This isn’t a new debate, but what’s got me thinking about it recently are two main things:
1. Julia Lawrinson’s Losing It, which is frank, honest, groundbreaking (and beautifully written) exploration of female sexuality
2. Hardie Grant Egmont’s Commissioning & Managing Editor Marisa Pintado’s speech at The Emerging Writers’ Festival publishing trends session, where she explored the new genre of ‘New Adult’
For those unaware, the theory is New Adult follows on from where YA drops off and covers issues facing those in early to mid-twenties: sex, drugs, alcohol, university, graduate jobs, relationships, independence and so on.
Those issues deemed too old for traditional YA, but too young for adult books.
This is something I think about a lot, especially when I hear rumours of publishers who might change details of a manuscript to fit either YA (lowering ages, removing some of the more ‘gory’ themes) or into more mainstream adult fiction (upping the age etc).
This is of concern to me because in my manuscript, the main characters start at 18 (year twelve) and go on to 20 years old. It has mature themes, and, in my opinion, not suited for persons under sixteen. (As I keep telling my aunt, who keeps telling me she can’t wait to give it to my cousin to read. Who is twelve.)
So my primary concern is simple: if this New Adult category is too new, or won’t take off, it leaves me in a tricky situation.
The best news is, though, is that it seems recently more publishers are willing to publish ‘risky’ YA. Take Penguin with Lawrinson, and, of course, Hardie Grant Egmont.
I remember their outlines for the Ampersand series, and it’s clear – if they are anything to go by – that these books won’t be fluff.
I really like this article from the research journal of the Young Adult Library Services Association, where they discuss, primarily, sex and sexuality in YA literature.
Pintado too touched on this at EWF, saying,
“My third and biggest concern about the New Adult category is that in saying certain themes and content are too mature for a teenage readership, we’re at risk of allowing gatekeepers to limit the scope of what teenagers themselves are “supposed” to read, especially when it comes to sex. If you read YA, you will notice that teenage protagonists generally don’t drink, do drugs or sleep around, unless they’re in crisis mode or something bad will happen as a result – exceptions to this are few and far between.”
I whole-heartedly agree with Pintado; in fact, her entire speech was a fantastic study into the New Adult genre.
For years, I too have wondered about the lack of realistic representation of those tough topics in YA.
Is this actually helping anyone? Wouldn’t be better for teens to be able to read about these issues rather than see over-dramatic Hollywood movies or pornos?
I had to laugh during Pintado’s speech where she commented,
“What worries me is that while sex is a dirty word, few people seem to be that worried about violence in YA. Teenagers can murder each other in the Hunger Games, rip each other’s throats out in Twilight, enslave mutant children in Michael Grant’s GONE series, but it’s SEX that’s the problem.”
(I laughed because the situation is obvious, ridiculous and so true.)
When it’s put like that, surely it seems a little preposterous to think that people have a problem with sex – a natural part of any (teenage/adult) human’s life – yet people murdering each other is A-OK! In fact, sign us up for some more! Blood, guts and gore seems to be a reoccurring theme lately.
Again to bring up the Ampersand series, but that’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited about it: realistic contemporary issues in YA books. I can’t wait.
There’s another fantastic article written by a Curtin Brown associate literary agent, Sarah LaPolla. I think I might have linked to it before here because I’ve certainly read it more than once.
She identifies the real gap in the market (hell-o people wanting the next big thing!) for literature for 18-25 year olds, yet laments that if a New Adult manuscript turns up on her desk, she’ll either reject it or ask the writer to change the main character’s ages.
LaPolla makes a pretty compelling argument for why she doesn’t think New Adult will work, and ends with saying that “someone needs to be the pioneer, and unfortunately that someone is going to be you. Write stories about your experiences, as different and as wide-ranging as they may be. Give us something to listen to, and we’ll respond. We might just take a while.”
Of course, there are many similarly fantastic articles on the topic:
After reading all these articles, I’ve come to some conclusions:
- People (okay, bloggers) seem to agree there’s a gap in the market and want some books that cover those issues: moving out of home, university, serious relationships and so on
- Publishers also agree there’s a gap, but seem skeptical about actually bringing some books out in the New Adult genre (or, older YA or younger adult)
- Everyone seems uneasy about it and unsure of the future
Since this is the Future of the (YA) Book, I figure it would be a good chance to delve into it.
Pintado raises some excellent points about New Adult fiction, than can be (no doubt poorly) summarized into the following:
Why do we need New Adult?
- When the book sits in that awkward spot of too old for YA but too young for adult
- Many YA feature romance, but not sexual romance plots. (Which is alarming, because how many teens are sexually active (a lot) and how many watch porn (also a lot) so how many would benefit from an even-handed look at sex in books? (All of them))
Why is New Adult a good idea?
- It gives publishers a way to capitalize on that crossover potential between YA and adult readers
- The category would help booksellers and librarians find age-appropriate material for their readers
So why is Pintado skeptical?
- It’s a marketing ploy
- “Publishers of New Adult fiction want to shelve it in the adult section, because the characters are technically adults so at the end of the day, what does it have to do with YA? Why not just publish more fiction that reflects the lives of people in their twenties and thirties?”
- Finally, her biggest concern is what I mentioned above: “My third and biggest concern about the New Adult category is that in saying certain themes and content are too mature for a teenage readership, we’re at risk of allowing gatekeepers to limit the scope of what teenagers themselves are “supposed” to read, especially when it comes to sex. If you read YA, you will notice that teenage protagonists generally don’t drink, do drugs or sleep around, unless they’re in crisis mode or something bad will happen as a result – exceptions to this are few and far between”
As for me?
I think something has to be done, because we are alienating the 18-25 year olds who are too old for YA and too young for adult books about babies and mortgages.
I think unless publishers start taking more risks and pushing YA up to include up to 25 years old (and therefore stories about university, sex, drugs, alcohol, graduate jobs and so on), this is a gap in the market that I think should be filled.
It’s difficult, though, because YA does cover readers as young as ten – and reading about sex and drugs certainly isn’t good for 10 year olds. But how can you balance it when YA also includes 18 year olds (and potentially 25 year olds)? It’s such a wide, varied genre.
I also do think that New Adult is simply nothing more than a marketing term, and readers don’t care about what genre is it.
Furthermore, I think that New Adult is a way for publisher’s to capitalize on the booming YA market (personally, I say why the hell not. If it’s working, go for it. I love YA and if it means more and more books are published in the genre/in New Adult genre than I’m all for it).
(I should also disclose I’m right in this very age group – I’m 24 – and also navigating all the issues raised above, and it would be nice to have it reflected in my reading materials.)
And, selfishly, I’m worried for myself and my manuscript as I’m going to have a hard time finding it a home.
What about you? Do you think a New Adult genre could work? Why/why not? If you are aged between 18 and 25, what do you read?
This post was written as a part of the Words in Winder @ Future Bookshop Residency.