At the recent Brit Writers’ Awards dinner I had the chance to meet a wide range of creative people. The excellent meal could only take second place to a feast of writing talent that found its expression in songs, scripts, poetry, and works of non-fiction and fiction. The awards are all about encouraging and helping such talent, at whatever age, on its journey towards publication, whether this is by traditional routes, such as agents and publishers, or by more modern methods such as e-publishing.
In all cases it is essential to know your market and so when there is talk of a new target market we writers tend to prick up our ears and, shortly afterwards, our pens.
As we all discover in the struggle for publication, knowing your market in the literary world means identifying category (Young Adult or Middle Grade, for example) and genre (Romance, Fantasy, etc.). Hence the excitement and controversy surrounding the introduction of a new category in the world of fiction, called New Adult or NA. Referred to by some as ‘the next big thing’ it is rejected by others as a shallow marketing ploy.
The category was first suggested by St Martin’s Press in 2009 and thought to be stimulated by the number of adults reading teen fiction. SMP described it as:
“…fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult – a sort of an ‘older YA’ or new adult.”
The editors were interested in the coming-of-age that happens from about 19 to 26 years old. This is a time when we have more experience and insight than teenagers (who tend to live in the present) but are still trying to see where we fit in the world and how we will cope when separated from family and institutions like school and college that have so far protected us. It is a time of making decisions about relationships and commitment, about sexuality, about economic survival, and about what we want to be in life.
Not only editors were in favour of the new category. Novelists too had complained about publishers forcing them to scale the age of their main characters up or down to fit with existing categories, even though such a shift meant a complete change to the story.
However, the idea was not met with universal approval. Some said it was confusing and not a viable market, others felt it would be restrictive. Still others challenged whether it could address universal themes.
So was it just a marketing gimmick and what has happened in the three years since SNP’s proposal?
- Firstly, understanding of the target market for this category has broadened and we now see references to a range of ages from 14 up as far as 41. It seems we all want to stay younger longer!
- The take-up by authors has been most significant in the self-publishing arena.
- Ebook buyers are driving the growth. This is no surprise as bookstores in America shelf by category and are uncomfortable with books which do not fit neatly into Adult or Young Adult.
- Despite this, during the summer of 2012 a significant number of self-published authors who described their work as ‘new adult’ were snatched up by mainstream publishers.
- Not everyone is convinced and some still perceive NA as a pseudo-category
As for me, I am delighted to discover this new category. Far from being restrictive, it enables authors to develop new themes that address the transition from teenager to adult, a time of high emotions and difficult decisions that have a significant impact on our future lives.
Mind you, I would be supportive since my own fantasy novel falls neatly into the NA category. I have to say though that I hate the name. It’s not only confusing (try looking it up on a search engine) but sounds too similar to Young Adult.
Yet I think it is here to stay. I feel a sense of excitement among young novelists, agents and readers when they talk about NA and something tells me this is a trend that will just keep on growing.
How about you? Would you write an NA book or as a reader would you buy one?