Hey readers, Happy Monday! I've got a post that's a little different from my norm for you guys today. I've posted mini-rant posts before on specific topics and they've been met with a lot of praise. I've done a considerable amount of thinking on this and have decided to begin a new blog series, starting today. My Thought Monday will take place each Monday (provided I have a topic and time to write it), and will serve as a discussion post targeted towards the literary community as a whole. I'd like to offer up my thoughts for discussion among authors, bloggers, readers, and all members of the literary community. I understand that my views may be in the minority on some fronts and would love to hear your thoughts. Please note that while I would love to hear your thoughts, I will not tolerate this as a place of hate and negativity. If you so choose to put forward your thoughts via comment, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc, please do so professionally. I am fully aware that sometimes the bookish world is the last place you want to put your personal thoughts, but I, for one, am tired of being quiet. It's time for me to take a stand on issues that are important to me in this community. It is my belief that, only as a community, can we pull together and make real change in this bookish world we all know and love.
Today's topic? The long debated Young Adult vs. New Adult. I'll be dissecting genre definitions, the need for distinctions, and what I expect from each genre. Let's get this party started, shall we?
Young-Adult vs. New Adult: What's the REAL Deal?
I suppose before we can actually get down to brass tax, we should probably define the terms first. These definitions come from my good friend Wikipedia, which we all know is the most reliable source on the net. Funny enough, I actually found these to be the most helpful and complete definitions:
Young Adult: often termed as YA, is fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents and young adults. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Authors and readers of young adult (YA) novels often define the category as literature traditionally written for ages ranging from sixteen years to the age of twenty-five, while Teen Fiction is written for the ages of ten to fifteen. The terms young-adult novel, juvenile novel, young-adult book, etc. refer to the works in the YA category. The subject matter and story lines of YA literature are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character, but YA literature spans the spectrum of fiction genres. YA stories that focus on the specific challenges of youth are sometimes referred to as problem novels or coming-of-age novels
New Adult: a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18–25 age bracket. St. Martin's Press first coined the term in 2009, when they held a special call for "...fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an 'older YA' or 'new adult'. New Adult fiction tends to focus on issues such as leaving home, developing sexuality, and negotiating education and career choices. The genre was originally met with some criticism, as some viewed it as a marketing scheme, while others claimed the readership was not there to publish the material. In contrast, others claimed that the term was necessary; a publicist for HarperCollins described it as "a convenient label because it allows parents and bookstores and interested readers to know what is inside".
Why the distinction?
So now that we've defined the terms, you may be asking "why do we need the distinction, books are books, right?" Wrong.
Readers, I'm here to tell you, our world is constantly changing. Children are growing up too fast and my generation isn't doing anything to help that. Who are we to censor what our youth read? Who are we to say someone simply cannot read something? I'm all about giving readers the transparency upfront to know exactly what they are getting themselves into. That being said, I really think there is a problem with 'stretching the truth' in the literary community. Let's stop with the fibbing for sales and metrics and start thinking about the readers out there who take a gamble with each author they read.
The need for the distinction is simple: some content is not appropriate for all readers. As you can see by the definition, NA is essentially the next step up on the ladder from YA. Whereas a YA book may briefly touch on a particular topic, let's say sexual assault, NA allows the author to vividly describe not only the episode in question, but also explore the lingering effects said episode will have on the individuals life. Make sense? We'll get more into this as we go on, but the important thing to learn here is that the distinction between age genres is just as important as the distinction between a religious text and a Harlequinn romance. Knowing what you're reading is important folks. It's time we start to speak up!
Why do we need NA?
So we know what is it, but why do we need New Adult? We already have YA and we have Adult novels, is there really a need for an in-between? And if so, what's the difference between NA and Adult?
NA is.... interesting. It's that strange little genre that's truly always been there. Always sat nestled between YA and Adult, but really never had any particular name. Do I believe that is important? Personally no. I know that I am in the minority on this thought, but in all honesty, NA books have been around for years without the distinction. Do we necessarily need the terminology? I don't believe so. Now, I will say that it does make things easier, but labeling NAs as 'adult' has been the practice for a long time and I thought it was working just fine. The NA genre came about rather quickly, and as a result has been seen as a 'fad' and earned itself a pretty rough reputation on a few fronts.
I don't see where many of the criticisms are necessarily true, but I definitely think they are important to take into consideration.
Let's do a quick case study for comparison. Let's also use one of my all time favorite series as an example.
