The birth of New Adult fiction (Part 1)

New Adult Book Club on GoodReads

New Adult Book Club on GoodReads

In my opinion, New Adult (NA) fiction has popped up in the publishing industry as the new buzzword. Until last year, when I attended the London Book Fair, I’d never heard the term and now it seems to be everywhere; from excessive reading groups on GoodReads to conferences hosted by the Publishers Advertising and Marketing Association. What I want to know is whether this new category fills a real gap in the market or if it is a new marketing term invented by the publishing companies to strike up interest in an industry under pressure from reduced sales.

It seems to me that the fiction we now term as NA, now commonly agreed by publishers and readers alike to be novels targeted at 18-25 year-old women about college-aged characters experiencing life on their own for the first time, began by US writers. Writers seemed determined to reach this audience and therefore self-published their novels. This was an area of the unknown to the traditional publishers, such as Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, which model their business on commissioning manuscripts, paying royalties and selling their books through bricks and mortar stores.

Samantha Young, New York Times Bestselling Author said, “publishers didn’t know how to market characters and stories that were neither young adult nor quite mature enough to be categorised as adult.  I know a few authors who decided to self-publish their New Adult titles as a result of this.” Cora Carmack, the writer on the lips of everyone I’ve spoken to about NA fiction, stated in her blog post on The Savvy Reader, “[It] began almost exclusively through the self-publishing world. For years, it had been a widely held belief… that books about college-aged protagonists just wouldn’t sell”. [Page no longer available.]

It seems that the stories were waiting to be written and readers were eager to find them. I also don’t think it’s necessarily a coincidence that the majority of NA writers are women in their mid-to-late twenties. They grew up in the nineties when US television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek, Saved by the Bell and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air were cult classics about teenagers in school and their first few years of college. It seems to me that these shows could have influenced NA writers, including UK authors such as Liz Bankes, who admitted as such at the London Book Fair 2013. But in the nineties and noughties there were no books which spoke to teens growing up and experiencing important ‘firsts’ such as moving out of home, going to university or landing their first proper job, so writers had to write these stories themselves. “I was twenty-five-years-old, and still felt like I was adrift in an intimidating world. I wish I’d had books about those experiences when I was still in college. It would have been nice to read and know I wasn’t alone.” [Cora Cormack].

Writers like Cora Carmack and Jamie McGuire predominantly found their readers through word-of-mouth and e-books sales due to self-publishing, now they are US bestselling authors on the lists of some of the top traditional publishers in the market today.

However, would the category have actually have become a recognized category without the traditional publishers climbing on board the NA train? My next post will look at publishers and agents.





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