I write stuff for kids...and muse on writing, children's books, and the publishing industry in general

Monday, August 20, 2012

New Adult: A Real Category or an Absurd Balkanization of Bookstores? (Guest post by C. Lee McKenzie)

Goodness me, how time flies! I hope you've all had a lovely few weeks and got lots of rest in--I know heaps of you have taken breaks over the summer (US and Europe) and winter (Oz and NZ) holidays. I myself have just come back from a glorious camping holiday--winter camping (I know, right!) though we went up north to the beach, and had lovely sunny shirts-and-shorts weather, lots of ice-cream and fish and chips, and heaps of dolphin-sightings (beautiful creatures!). So I'm all rested and refreshed and ready to introduce to you the gorgeous C. Lee McKenzie, who'll be talking to us today about New Adult.

So take it away Lee, and while you've got control of my blog, I'm off to look up "balkanization" and find out what it means - I'll report back later :D

New Adult: A Real Category or an Absurd Balkanization of Bookstores?           

It has been almost three years since the term New Adult (NA) emerged on the book scene. St. Martin's Press in conjunction with Georgia McBride's YaLitChat did something amazing. They asked for writers to sub their novels to a contest. Three winners would receive a copy of Tempted by P. C. Cast and Kristina Cast, but they'd also have a shot at publication. Who could resist that? Apparently not many because they received 382 submissions.

The rules were simple and one of them set out the NA category clearly. “[Submit] fiction applicable to older teens and twentysomethings, but 20's are preferred."

Since then several articles and blog posts have been published about NA. And there's some debate about whether this is a real category or a new way to package “chick lit.”

Uncreated Conscience says, no. “[Saying NA is all about “chick lit is] like saying YA is only about high school. It is not. YA is about a certain time of life, when you are no longer a child but not quite an adult and one can write about this period of time through less literal genres like historical fiction or science-fiction and fantasy. Similarly, New Adult is about young adulthood, when you are an adult but have not established your life as one.”

Writers seem to applaud the possibility that they'll be able to write books with slightly older protagonists (18-24) who are dealing with major life issues for the first time.

As author, Lynn Rush, says, "Kids and teens focus on the present, while adults draw on their past experience to inform their present and future decisions. New Adults are somewhere in between…. That distinction might seem subtle, but it comes through loud and clear in the voice of New Adult Fiction.”

In From the Write Angle, J. Lea Lopez argues that with NA “Variety is really the whole point here. There's variety in both YA and adult literature, and as a supporter for a New Adult category, what I'm rallying for is even more of it.”

NA Alley, Bridging the Gap Between Young Adult and Adult Fiction is a most site where seven writers have come together to write and promote this “category” of fiction.

I can see why writers would embrace NA as a category. Look at the diversity of themes that are available. What previous generations have embraced as traditional steps following high school, no longer applies. As Robin Marantz Henig writes,”The 20s are a black box, and there is a lot of churning in there.” The writer in me translates that as a lot of opportunity for stories that readers are waiting for.

What happens when a twentysomething:

• moves home?

• is rootless, going from one place to another, not establishing any community?

• goes from job to job? Will this be a great experience or result in a failed career or worse?

• lives with a partner, but doesn’t marry?

• marries much later than that traditional early-mid twenties?

We’re already seeing some of these stories, and in all likelihood, we’ll see many more of “twentysomethings churning” because this group of readers exists and scholars are providing a ton of research about them.

JEFFREY JENSEN ARNETT, a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., calls the 20s a distinct life stage and refers to it as “emerging adulthood.”

But there’s an argument against creating this NA category. In an Upstart Crow Literary post, “New Adult”--Specious category or market opportunity? the author, Michael, calls it a "slippery slope," even, "an absurd Balkanization of bookstores." He says, "[when I was a twentysomething] I didn't need any sort of bookstore category to do my thinking for me . . ." He humorously proposes that this “slippery slope” could well lead to other categories: “‘Elderly and Disgruntled.” “Stories for Shut-Ins.” “Masculine Asses.” “Pre-Feminist Thinkers.’”

