Do We Need a New Adult Section?

Years ago, New Adult (NA) was proposed as a new age range for marketing books.  It would be marketed towards those adults who wanted to move on from reading about teenagers.  Instead, they wanted to read about characters in their 20s who were attending college, graduating college and getting started on a first job, and dating.  The label, however, quickly gained a reputation for being YA but with explicit sex.  That is, so much of NA was erotica, that people assumed all NA was erotica.  Because NA did not offer a variety of genres, people apparently stopped buying it and it never took off as a marketing label.  Sometimes people still use the term to describe a book, but it is not an official label used by publishers or bookstores and, outside of the book blogosphere, it can be difficult to find anyone who knows what NA is.  Now, however, users on Twitter seem interested in resurrecting NA as an age category.  I am not convinced we need it.

The age labels publishers use now generally indicate two things: that a book will likely be of interest to a certain age group and also that it is developmentally appropriate.  So middle grade books talk about death, drugs, romance, and other “mature” topics, but in a different way than YA books do.  Readers in their 20s, however, have no real need for books that are developmentally appropriate.  They are adults and generally will be ready for any content that a reader in their 30s, 40s, or 80s could read.  So the only reason for a NA category is that a book will likely be of interest to a reader in their 20s.

The driving argument behind creating a NA section in bookstores is because readers in their 20s can “relate” to the  characters.  But this is not how readers really read.  Readers in their 20s do not only need to read about characters in their 20s.  Readers in their 40s do not need to read only about characters in their 40s.  And readers in their 70s do not need to read only about characters in their 70s.  Why would we increasingly divide adult books up into different decades so people can only read about characters “just like them?”

The difficulty here is, of course, that people in their 20s are not all the same, even though the current conversations about NA often suggest that they are.  There is, for instance, an emphasis on college and graduating college in discussions of NA, even though not everyone attends college and not everyone who attends will graduate.  There is also an emphasis on “new” experiences such as one’s first job or on dating and maybe finding “the one.”  Few people ever seem to suggest NA about characters who have been working since their teens, characters who are single parents, characters who are married, or characters who are not experiencing various types of “firsts.”  The, probably unintended, implication is that there is one “correct” way to move into adulthood–other experiences are not welcome, or at least not worth reading about.

The current conversation around NA seems like it is geared towards fulfilling a very specific need for a very specific type of reader–the single, college-attending (or recently graduated and job-seeking) reader.  Even readers in their late 20s, who are beyond college and who have been in the work force for some time, are not included in the current suggestions for “relatable” 20-something-year-old characters.  I am not convinced there needs to be a separate label or section for this very specific type of book.  Rather, it seems to me that readers are asking for more books about characters in their 20s or in college and that this need could be fulfilled simply by writing and publishing such books under the current adult label.  Setting aside specific shelves for readers to find these books is not necessary, either, as booksellers and libraries could simply periodically display “reads for recent graduates” or “recommended reads for new college students.”  The type of NA being called for simply is not expansive enough for it to warrant its own section for all 20-somethings who want to read primarily about other 20-somethings.

I understand that readers who enjoy YA are often unenchanted with many of the adult books available.  “Books about divorcees” is how I have heard some people describe adult books.   They do not relate to disillusioned characters and want books about young adults who are hopeful about the future, not mired in despair about a broken love life and terrible job.  But I still think this simply means writers of adult fiction need to expand the types of stories they are telling.  Adulthood does not have to equal disillusionment and sad books are not “deeper” or “more artistic” than joyful books.  Maybe it is time more literature reflected a broader definition of adulthood; we do not need a devoted new adult label to do this.

32 thoughts on “Do We Need a New Adult Section?