Charlaine Harris published Dead Until Dark, the first novel in her groundbreaking and internationally bestselling The Southern Vampire Mystery Novels in 2001, long before the New Adult genre had a name. The series follows 25 year old 'New Adult' Sookie Stackhouse as she works her way through the pitfalls of growing up and facing mortality on a daily basis. (These are the novels that True Blood was based on for those of you who may not have known.)
Sookie Stackhouse is a 25 year old waitress who is only now beginning to learn what it means to 'come of age'. This series fits the mold for traditional NA literature and even features the romance and sex that is associated with NA. Is it NA? No. Absolutely not.
Or is it?
Welcome to the land of confusion and all the bad things that happen when you focus on where to place a book. We should be judging a book by what falls between the pages, and not by the distinctions placed on a series by Goodreads or your local bookstore.
Charlaine Harris has said before that her books not NA and doesn't want them labeled as such. Do I blame her, not one bit.
But this doesn't answer our question, if we have novels that fit the mold, why can't they be called NA?
New Adult is about so much more than fitting a mold. It's not ages, it's a state of mind. A state of mind where, unfortunately, many of the readers aren't the targeted audience. Causing even more problems. Let's dive a bit further into that, shall we?
So.. As you saw from the definition, Young Adult books are written for audiences ranging in age from approximately twelve to eighteen years of age. Basically sixth grade through high school graduation. Anyone with a brain can tell you that a lot of things change between 12 and 18 to a person. Physical, mental, and emotional changes begin to shape the person we are to become. This is the perfect genre for exploring that.
With this in mind, one can easily understand why YA is among the most popular of genres. There is a clear, defined audience.
Now this isn't to say that YA isn't without its' faults. There are many YA stories that I would NEVER approve of my 13 year old sister reading. YA is a huge genre with its' own problems and that's where I start to get angry.
I had the following situation occur the other day (which actually prompted this post):
Last week a very popular YA-turned-NA author posted an 'exclusive' excerpt from her new NA series. This excerpt was ten kinds of inappropriate, prompting me to 'report' the post. The post, which is now thankfully deleted, featured an explicit NA-style sex scene between two characters. Very descriptive, very sexual. I read these novels on a daily basis, why was I offended? This author built her platform on YA fans, those same YA fans who follow her and read everything she posts. Her YA books, which I have read are very YA friendly and are great coming of age stories. My sister is a huge fan of these works and, as a result, follows said author on Facebook. I'm not a parent, but I was absolutely outraged to see this excerpt posted on the authors fans page on Facebook where anyone could read it. Is that appropriate for a 13 year old girl? Or any of the other, even younger readers, who may have been reading? (I know this could start an entire debate about usage age on social media, but there's no point in fighting it folks, kids are on Facebook, plain and simple.)
Crazy situation, right? You want to see a mad reader, you should have seen me that day.
What about NA? We see that NA is targeted towards 18-25 year olds. I, personally have a big problem with that. Well, not with that age range, but well... it's complicated. I mean this as no offense to any author writing in the genre, but let's be honest, this 'today' is way different than it was 20-30 years ago. I have a very hard time believing that authors in their 50s and 60s can relate to today's 'new adult' market. 30 years ago, 25 year olds were expected to be married, have a sustainable income, and be settled down starting a family. Only recently has this trend of 'late adulting' emerged. I think we are giving too much cushioning to 'new adults'. All this distinction is doing is prolonging their 'youth' and giving them reason to be more immature for longer. I just graduated from college with my bachelors degree. I lived on campus, I did the crazy college life I read about in NA novels and I loved every second of it. Sure that has happened for years, but we need to realize that these college aged people are still adults. Legally, mentally, physically, why are we treating them as though they aren't?
I've noticed a trend in NA books where the characters, while well written, are some of the most immature individuals I have ever heard of. They do not take any aspects of life seriously and could easily walk into a YA setting and fit in just fine. It's like that 13 Going on 30 movie, all the time and I am so tired of reading that.
Maybe it has to do with where your from and your own background, but honestly. Where are the NA stories about young families? Where are the married couples struggling to find good paying jobs while they raise their infant child? As I scour my Facebook list for friends from high school that are my age (23), I see a trend. LOTS of them are now married. Lots of them have degrees, and honestly, most of them are more adult than any characters I'm reading about in this genre. Let's beef up our new adult characters and prove to the readers that my generation isn't all about making bad decisions.
Also, college isn't easy. How do these folks find time to attend a full time class schedule, work a job, and party the way they do? Have you guys ever actually put yourself in a NA characters shoes? I love reading NA, it's one of my favorite genres, but I can tell you, I couldn't walk too far in them.
It's time to grow up. Being young and dumb is fun, but I don't see where this glorification of it is doing anything for our youth or society as a whole.
Who is reading?
