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Find more YA or NA?
Unless you’ve been living on the planet Xenon or under a rock, you surely know by now that the term “new adult” (NA) was coined in 2009 by the publisher St. Martin’s Press when it issued a call for “fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of older YA or NA.”
What hath St. Martin’s call wrought in the years since? I decided to find out, querying a clutch of people in publishing to get their take on the situation. I started, appropriately, with St. Martin’s itself. Here is what Editor Rose Hilliard had to say: “My take on it is that NA is an offshoot of romance and is not connected to YA, because it’s so sexy. NA characters are usually in their early twenties, which allows for a lot of emotional intensity, angst, and high drama, elements that work very well in ‘e,’ where readers have less patience for subtlety, detail, and nuance. But age of the protagonists aside, the NA on our list (and so much of what’s working in the self-pubbed world) is aimed at adult romance readers.”
The references to “e” and “self-pubbed” remind us that NA began and continues to be a vital presence in the e-world. A paradigmatic figure here is surely indie (i.e., self-published) author Abbi Glines, whose novels The Vincent Boys and The Vincent Brothers were originally published online as YA and—the dream of every indie author—were subsequently picked up by a major publisher, Simon & Schuster’s YA imprint, Simon Pulse. “We’ve focused a lot of our list attention on her,” Pulse Publisher Mara Anastas acknowledges. “Her books are selling really, really well, and she has a huge audience.” Simon Pulse is currently publishing Glines’ Sea Breeze series, while a Simon & Schuster adult imprint, Atria, is publishing a second series, Rosemary Beach. Glines clearly has a crossover readership, but, Anastas says, Pulse will soon be doing something by Glines that is “completely YA,” adding that Pulse is “absolutely open” to publishing other NA novels when “the story is really compelling.”
It’s not only large publishers that are producing NA novels. I spoke with Tracy Richardson, president of Luminis Books, a small indie publisher located in Indiana, and she acknowledged that she is interested in NA, which she feels is a viable genre, and not just a marketing label. She reports receiving more and more submissions that fall squarely into this category. Indeed, she is planning to publish her first NA novel in spring 2015—an as yet untitled story about three recent high-school graduates who go to Spain to walk the Camino Road. It’s not only a journey, she notes, but “a spiritual quest, as well.”
But back to major publishers. Another with a crossover readership is Harlequin. Senior Editor Margo Lipschultz says, “We view the NA readership as primarily adult romance fans who enjoy the nostalgia of remembering their college (or college-age) years, though I do think there are older teens and college students who read and love these books as well.”
Lipschultz continues: “We tend to look at NA as a romance subgenre revolving around college-age and early twenties protagonists and characterized by a younger, often first-person narrative voice. While NA rose to popularity as a subgenre that bridged the gap between contemporary YA and contemporary romance, it’s gradually expanding to include paranormal romance and romantic suspense stories as well.” Nevertheless, she says, “the vast majority of our NA titles are published under our adult romance and fiction imprints Harlequin HQN and Harlequin MIRA and in our flagship digital imprint, Carina Press.”
The importance of a digital readership is once again underscored by the fact that Random House now has four adult digital-only imprints: Hydra for sf/fantasy, Alibi for mystery/suspense, Loveswept for romance and women’s fiction, and the newest and most relevant to this article, Flirt, which targets “the rapidly growing college-age NA audience.”
As for YA, Beverly Horowitz, vice president and publisher of Random House’s Delacorte Press imprint, says she is not acquiring NA, “which is happening mostly online.” Instead, she cites “the wonderful YA crossover books” there are now. “YA authors may explore older characters, i.e., those in their late teens, but they remain rooted in the YA experience.”