  1. Margaret @ Weird Zeal says:

    This is a really interesting post and I think you make some really good points! You’re so right that people in their 20s are not all the same, and “books about college” isn’t enough to encompass a whole new age category of books.
    However, I think there is a certain need for this label as something separate from YA and adult, since right now there is a gap between those age groups. YA is marketed for ages 12-18, which means that most YA doesn’t take place post-high school. Yet there is so much potential for stories about that time period in people’s lives! I think what separates these potentially “new adult” books from general adult is that they still have a coming of age aspect like YA, but they’re dealing with things past high school age, like college and getting first jobs and living alone (and all the myriad of experiences that 20-somethings have).
    I know that the bookstore where I work has definitely been considering adding a NA section, since the YA age range covers such a range of levels. There are certain “upper YA” books that I would definitely not hand to a 12 year old, but they’re all shelved in the same area, making it difficult to know what’s appropriate for what readers. Adding a NA section would, in my mind, be simply a way of showing that these books are slightly more mature than YA but probably still have some of the same growing up themes.
    But I do hope that NA isn’t always thought of as just the erotica category, because that’s just annoying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      NA could potentially be useful in that there are definitely adult books being sold as YA. However, I don’t know that this is specifically because there is no NA section. These books could easily be marketed as the adult titles they are. They are being marketed as YA because YA sells more. I think NA books would continue to be labeled and sold as YA if publishers believed that that is where the money is, even if there were a dedicated NA section. Maybe it would then just be up to bookstore or library discretion as to where to shelve things, ignoring publisher labels.

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  2. jen_bookworm says:

    You’ve said it all! When I was in my 20s I wanted a book written about someone like me. But I couldn’t find one. I started reading YA fiction but it seemed all the same, I’m going to try it again. I read YA where the characters were in school and it was very immature so it put me off. I would like to read books about people who are my age group but it’s like you say. I guess they rely on a stereotype and don’t speak to all in that age range. I’m 30 now I never did find a book to read in my 20s.
    What you say about NA is my opinion of paranormal fiction now: it’s either teen romance or adult fiction full of sex rather than an interesting story.
    I understand the need for age related genre but instead of that they should just put on the back of every book if it has adult content in. So then you can see what age it’s appropriate for, young children might read it. Maybe publishers just need to actually look for different books rather than rely on the same genre, characters types and storylines. But they are concerned with what sells even if that means regurgitating the same things over and over. I really liked this post you completely echo my feelings.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I do like YA because I think a lot of adult books are depressing and have open-ended conclusions that are more “realistic.” I like YA books where people are actually hopeful about the future and the ending isn’t, “Things were still awful, but what did you expect?” I don’t know that a NA section would change this. Maybe NA books would be more hopeful, but that would just leave adult books to continue to be uniformly depressing.

      I think maybe publishers are leery of adding content warnings because people have different ideas about what should warrant a warning. They could get backlash for warning about some things, but not others. Or maybe people would stop buying books if it says “kissing,” but there is a distinction between a peck on the lips and a make-out session that wouldn’t necessarily be represented by a small warning label. Just like there’s a distinction between “drug use” in a boo about how drugs destroy families versus a book that glamorizes substance abuse. I think warning labels could end up being controversial and creating headaches for publishers. They just want to sell books, so I see why they wouldn’t enmesh themselves in a debate they currently don’t need to have.

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      • jen_bookworm says:

        I understand. But adult books are not depressing I’ve been reading them since my pre-teens. You must be reading the wrong ones. Like my opinion of YA being childish and all the same is based on the books I’ve read. There’s a lot of uplifting and amazing books out there I don’t get how you don’t know that.

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        • Krysta says:

          Maybe my idea of uplifting is very unique? I’ve heard Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go described as an uplifting celebration of self-sacrifice, but I personally just found it sad. That’s not to say, obviously, that every adult book ever written depresses me. Of course, I know not all books are alike. I just find that there’s a general tendency towards writing “deep” books that are sad or have really ambiguous endings, which is a kind of modern movement I’m not into.

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          • jen_bookworm says:

            Oh those books. I don’t read too many “deep” books I read lots of different stuff. Fantasy. Literary. Horror. My idea of uplifting is someone’s memoir or a story of someone changing their life. Start sad end happy. Non fiction books: The Salt Path. And then fiction Amy Cole is completely fine just two examples. 😀

            Like

            • Krysta says:

              I tend to read award-winning authors and stuff I see professionally reviewed. Committees have a tendency to appreciate a very specific type of literature. But, yeah, I read Bradon Sanderson’s fantasy, for instance, and I do get a nice, conclusive feel out of that at least. The world is saved. Hurrah!

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            • jen_bookworm says:

              I don’t read award winning books. I just read whatever sounds good. I don’t go for the hype. Books that win those awards are usually the same sort of book. And there’s so many writers overlooked who are better. Haven’t heard of Bradon Sanderson.

