Growing up doesn't really end at age 20, so why should young adult fiction stop there? The New Adult genre, a growing subset of young adult lit, aims to give voice to the post-high school experience and its implied transition to independent living: college, moving away from home, traveling, starting first jobs and even sex. The content may be darker and more mature than what is traditionally found in YA, and the protagonists range from late teens to early 20s, but the stories offer many of the same kind of identity challenges and coming of age narratives as their YA brethren.
New Adult is emerging as quickly as publishers and authors can define it. St. Martins Press is credited with introducing the term "New Adult" as early as 2009, when it launched a contest for manuscripts featuring twentysomething characters. With older readers clamoring for YA books and driving their sales beyond publishers' expectations, the hope is that New Adult will fill what St. Martin's editorial assistant [Sarah] Jae-Jones (a.k.a JJ) has called a gap in the current adult market. Jae-Jones' ran the publisher's November 2009 contest that's credited as the opening bell for this market.
So far, it seems that the industry is hedging its bets on NA's growth. Penguin imprint Razorbill has jumped into the game with a number of titles, including the originally self-published novel Easy by Tammara Webber, which has sold more than 150,000 copies. Self-published 20-something author Cora Carmack landed a high six-figure deal with HarperCollins for her book Losing It and two other titles. Meanwhile, Random House has devoted a digital-first imprint to New Adult books, called Flirt. Smaller-scale publishers such as Carina Press and Entangled have announced their own NA lines. Entangled will be releasing 30 NA books between May and December 2013.
As with erotica and paranormal genres, much of the talent for NA books is being cultivated from digital self-publishing. "[This is] because until recently not many editors wanted to see NA, and even now, some still don't," says agent Suzie Townsend, who represents Cora Carmack. "And of course there wasn't—and still isn't—a section for this age group in the stores. But there's clearly a market for well-written and engaging NA books. I think we'll see more of them selling to publishers."
While the lack of an NA section in bricks and mortar stores has been a drawback for publishers in the past, Entangled publisher Liz Pelletier predicts that stores will inevitably have to recognize the bestsellers in this category and start making shelf space within a year. "Everyone is seeing this as an untapped market and there are hundreds of authors out there who have written spectacular NA books that have never seen the light of day. For publishers, that is very exciting."
The readers are already there. Goodreads has noted that the number of readers identifying, reading and rating New Adult books has spiked in recent months. The blog NA Alley was created last year to promote the genre's offerings. "In September, Publishers Weekly reported that over half of young adult sales come from adults. The 'over-18' crowd makes up a significant portion of the YA audience, and from what I've seen, makes up a significant portion of the NA audience, as well," says NA Alley blogger and author Carrie Butler. "What's interesting about the rise of NA is that its success can be attributed to the most powerful tool in any marketing campaign: word of mouth."