This will probably be the most controversial thing I put in this whole post, but it's something I feel strongly about.
I don't have any specific demographics or sources to back this up, but I'd like to offer up my thoughts anyway. The average reader of the New Adult genre is not between the ages of 18-25. I don't believe the average YA reader is between 12-18 either. I don't care what the studies say.
From what I have observed, your 'average' reader is female, between the ages of 25-60. Shouldn't they be reading their own genre? "Woah woah woah Ethan, you're way out of line." Calm down and bear with me people. Just glancing through my Rolodex of bookish peeps, very few of them fit into the actual NA category. This is of great interest to me. If you are a 45 year old woman reading an NA novel and are offering strong critique about how it doesn't fit the traditional views of a NA novel, is your opinion really valid?
Interesting thought, huh?
An author friend recently approached me with a dilemma and wanted my thoughts as an NA-aged reader/blogger. Her new NA series is being met with some... not so favorable reviews. Why? No sex. Plain and simple. Her reviewers? Women aged 25-40 who tore her work apart. Why is that? Why are we downing on NA authors for not fitting the mold of what society is seeing as a traditional NA novel? Again, why is a reader who isn't even close to the targeted age range, causing such a stir?
I don't have an answer to that question, but what I can tell you is that some of the biggest problems I am seeing in the NA world are coming from readers who are trying desperately to connect to characters that I just believe they cannot. Times change, it's a simple fact. Why even things now are vastly different than they were when I graduated high school a mere 5 years ago.Think about it this way, readers. Would you want your teenager reading the same NA material that you are reading? To some, this answer may be yes, but to many, it's going to be a harsh no. Why does my friend continue to get such strong pushback from such hypocritical reviewers? I can't change their opinions, but I believe that age plays a strong role.
I'm not an author, but I have strong thoughts about this. Are NA authors really writing their NA novels with college aged readers in mind? Well? Are they?
**Note: this is not to be taken in any for of negative way towards any of my friends and colleagues. As a whole, I have found most every NA reader to be an awesome person, but unfortunately people like out unnamed subject above, are ruining it for the rest of them!**
Is it all about the romance?
So let's get real here. Is the difference really all about the romance? Sex sells, but is it the reason that NA persists? This is probably the most widely debated topic in the NA community and I really haven't ever had any desire to share my thoughts until now.
NA novels have earned a reputation that they cannot seem to shake: "YA with porn". That's a pretty harsh critique. One that I will continue to fight, but it definitely has roots in truth. While I'm not going to call out any author in particular, I would like to make a few points.
If you remove the sex from your favorite New Adult read, what do you have? Hopefully you can say you still have a gripping plot, interesting characters, and thought provoking themes that keep you reading, page after page. Can you truly say that about every NA novel you've ever read? I know I sure can't. In fact, I can't even say that for a majority of the NA novels I have read.
I once approached an NA author about the amount of sex in her novel. I asked why she felt it was necessary. The author bluntly told me, "it isn't, but it's what my readers want". The same author also told me she was told by publishers that her book would never be taken seriously without more sex. Wow. Wooooowwww. I don't even know where to go with that. Now we're making authors include explicit sex scenes in their New Adult novels? No thanks.
Is there sex is YA? Of course there is. Duh. Young Adults are having sex folks, more and more of them each and every day. I'm not saying we need to start including sex scenes in YA novels, but I think we need to stop acting like our youth can't handle it. If a youth jumps into a NA novel for their first time, they are going to be blown away by the content, no questions asked. I remember the first NA book I read was full of sex and I was really confused. I had never read such a thing before. I still liked the book, but the fact that this type of material was considered appropriate now really blew me away. Since then, I've read things that are straight out of a bad porno flick.
Is it all about the romance? No. Absolutely not. Does the romance and sex play a huge role in the genre? You better believe it. Anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves. Seriously.
So what about those sex scenes?
All sex scenes are not created equal. Some authors go all out. Vividly painting the pictures that I really don't think are necessary. Even I can enjoy a well-written sec scene, but once you've hit the three page mark, my interest is completely gone. Some readers thrive on this type of writing. Generally these readers and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of things. In my opinion, they are better suited for the erotica side of the literary world, but alas, we're all free to read whatever we choose. My beef comes when those readers decide to criticize authors for their lack of explicit scenes, or even worse, off the page sex!
Off-the-page sex scenes are my favorite. I mentioned before that I'm not a complete prude, I enjoy a well written sex scene upon occasion, but very seldom does the sexual act itself build the plot. If you can tell everything you need to say and get the emotion you need to display out into the open without giving me a play-by-play, I'm totally fine with that.
