took the category seriously and not as a purely erotica based genre. There are books out in the world right now being slipped behind the latest Young Adult novel and are therefore are overlooked by the 18-25 year olds who are searching for such a topic to read. If publishers would recognize New Adult as a legitimate genre we might begin to see a rise in authors in this genre and a new collection of books for a specific and ignored age group that produces quality pieces and not just guilty pleasure erotica. This genre could bring in more readers if only it were given as much attention and marketing as the Young Adult and Adult novels and it is a shame that the publishing industry does not see that.
  • About the Author
    Olivia Augspurger is a sophomore English Creative Writing major. She is an avid reader and writer, when she can manage to find time to sit down and push past the writer’s block. Her hobbies include dancing, reading (of course), and suffering through writing the occasional brief bio.

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