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  3. doctorsordersbookreviews says:

    I really liked your post! My feelings were that NA was necessary, but you brought up a good point about not needing NA shelves and whole separate library sections. I think maybe the best way to do it would be to mark older YA (18-22) books as YA Plus and have them in the YA section but on their own. Or make New Adult a subcategory of Adult with its own shelf in the adult section.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Well, I think YA+ being for ages 18-22 is part of why I don’t think NA is necessary. The current proposals for NA are all about recent college grads who are single and looking for a job. So if you’re married or engaged or have been working or are a single parent or just are, you know, 26, and way past caring about your good old college days, NA isn’t “relatable” to you in the specific way people are suggesting. It’s really just books for people who are in college. And a four-year age-range just seems too small to warrant its own particular section when there’s no developmental need for it (like when you are in first or second grade working with early readers, for example). It’s just books about people in college. Why does it need a section? There’s no specific section for people who are retired or people in grad school or people working two jobs, even though those are life experiences people have and might like to read about.

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  4. Alex @ WhimsyPages says:

    These are some very good points, Krysta (and also an intresting topic to talk about).

    I’ve expressed previsouly on my blog and will continue to state that I don’t like New Adult book in the state they currently are. It feels like every single NA book (1) is full of steamy scenes and (2) has a half naked boy / girl on the cover. Maybe we should just label these particular books as erotica and not worry about the age of the characters? So people know exactly what to expect from them.

    It feels to me that the “need” to create this New Adult category came from exactly that. The YA books with characters still in their late teens or early twenties, where the authors felt the need to introduce sex scenes, and so it had to be separated from the rest.

    Maybe, if the New Adult would move away from current “sex representation” and actually provide some character development or good story, these books could potentialy have a separate niche for them. But, as you said, is it really necessary?

    In my opinion, if most of current New Adult books get labeled as erotica (because that is essentially what they are) and the rest as Adult, there won’t be a need for another age category.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, NA became synonymous with erotica, which is why, I’m convinced, it died. But the new proposals for NA aren’t any more expansive. They’re all calls for books about recent, single college grads. What about the large number of people who don’t attend college or don’t complete it? What about a 28-year-old who is engaged or married and has been working for years? NA as it’s being proposed is only offering the same book about the same type of character. It’s not remotely inclusive.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Briana | Pages Unbound says:

    I’m not inherently opposed to New Adult or anything. I wouldn’t mind if it became a thing, and I’d probably read it, but I agree it doesn’t seem necessary. Maybe there is a gap in the market, but I actually do think there are YA books about college kids and there are adult books about people in their early twenties just entering the workforce. Park Avenue Summer is one I just read. Solving the issue might be as simple as making these books more visible with lists and recommendations,

    However, I do have the same question about where the age division of books would end, and I agree that the “experience” of being 20-22 does not necessarily involve a college degree and a quirky adventure finding yourself. You can argue that about teens, of course, that not “every” teen goes to high school or graduates high school, but I think it’s more common and it’s easier to generalize for teens that they probably live with their parents, probably haven’t had too many relationships if any, etc. The older you get, the harder is it is to say “A person this age would experience the world in these kinds of ways.” You can just look at the criticism Taylor Swift got for her song “22” where a lot of people said no one related about to it because it was all optimistic and hopeful and their experience of being 22 was like being a recent college grad with student loans and no job, not being a carefree celebrity partying.

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    • Krysta says:

      Well, yeah, I wouldn’t protest Barnes and Noble adding a NA section. I just don’t see the necessity, especially as the current proposals are so limited. If you aren’t a 22-year-old, single, recent college grad, it would seem that NA wouldn’t, in fact, be that “relatable” to you. A 28-year-old reader, for instance, could be engaged or married and have been working the same job for years. Do they “relate” to the struggles of a recent college grade in a more particular way than someone who is 32? I don’t think so…. Actually, 32-year-old could conceivably relate more if they’d just gone back to school or were still searching for the perfect job.