Off-the-page or 'fade to black' scenes are effective for so many reasons. Many authors choose to write them for reasons of either not feeling a need to describe the sex or not feeling comfortable enough writing such things. I surely cannot blame them on either front. It takes a special author to write a good sex scene. There's a fine line between love and smut. Very fine line.
Let's take two of my favorite authors as examples (both have agreed to be named here). Liz Long and Julie Wetzel, two incredibly talent authors who choose not to write explicit sex scenes.
Both of their New Adult series feature a romance, yet neither find a need to dwell on the sex. It happens, it's done, now let's get on with the plot.
Liz's stories feature little to no sex, making them fairly 'safe NA reads' from the romance standpoint. I find this to be an awesome feat. Liz is able to write some very hard hitting literature that touches base on some important NA themes without having to describe the sex in vivid detail. Liz makes great use of the 'fade to black' mechanism and uses it to perfection.
Julie's Kindling Flames series tells the story of a fresh out of college female as she's thrown into the corporate life, onto to discover the paranormal underbelly of her city. It's dark, gritty, and full of romance. But no explicit sex scenes. Would the sex scenes make sense? Yes. I could definitely see some explicit sex scenes in this series, but there aren't any and for that I'm glad. Julie has been able to push out four incredible novels in this series without having to resort to explicit content to get her story across. Sure there is implied sex and even a few 'fade to blacks', but Julie does a great job keeping the focus on her story and not their rompings between the sheets.
Sex can be a beautiful thing when well written folks, but that's all in the art. We need to keep it classy, not trashy. Now I know there's an entire sub-genre of NA Erotica, but I'm not even going to touch on that. My point here, folks is all about making sure the readers know what they are getting into prior to starting a story.
The NA genre sans-romance.
So without the romance, how can you decipher the difference between a YA and a NA novel? With the way society tells it, there is no difference aside from the romance element. I find that to be extremely offensive to both the authors and the readers of this genre. The differences are going to be obvious to readers of both genres. The language and situations present in a YA novel are going to be something that is more appropriate to say to a 15 year old, while the language and situations present in a NA novel is more akin to what you would say to a 21 year old. Think Saved By The Bell appropriateness versus Blue Mountain State levels of appropriateness. Two entirely different kinds of situations, right?
So yes, you absolutely can have an NA novel sans romance or explicit sex. You just have to know where to look.
I an fully aware that most readers are going into the NA genre expecting the explicit sex scenes, and that's just fine, but for those of us who aren't, it's time for us to speak up. I'm tired of going into my reads and being largely disappointed by the outcomes!
There are entire Goodreads groups and blog posts devoted just to weeding out great NA books that aren't all about sex and I hope to one day write a post on this myself. There are some incredible reads out there folks, please don't let their lack of sex scenes stop you from checking them out! Also, you guys want to talk about real? Those college themed sex scenes are not real life. Sorry. They just aren't. Welcome to the world of fantasy. The sooner you come to accept that, the better you'll be.
Check out these awesome links for some NA suggestions that aren't all about the sex:
Distinguishing a NA from a YA.
I've already pretty much covered this so I won't go into it too far, but just want to reiterate that readers aren't stupid. YA audiences know full well what's happening in these books we don't want them reading. Prompting them to do whatever they can to get their hands on one. Is this a good marketing strategy for anyone? Sure it pushes sales, but what are you sacrificing?
We all know what we expect from a YA novel. Harry Potter, Twilight, etc. we want something age appropriate for younger readers and for the most part, we have lots of it. More YA books are released every day than any other genre combined. YA is huge people. This is why I feel it's so important for NA authors to branch out and promote themselves. Sell your brand, but keep it classy. There's a whole world of readers out there looking for their next favorite read, why shouldn't it be yours?
I'd like to share another personal story with you all. Recently I was introduced to a high school senior who was a huge fan of the new adult genre. She was 17 at the time I met her and I was so, so opposed to discussing the content of these novels with her. No way in hell was I going to be part of discussing graphic sex with an underage high school female. Funny enough, I was one of the only people who felt that way, everyone else just welcomed her into the fold. Maybe I am a prude, but this wasn't cool to me. I recently ran into said female at an author event and was discussing this fad with her now that she's beginning her freshman year at college. Even she agreed that she had absolutely no business reading that material at such a young age and that college is nothing like what some of these authors are depicting.
The age guidelines are set for a reason, friends. We've got to stop pushing this material on people who aren't 'ready' for it. Again, I'm not parent, nor am I a censor. I have no right to tell someone what they should or shouldn't read, but to quote Helen Lovejoy, "Won't someone please think of the children?!". Haha!
What about adult novels?