Then there’s the “dumbing down” factor that pops up in comments about NA. Do we spoon feed our children so much already that creating this category is just another form of parental helicoptering? Is it a way to confirm that the twentysomethings don’t have the ability to select books from the adult fiction section, the history or science sections?

As for me, I’m excited to see something new. The publishing is a constantly and--now more than ever--quickly changing business, so I ask, “Why not?” Besides, some authors already refer to their books as New Adult. They’ve found a niche for those not quite YA, not quite Adult novels.

How about you: As writers/readers, what do you think about New Adult finding a shelf (real or virtual)?


Thanks so much Lee, for your intriguing post on New Adult. I really enjoyed reading it, and now that I know the meaning of "Balkanization", life is all good :)

Have you read Lee's book yet? It's called ALLIGATORS OVERHEAD, and here's the blurb:
Alligators, witches and a spooky mansion aren't your average neighbors unless you live at the edge of the Ornofree swamp in the backwater town of Hadleyville. The town's bad boy, Pete Riley, may only be twelve, but he's up to his eyeballs in big trouble, and this time he isn't the cause. This time the trouble arrives when a legendary hundred-year-old mansion materializes next door and the Ornofree alligators declare war to save their swamp from bulldozers. Things only get worse when Pete's guardian aunt and several of her close friends vanish while trying to restore order using outdated witchcraft. Now Pete must find the witches and stop the war. He might stand a chance if his one friend, Weasel, sticks with him, but even then, they may not have what it takes.
Here are Lee's author/contact details:

WEBSITE: http://cleemckenziebooks.com

BLOG: http://writegame.blogspot.com

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/cleemckenziebooks

TWITTER : @cleemckenzie

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0042M1KYW

GOODREADS: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2809083.C_Lee_McKenzie

And if you'd like to check out Lee's book, here is some link love:





Catch you all soon, and big hugs,


Carrie Butler said...

As I always say, categories are there to give us expectations, not dictate what we read. ;) You did a great job with this, Lee!

P.S. Thanks for mentioning NA Alley!

Cally Jackson said...

I know I would have found it helpful to have a 'new adult' category when I was younger. And now, I definitely wish that category existed, because my current novel would slot into it perfectly.

Glad to hear you had a good holiday, Rach. :-)

writing and living by Richard P Hughes said...

I'm still coming to terms with this new category. I think back to when I was in my early twenties. I was reading Camus, Satre, Hemingway, Dylan Thomas, TS Eliot, etc, etc. And I think that's where twenty-year-olds should be (in forming their life philosophies), not in basically juvenile reading. So, I'm not impressed with it. But it's here, so it's here to stay, I guess.

DMS said...

So glad I popped over from Lee's blog and found your excellent blog. :)

What a fascinating post. Definitely a lot to think about. I have heard of this category- but I didn't know how it got started. I think books about the twenties are going to capture people's interest- but I am not sure if they need a new category. You are an adult when you are 18... It will be interesting to see what happens!


Bish Denham said...

"New Adults are somewhere in between…." The new tweeners! I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, yes it gives writers and opportunity to write to a specific group. On the other hand, it's still adult fiction so what's the dif?

Humpty Dumpty said...

As the mom of 2 twenty-somethings, I can state that there's a distinct difference between when Hubby and I were that age and what mine are like. Then I look around to others of their age group, and a little younger, and realize there is a lot more indecision going on about their futures, what they should be doing and what they are actually doing. Even those who are high-achievers are struggling with parental expectations and what they really want as careers, causing break-downs and worse. It would be nice to have fiction about things that they are dealing with that isn't 'high school'.

cleemckenzie said...

@Carrie I like what you say in your comment. I really like how you and the others in your group have come together to share writing.

@Cally Good luck with that novel.

@Richard I don't see that NA will detract from more literary exploration. In fact, it might enhance it. I'm for anything that draws young people into bookstores (real or virtual) and libraries. Get 'em hooked and keep 'em reading.