      Like

  6. Sassy Sarah Reads says:

    I don’t mind New Adult, but I don’t know if it needs its own section away from adult or YA. I like that NA titles seem to always be “mislabeled” in bookstores because I like seeing which NA works are more appealing to YA readers and which are more appealing to adult readers. It’s a blurred line, but I don’t mind the blurred line. I’m 21 and I don’t feel like I need a book targeted to twenty-one-year old women because I will find that on my own if that’s what I desire to read about. Great discussion post!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Maybe NA would be useful so stuff like Sarah J. Maas’s books don’t end up in YA. But the current model for NA seems to be stories primarily about 22-year-old college grads and that just doesn’t seem expansive enough to me to warrant its own section. I also don’t understand why it’s supposed to be for “readers in their 20s” if you can be 28, married, and working the same job for six years. How would you particularly “relate” to a 22-year-old, single, recent college grad?

      Like

  7. Stephanie says:

    I’ve read a bunch of NA. Some were lovely, some were…not great, but after a while, they do all start to seem very similar- mostly in a “Two people with some massive form of trauma (parental/sibling death or abuse being the most common ones) find each other in college and work out their various forms of trauma through sex and treating each other terribly before realizing that’s maybe not the healthiest way to go about things.” I started to wonder where all the stories were about college students who were just worried about eventually paying off their student loans and actually looking forward to seeing their families at Christmas, because those were entirely missing.

    I think it’s a good idea for a genre, but in practice it kind of bottlenecked very quickly, and I wish it hadn’t.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Oh my goodness. That sounds awful!. Yeah, NA needs to expand its scope and I think even beyond focusing solely on college students if it’s really supposed to be inclusive of everyone in their 20s and not just college-attending people in their 20s.

      Like

  8. Enobong says:

    I think the label NA is just another way to attempt to extend adolescence. I also don’t think it’s necessary. I can read a Sally Rooney adult book about kids in college and I can also read a Nora Ephron adult book about women in their late thirties on their second divorce. That’s the beauty of reading. This also suggests that the age of the protagonist determines the categorisation of the novel and I can list a whole number of adult books with child protagonists.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I don’t think the age of the protagonist should figure so prominently in determining the age label of a book. There seems to be a drive towards protagonists who are “relatable” to readers based mainly on that they are the same age, but when I was growing up I liked to read books like Little Women and the Anne of Green Gables series, where the protagonists were in their teens and eventually went to college and even got married. I loved the books because the stories were good, not because the characters and I were the same age! And now the Babysitters Club have popular graphic novels. The characters in there are babysiters, so probably in their teens, but the books are very popular with elementary students. I think more readers are willing to read more widely than publishers sometimes believe.

      I’m also unsure about NA because it is being advertised for readers in their 20s, but the proposals I’ve seen are all about college students or recent grads. I don’t know if there’s an issue of perpetual adolescence, but I do think, generally, people in their late 20s have far different lives than people in their early 20s. You’re not living in a frat house or partying or thinking your life is over if you fail a paper or thinking that spending $15 on a meal made you broke. You’re more worried about paying rent and keeping your job or maybe even getting home to your family. There are just different concerns for different ages and I think it’s funny to say that someone in their 20s needs a special section to read about college students. Why? Why is a 27-year-old going to “relate” to this more than a 45-year-old? For both of them, college is generally not a current experience.

      There’s also a weird thing were the proposals for NA make it sound like only contemporary realistic fiction is being proposed. I haven’t seen anyone asking for fantasy or sci-fi or mystery books with protagonists in their 20s. Isn’t NA going to have genre fiction? If it isn’t, it again seems too limited to warrant its own special section.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Kay Wisteria | Hammock of Books says:

    Such an interesting post! I would really like to see more New Adult, which does seem to be skewed toward college students, but could also just represent people getting their first jobs and who have just graduated high school/are in their 20s in general. I also feel like a lot of books with “new adult” or just adult content have been shoved into YA, and I think if NA were more prominent, this would happen less! Sarah J Maas being the obvious example, but there are other books with 16 year old protagonists who act so much older than just 16. (Obviously everyone is at different levels of maturity, but I’m 17 right now and I’ve read a bunch of YA fantasies with 16 year old protagonists who act WAY older than me, and I really don’t think they represent 16 year olds as a whole, but they’re just being shoved in there to sell better or whatever…)

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, one good thing about creating a NA section could be that young adult books would return to being about teens. Right now there are plenty of YA books that read very much like adult books with adult characters, but the author says the characters are really 16 and that then somehow makes the book YA. Six of Crows is, for example, I believe, an adult fantasy with characters who really ought to be in their 20s if we examine how they are acting.

