How the publishing industry botched New Adult

new adult

About five years ago a new trend took over the publishing industry. It was called NEW ADULT. For those of you unfamiliar with this trend, “New Adult” was a new age category for readers approximately 18-25 years of age. The characters of said books were usually within this age range as well.

The category was initially intended as a stepping stool between the Young Adult category for readers age 12-18 and the adult category for readers age 18+. The reasoning behind New Adult was that many readers (myself included at the time) appreciated the distinction between between the “adulthood” of your late teens / early twenties and the other type of adulthood, the one that sets in after you hit 25 and have a more stable life and bigger responsibilities (for most of us at least).

Because let’s face it, the “adulthood” of your college years is not the same “adulthood” of your post-college working years. And literature should be able to reflect that. Or at least, that was the hope.

When New Adult took off, I was very excited. To be honest I envisioned a ton of new fantasy books with characters between this age range. I thought it would be very interesting to mix the elements of fantasy with the mindset and viewpoint of characters in their early twenties… which are adults but have not wholly figured things out yet and may still be grappling with issues like dealing with new responsibilities and the like. This translated into a fantastical setting might yield something interesting.

I envisioned New Adult science fiction. New Adult dystopia. New Adult historical. New Adult contemporary. I envisioned a whole new world of possibilities… because that’s what an age category is, right? It’s a category to fit in a whole bunch of genres. Just like there is YA fantasy, YA sci-fi, YA dystopia, and adult fantasy, sci-fi, etc… There should have been New Adult everything.

Sadly, that was not how our poor fledgling New Adult was treated.

What sparked off the New Adult trend was a couple of bestselling self-published romance books. So naturally, literary agents and publishers of the industry decided to buy and publish ONLY (or mostly) New Adult romance, because they wanted to capitalize on the trend. Their vision didn’t extend to beyond this or to what the category could become. So from its begginings New Adult was not treated as an age category, but as a genre. Or rather, as a sub-genre… of Romance.

Obviously in a couple of years the market became saturated with New Adult, which became equivalent to “Romance between people in their early twenties”, and the trend died off completely. The Age Category, which was never treated as such, was effectively killed.

My urban fantasy book The Sun Child features a 22 year old protagonist grappling with the morality behind having the power to heal and kill others at will. In my mind this is a perfect example of one of the many ways New Adult could have expanded as a category, but didn’t, because of a short-mindedness that spread within the industry. So I label my book Adult for commercial purposes, though I would have liked to label it New Adult.

And that’s the sad story of how the publishing industry botched New Adult.

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