@DMS Thanks for reading. I do think the response to that contest was a clear indication of the interest in this kind of category.

@Bish a lot of people agree with you. I guess the difference I see is, of course age and most definitely experience. Who knows where this will go? Maybe it's just a marketing idea that will fade or maybe it will generate new readers and writers. It will be interesting to see what happens.

@Humpty great information from first hand experience! We have seen a shift in how the twenty somethings live. At twenty people used to be married, starting families . . . not so much now. You're so right about the difference in this generation. Wonder what it's going to be like in the next one? I always remember the pendulum doth swing.

Unknown said...

Lee - Thanks for the in-depth look at the NA category, its pros and cons. (I was surprised to see Clark Univ. in the post -- I spent some undergrad years there.)
Great post! :-D

Heather said...

Definitely why not! I love new things too and I think this will be a successful new thing. In fact, now that indie authors are embracing it, I think it's starting to take off as a genre.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I don't know if NA needs its own shelf, but I'm glad to see the stats that show the younger generations are reading more.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Quite interesting, C.Lee. I tend to agree with Lynn Rush. There is a fine line, but exploring characters of the New Adult young adult age takes a slightly different viewpoint. There are different challenges and different exposures at that older young adult age.

Nadine Feldman said...

I like the concept! Categories are really helpful, I think. I sometimes wish there were more categories for women's fiction -- sometimes my work gets lumped into romance, which to me is a specific genre that my work doesn't fit. I think that readers are willing to try different genres but would like to have a clue at the beginning as to what they're reading.

As to NA, my stepkids are 24 (twins) and are going through the stage of life where they're settling down with significant others, getting careers off the ground, etc. They're beyond college, but aren't at the mortgage and kids stage. Why not use this category to help them find stories they may relate to?

Kelly Hashway said...

I really enjoy New Adult. I think there's a definite need for it, and I've already discovered some great NA authors, so I say bring it on.

Catherine Stine said...

I'm all for NA. I don't think it's a ghettoization or a dumbing down of adult themes really. What's wrong with a category that helps readers find the books they want to read?
On the other hand, these sort of titles have been blended into adult shelves for a while--think Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks, Prep by Sittenfeld and so many others...

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Rach, Hi, C. Lee,

Glad you had an awesome vacations Rach. It's been ages. Hope to start seeing more of you and your posts!


This is a great explanation on what this whole N/A thing is all about.

In theory, I totally get it, but in reality, is it really necessary. I write edgy y/a contemporary and m/g fantasy.

My y/a deals with many of the darker human elements of abuse, sex, and the hard knocks in life. So many teens are experiencing these adult issues. So, if they can handle reading this why not twenty somethings?

Kids... teen, twenty somethings, live in the real world. Adult lit should be fine for them. Why create another genre? By now they should know what's right for them. If an author is writing with a twenty-something character... this is adult. They ARE adults so is it really necessary for this?

Again, i get the marketing aspects, but as that what this is all about? It seems that way to me.

Thanks again, and good luck with your new novel!

cleemckenzie said...

@Michael I think your points are exactly where the difference of opinion lies. Why aren't NA reading adult fiction? I'm sure many are. Why do we need a category named NA? We may not, but right now this industry needs a boost. Maybe a new category will do that. I mean the 20 somethings are a target audience for a lot of marketers (fashion, cars, cosmetics, whatever). Why not book? I'd rather my 20 something spent money on books instead of a tanning salon. My personal opinion, of course. Thanks for the taking the time to give a considered reply. Those are always appreciated.

cleemckenzie said...

@ Catherine @Kelly @ Heather @SA Larson I agree. Why not? We need readers, so let's encourage them any way we can.

@Lexa Clark, heh? I learn more about you all the time.

@Nadine I guess that's the appeal--putting stories in one place that this age group can find easily. Of course, that's exactly what some people dislike about this idea. Too many categories and for what? Spoon feeding? I guess I'm in the NA yes camp because I see this as an opportunity to encourage reading and book sales. Oy! I'm going to get slammed for writing that!