      Like

  10. Annemieke says:

    You make a good point when you say that the idea of NA seems very geared towards one type of people. I hadn’t looked at it like that but you are very rigth, it does.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      It also seems oddly like people are just proposing contemporary. I haven’t seen anyone asking for 20-year-olds in space or anything like that. Is NA not going to have genre fiction?

      Like

  11. Sophia Ismaa says:

    I think that if there is a high demand for it, publishers and bookstores may take it on board. If they do capitalise on the demand, then we’ll hopefully see more books geared towards appealing to those of us who are in our twenties. And if this increases, it seems that a NA genre would be revived. Personally, I just want to see more NA books. I think the millennial generation would be a fantastic new market to capitalise on, so, from a business and marketing point of view, it could potentially bring in a lot of money.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think it makes sense to have a NA section since there are a lot of NA books being marketed as YA simply because that’s where Millenials are currently putting their money. You could, in theory, try to transfer that money to a NA section. Though it would have to avoid the old pitfall of being “YA with more sex” and actually represent a range of stories and characters and genres. But if publishers push it and those books begin to sell, I’m sure bookstores would create a section.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Yeah the issue is that after a point books are just adult- and in my opinion there is nothing wrong with that! and I agree that people don’t just read according to their age group. I think you did sum up one of the issues really well though- especially since I recently read one of those “books about divorcees” that so dominates adult fic. It took me a really long time to navigate past all of those to get to others, so that when I accidentally pick one up now it’s more like “oh those still exist”. Point is, I really agree with expanding on adult horizons- not necessarily creating a new category (also more joyful adult books would be great!)

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think people in the comments raised a lot of interesting points about they would like to see a NA section. And a lot of it seemed to be that they can’t find specific books they want. So it seems to me that maybe those books are out there–but they’re not being talked about. They’re not the ones winning awards. They haven’t become popular. So I guess the question is, do we split off sections or do we start to question why it is some books seem to get lost in the adult section?

      Like

  13. Anna says:

    When I go to the bookstore there a kid’s section and a teen section. Then there are sections for general fiction, sic-fic/fantasy, mysteries/thrillers, romance, and western. What I came to notices is that there is no adult section. I been reading adult books since my early teens and have gone into those sections in the bookstore. No one has ever stop me from doing so.

    Neil Gaiman has written books for kids and adults. He never wrote books for teens and I think it’s because his adult books have an appeal for teens. Gaiman’s books never got too graphic in terms of sex. I will say American Gods will be more in the adult category. Stephen King’s books have an appeal for teens. I know so many people that have read Stephen King at a young age.

    My point is why have a NA category when 1) bookstores don’t have an adult label for books and 2) teens that can handle adult books. Most teens can handle serious more than their given credit for.

    I’m in my early 20s. Why do I need to read about collage protagonist. I don’t read book to relate. Honestly, I care about a good story not relatability of the characters. Once I started reading adult books, I feel like I have free range to read whatever book I want. NA feel like another hurdle to jump over.

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    • Krysta says:

      I agree. I think the NA is not really necessary. Right now bookstores and libraries are separated into children’s, teens, and adult mainly because there is a general consensus of what might both be 1) interesting and 2) developmentally appropriate for different age groups. Most caregivers would agree, for instance, that a 5-year-old might not be ready to read about issues such as gun violence, sexual assault, and substance abuse–though those are topics that COULD be explored in the teen section. And then the teen section tends to be a little less graphic than the adult section. Maybe there’s sex, but it’s not explicitly written like erotica.

      Since I see these divisions as serving, in part, a guide to what is developmentally appropriate for growing minds, I don’t think a NA section is really warranted. Most adults already know what they want to or like to read, and how to find it. They don’t really need a section that’s just for “protagonists in their 20s,” which is kind of an arbitrary distinction, especially when I think a lot of people decide with the genre labels. I like to read fantasy. I don’t really care if the protagonist is 12, 22, 37, or 58, you know?

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