Like Horowitz, Elise Howard, editor and publisher of Algonquin Books for Young Readers, reports, “Right now I’m not planning to publish NA per se. My brief is to publish YA, and I’m committed to making sure that the titles on my list are books that will appeal to a core YA audience. If these books attract an older readership, that’s great. Signaling a readership that a book is published with them in mind doesn’t exclude other readers from picking a title up and enjoying it. And my colleagues publishing primarily for an adult audience and I spend a lot of time talking about how we might cross the boundaries of our core markets to reach additional readers. I do sometimes wonder if spending too much time focusing on the explosive growth in the adult readership of YA books will cause YA publishers to drift more and more into NA at the expense of younger YA readers, and I’ve heard some librarians and booksellers lament a recent dearth of YA with innocent stories and younger—12- to 16-year-old—protagonists.”
What do librarians have to say about NA? I asked YALSA’s President-Elect, Chris Shoemaker, for his take. Observing that he’s not that involved with NA, he nevertheless suspects that it is more a matter of publishing economics than a genre. That said, he adds that NA probably fits a reading need for those who don’t want to read about either teenage Sturm und Drang or thirtysomethings dealing with mortgages and kids. “Most of what I hear,” he concludes, “convinces me that it’s much like fan fiction, filling a role for enthusiasts, but something that those who want it are already reading and enjoying in different spaces.”
Former YALSA President Deborah Taylor says, “I have somewhat mixed feelings about the NA phenomenon. I really love that YA is becoming a home for more sophisticated writing and making it possible for there to be more connection between high-school reading and the next level. I think this mirrors the actual transition that takes place in the lives of readers. The thing that gives me pause is the lack of diversity. The other thing that troubles me is the fact that actual teenagers seem to be an afterthought in their own area as we make room for adult readers.”
Another past YALSA President, Pam Spencer Holley, adds, “I’ve always wanted to have more books written that are in a college setting, but wouldn’t it also be nice to have some set in a work situation? We keep trying to get people to read more, but if the books aren’t about them or at least their age group, it makes it harder. And this age group is caught up in a lot of new things in their lives: marriage, babies, college, and work.”
While we tend to think of NA as a new phenomenon, one author, Francesca Lia Block, foreshadowed the genre by several decades with her Weetzie Bat books. “I feel I’ve been writing NA for 25 years,” she says, “before there was even a term for it. I’m very interested in the years between adolescence and full adulthood, as this time marks an important threshold in human development. For me, it was a painful period of growth and exploration. I don’t know how this category will affect YA. Some people consider it just a marketing ploy to sell more books. (Is selling books so bad, anyway?) But for me, it’s more a case of naming a category that already exists in my oeuvre and my heart.” To that she adds a P. S.: “I worry a bit that my work will be marginalized as NA instead of just fiction and, perhaps, not taken as seriously.”
Stephen Roxburgh, publisher of namelos, cites another concern: “I’m perplexed by the NA category,” he says. “Basically, I think it’s a publishing gambit to cross adult books down and YA up, which is as legitimate as any marketing gambit, but, practically, it presents a problem: Do we send the books to the adult reviewer or to the children’s/YA reviewer? They don’t like it when you send it to both. It’s a sadness that these kinds of considerations are important. I should be able to send the book to everyone.”
Literary agent George Nicholson echoes that concern; he also feels that “much of this new publishing is for the moment and the season, not the backlist, which accounts for the continued long life of most serious YA publishing.”
This raises the question: Is the entire genre ephemeral? Simon Pulse Editor Anastas speaks to that point when she says, “NA fiction is essentially escapist, [although] I think there will always be contemporary sexy, steamy books. But what we choose to call that category may change.”
Sexy and steamy or serious, or sometimes both? It’s interesting that few of those interviewed acknowledged that there are a variety of books being published by YA imprints that are actually NA. Little, Brown’s Director of School and Library Marketing, Victoria Stapleton, cites Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando’s Roomies, for one. But, I would add, how about Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens from Scholastic, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl from St. Martin’s Griffin, Paul Rudnick’s Gorgeous from Scholastic, Aidan Chambers’ This Is All from Abrams, Sharon Biggs Waller’s A Mad Wicked Folly from Viking, Leslye Walton’s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender from Candlewick, and still others?
But what’s in a name? It’s unlikely that readers will be hung up on what this new genre is called. What they’re interested in is content regardless of whether it’s YA or NA. And, after all, it’s the readers who will always have the final word.
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