New Adult: A Broken Promise, Now a Rose by Any Other Name (by Chrisite G)
I have been following with waxing and waning interest for the last few months the chatter about the “New Adult” trend that publishers have been introducing. You can trace it back to St. Martin Press back in 2009, when they wanted to market books as coming-of-age stories with characters in their twenties. You can actually trace it further back to an online contest, sponsored by #YALitChat, and they had a really decent turnout for it. The winners got the first 50 pages of their manuscripts looked over by St. Martin, and a lot of them were really idealistic. Blogger and author Kristan Hoffman, who won the contest, stated that she felt that New Adult could really take off, “Especially since New Adult could offer a variety of “flavors.” Sci-fi, fantasy, romance, historical, thriller, literary … Just like the Young Adult umbrella, New Adult can (and probably will) cover all these genres and more.”
In spite of this early optimism, even the reps for St. Martin admitted back then what I keep thinking now: that New Adult isn’t needed, and that it’s just a marketing ploy. It was a way for ADULT FICTION to expand out of its box. Which is good- we all like things expanding outside of their boxes, and it’s nice that publishers want to reach out to a section of readers that they think need special marketing. I think it would have been wonderful if it had taken off that way. Books like the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty or Prep often live in the Young Adult section but need to find an older audience, as they might need a college aged crowd who won’t go back to a teen section once they graduate. (Note to readers- mine continue to haunt the teen area even after they’ve graduated high school, are constantly asking me for more teen and adult books, and are actually laughing at the thought of me calling them “new adults”)
New Adult is not coming out of its box, though. Instead, publishing is wrapping things up in bright, shiny pink polka dot paper with froufrous and lace, and that’s not acceptable. If anything, it’s basically the new shiny name for chick lit and backhanded acceptance that it’s OK for a FEMALE to read. And that makes me incensed.
If you look at some of the definitions, now New Adult is considered anything coming of age for readers 14-35. That’s a bit of a gap developmentally- what’s appropriate for a freshman in high school is not going to be appropriate for a freshman in college or a graduate student, and a far cry from the original intent of 18-26 year olds. How, realistically, am I as librarian supposed to put together a New Adult collection with a straight face? “Oh, here, teenager, read the bodice ripper your MOM likes. Oh, here, adult patron, please don’t mind that we have the scantily clad covers right next to the rapidly diminishing young adult section, because it’s the NEW ADULT area.” If you search Goodreads for New Adult titles, you get at least 300 titles: everything from Julie Cross’ Tempest (rated YA- 14 to 18 yrs by the publisher on BN.com) to 50 Shades of Grey. We’ve gone far afield from college experiences, moving out, and finding our way in the real world.
|Five young adult titles that are being called New Adult on Goodreads- where would you put them?|
And take a CLOSE look at titles that are being considered new adult. Notice a pattern? How about the fact that the vast majority of them are romantic intrigue? So, who exactly is the New Adult category for? Random House just announced this morning a new digital imprint for their New Adult titles- called FLIRT. Sci-fi is called Hydra while Mysteries is called Alibi. So, if New Adult were actually FOR people 18-26 or 18-36, why would you call it something that is going to appeal primarily to young women while alienating the vast majority of readers? Unless you WANT it to be aimed for that segment?
Shiny imprint of New Adult called Flirt. Plus vast majority of books being published and categorical under New Adult are romantic intrigue genre. Therefore, New Adult = romantic intrigue books that have younger protagonists for women ages 18-26. What happened to the coming-of-age topics? What happened to the other flavors, the sci-fi, fantasy, historical, thriller, literary? Between the imprint name and the marketing, what are publishers demonstrating about their opinion of the target audience? Do they not trust young women to seek out and read quality literature? Instead of simply encouraging them to read the good books that they want to, why do the publishers think the books have to be decked out in such a way for the target audience to choose to read them? Why is there a stigma of guilt associated with either the content or the act of reading, such that publishers think it has to be disguised as something with stylish appearance?
Why do we have to turn something that could have been good into basically permission-giving for people to read one particular sub-genre without guilt?
Of course, there are other arguments, both for and against New Adult. For more on the discussion, check out:
Karen’s 2 Cents: How in the world could something categorized as ages 14 -17 be considered NEW ADULT? 14 year olds are not adults.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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