Nickie said...

I think your point about NAs having a distinct set of issues from YAs and adults is on the money. I think the two genres [should] deal with different issues. Like you said in the post, twenty-somethings now face a different set of issues than the previous generations. I've had to move a couple of times, struggled to find full time work, and seriously questioned my choice of majors in college. If I pick up a NA book, I expect to read about a character going through these same struggles. The stories and characters are just more relateable to me.

And I don't really see classifying books as NA as spoonfeeding. It helps me identify whether it's a book that I feel would interest me, just as the tags sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, romance, etc would.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I have been thinking about this genre for quite some time, because I teach teens, many who feel they have outgrown some YA but don't know where to go after that. And I think it is a good sub-genre for people who aren't ready (and may never be) for heavier adult reads.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I have been thinking about this genre for quite some time, because I teach teens, many who feel they have outgrown some YA but don't know where to go after that. And I think it is a good sub-genre for people who aren't ready (and may never be) for heavier adult reads.

Jen said...

Love this post. I totally agree with Carrie - I think labels are there to guide us, so we don't pick up a novel and expect one thing only to find it's not really that at all. It's not meant to insult or be an end-all be-all.

I'm currently working on a novel with a 23 year old protag and know I'll struggle to find it a home.

cleemckenzie said...

@Nicki @Tasha Glad you chimed in here to add to the discussion.

@Jen Hope you find a home for your WIP. Good luck.

Carrie-Anne said...

I think there should be more agents and publishers willing to take on books with protagonists who are college-aged. I was surprised when I realized that there aren't that many nowadays, perhaps since I'm biased from so many years of reading historicals and classics, not contemporaries.

Many of my characters age into the New Adult age bracket, but since i write (20th century) historical, I wonder if that wouldn't be an inappropriate category for me. Up until relatively recently, someone in the late teens or early twenties was considered an adult, period. It might've been normal and expected for my characters of the 1920s, the 1940s and 1950s, the 1960s, even the 1980s to marry, set up households, and have kids, but a lot of modern people that same age probably couldn't relate to those roles and responsibilities. It's the same reason why I'm struggling with whether to classify certain of my historicals with younger characters as YA, due to the drastic difference between teens of today and teens of the 1940s.

Carrie-Anne said...
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Carrie-Anne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cynthia said...

Lee, congratulations on getting your book published!

It just so happens that I wrote about NA on my blog earlier today. I do hope that NA becomes a marketable genre in the future because I certainly have story ideas for characters in that age group.

Mary Mary said...

I'm on the side of the fence of those who just don't see the point in a category like this one. I see a genre like this as the dumbing down of readers. If we don't expect great reading habits out of twenty-somethings and we create a niche market, then I don't see their habits changing much the older they get. I mean, how many adults read nothing but YA? Many from what I've seen. (I have nothing against YA, I'm just amazed by the number of adults who read a steady diet of it.) There's so much depth to literature, and unfortunately we're creating a society that only panders to the simpler ideas and tastes without the hopes of them ever maturing.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Great post! I think any kind of genre classification is about reader expectations - guiding readers to books they will enjoy. You don't need a NA bookshelf, but knowing something is NA might make you more (or less) inclined to buy it, just like "romance" or "science fiction."

J.L. Campbell said...

Hi, Rach,
Long time. This is an interesting discussion. Some of us write between genres and our stories don't fit into any mould. I guess there's nothing wrong with creating a new category if a need exists.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I don't know what to do with all of the book categories! But I think new adult definitely brings a new thing to the table. It's a symbol of the ever changing dynamic of people and the books they read.

Unknown said...

If you base what people are watching on TV as any indication, than I would say this definitely is a genre.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Lee, great thoughts. I'm with you on I'm excited for a new genre if it fits the bill for the reader and writer.


Unknown said...

This is a great thoughts.and you on excited for a new writer.
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