Why I’ve cooled on the NA marketing category

In loving memory of Curly Howard (Jerome Lester Horwitz), who passed away 65 years ago today.

Over the last almost six years in the writing blogosphere, I’ve met a number of New Adult writers. I regularly participated in a seemingly discontinued weekly Twitter chat. I regularly visited and commented at the now-inactive New Adult Alley blog. I did a group presentation about NA in my YA Lit class. This was definitely something I supported.

I’m far from the only person who’s cooled on the idea of NA as a category, as much as I once believed in its great potential. Some of these reasons include:

1. NA Alley has changed its Twitter handle to NextLit, in addition to discontinuing their weekly chat and no longer blogging.

2. With some notable exceptions, and in spite of the somewhat greater diversity of genres a few years ago, NA is dominated by contemporary romances. While there’s nothing wrong with that genre, that’s not how you successfully pitch a new marketing category to the wider public.

3. Related to #2, many read like YA with slightly older characters and sex scenes.

4. Where’s the actual adult coming-of-age experience NA was supposed to represent? You know, going to university, graduating, finding a first apartment, getting a first job, navigating a first serious relationship that’s not the entire focus of the book?

5. Many writers who once proudly waved the NA banner have stopped querying or classifying their books as NA. They’re now simply adult lit. Sometimes they age the characters down to make it YA.

6. While I’m much more enthusiastic about the indie movement (both small publishing houses and self-pubbing) than traditional publishing these days, many agents and editors have said they no longer consider NA, or would make writers age the characters up or down.

7. Not enough representation of other kinds of early adult experiences. Where are the stories of going right from high school to the working world or the military instead of university? How about getting married and starting families instead of taking part in the hookup culture? The entire world isn’t bourgeois!

8. NA doesn’t seem to work with certain genres. While this may contradict #2, an adult character’s age doesn’t really matter in a genre like sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery. What does it matter if the protagonist of a high epic fantasy is 21, 26, or 32?

9. Do we really need yet another excuse to prolong adolescence? As compared to 50+ years ago, the average twentysomething of today isn’t in a longterm job, married, or a parent. It’s more common to go clubbing and bar-hopping every weekend, hook up instead of seriously dating, and work crappy jobs.

10. Related to #9 and #8, historical doesn’t really seem like the best NA genre. While we shouldn’t aspire to only read about characters who are similar to us, it also might be harder for modern-day twentysomethings to relate to characters living as and being treated like full adults instead of overgrown teens. More on this in a future post.

11. This delays readers from graduating to full adult literature already. Once upon a time, there were no stepping-stones. You just started reading books from the grownup section of the library and bookstore. I started reading Hermann Hesse at 14, and began reading Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, Chekhov, and Turgenev at 16. I never thought I had to only read about people my own age.

12. There’s enough of a problem with people over 30 exclusively or almost exclusively reading YA. I have no issue with adults reading YA or MG, but I’ve become increasingly off-put by this trend of adults who won’t read books about other adults. More on this in a future post.

13. I dislike age-based categories in general. While I agree general labels exist for a reason, there are often nuances within them. The definitions have also shifted drastically over time. Many books written for children in the 19th and early 20th century are now shelved as adult classics, while many books classified as young adult in my day are now shelved as MG. And how do you pigeonhole a book which ages the characters over 5+ years?

14. It’s kind of patronizing to call the 18–25 range “new adults” instead of simply adults, period. It’s like helicopter parenting in loco parentis.

15. Many NAs have become repetitive, indistinguishable, cookie-cutter.

NA really did have awesome potential, and I’m sorry to see what’s happened to it. There certainly is a market for books about characters in that age range, but I no longer feel that needs a new, separate category.

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4 thoughts on “Why I’ve cooled on the NA marketing category

  1. Your points are good ones. I tend not to pay much attention to such categorizing when it comes to choosing what I read and just look for the content that interests me. And as far as labeling my own writing, I guess I need to start getting serious about writing before I even bother thinking about designating a category for it.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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    • The content should always be key! A well-written blurb on the back or jacket flap should make it obvious a book is about someone in the 18–25 age range (e.g., a reference to being in college or just having graduated), so the lack of a NA classification wouldn’t be necessary no matter where that book is shelved.

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    • The story itself has always seemed most important to me, no matter how old the characters are. I’d rather read a well-written story that just happens to be about older adults, teenagers, or newly-minted adults than read a story trying to shoehorn the characters into a particular trajectory or voice based upon their ages.

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