Well, what about them? You know the funniest thing about Adult novels? They are open. They are free. You can write/read about whatever you want with no restrictions, why? Because you KNOW what to expect. I don't read a whole lot of adult novels, because, I'll be honest, I may be an adult, but I cannot relate to the characters.
I know nothing about the feels that come from raising a family, from dealing with specific issues regarding marriage or child rearing. I don't yet fully understand the struggles that my parents face on a daily basis. Will I get there eventually? Of course, am I in any hurry to get there? Absolutely not.
I have read a few adult novels, one or two romances, a handful of paranormal, and several horror and they are very adult. They aren't novels you'd hand off to your children and say 'go wild'. I'd love to see some demographics about who reads adult novels. I know the answer is adults, but I wonder if authors ever get surprised by who is reading their material.
My brother, two years my junior, has been devouring Tom Clancy novels since he was 15. That isn't normal by any means, but every reader is different. Authors really need to take a step back and try to connect with their audiences to gauge who is reading their stories and why.
I have some huge issues with the publishing world and how they make their decisions regarding readers. A huge part of publishing, publicity, etc is 'determining if this is a good seller for _____ readers'. This is a hard decision to make and unfortunately I've had to make some hard calls through my agency internship. Not all books are appropriate for all readers. I full believe that, but we all also need to take into consideration that not all readers are created equal.
You there: high school dropout, raising your second child at age 19 and living in a less than ideal situation, I see you! I know you're reading and I know you're looking for your people! They're there, I promise.
You there: male reader. You picked up Harry Potter at age 8 and have always read above your age group. You consider yourself much more 'literature' mature than your colleagues and are ready for the next step in reading. I see you too! Let your voice be known.
Adult novels have all kinds of issues of their own and, thankfully, I'm not going there. I can only say that we need to stop assuming things about readers and allow everyone to make a well informed decision.
I started writing this post yesterday, then this morning was introduced to an awesome new movement that goes right along with what I've been saying all along. I have had the great honor to work alongside the creative teams behind Clean Teen Publishing and Crimson Tree Publishing for a few months now and have learned a lot of great things about their publishing platform.
Yesterday they started a movement called #OwnYourStory (click the hashtag to see all the trending tweets on Twitter).
I have huge respect for this movement and hope that other authors and readers check it out to make their own decisions!
Authors who tackle both.
So who is to say an author can't successfully tackle both the YA and the NA genres?
I've met and worked with several authors who have written incredible, award winning novels in both the YA and the NA genres and they have given me great insight to how to balance it out. One author simple told me "It's all about remembering your audience." Great advice huh?
One of my all time favorite authors, Mrs. Chelsea Fine is the author of the aware winning YA series, Archers of Avalon. As of late she's made the jump to NA and wrote the bestselling Finding Fate series which, to this day, remains my favorite YA series. Both series are extremely appropriate for their target audience and have been met with overall acclaim.
It is do-able folks, and you can do it with class. Any author who claims they could never write YA/NA is kidding themselves, if you can write in one of these genres, I strongly believe you can write in the other.
Keeping your audience in mind is important not only when writing, but also when promoting a series. Many authors, such as internationally bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout, use pen names to distinguish the difference between their YA and NA works. She uses the JLA name for her young adult series, but J. Lynn for her NA series'. This is proved to be extremely effective for her and I always know what to expect from one of her novels based on this slight distinction.
Do you guys know others who have tackled both the YA and the NA world? I'm always looking to read from crossover authors. Let me know some that you've read in the comments below.
Wrapping it up.
As any of my regular readers will tell you, I am a huge fan of the New adult genre. I have been a strong supporter of it since I started this blog. As of late, I've just seen some trends that I wanted to speak out against. I don't believe that NA is going anywhere, but I do believe some changes need to be made to the way the genre is being ran. As per YA, it'll always remain my first love, but things there aren't perfect either. The world is an ever-changing place, is the literary community keeping up?
Only together can we as readers, bloggers, and authors join forces and make some necessary changes in the literary world. Let's toss this YA vs. NA fight to the side, let's fix the issues and just be glad that we've got new generations of readers to share our love with! The digital age is bringing literature to life for millions all around the world. Let's show them all how we fell in love with the written word in the hopes that one day they pick up pen, blog, etc and share their thoughts as well!
I know this post touched on lost of hard hitting issues and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. I'd like to also reiterate that all thoughts expressed above are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of any authors, bloggers, publicity/publishing, companies that I may work alongside. If your thoughts are different, please sound off in the comments or via Facebook, Twitter, or email. All of my contact links can be found above. Thanks so much for stopping by!
Until next time, Happy Reading!