“New Adult” and why it matters
This is how I’ve had to classify my books in bookstores (online and off):
Romance – Because there’s usually a romantic storyline in every book.
Contemporary – Because they’re set in the present, or at least the recent past.
Chick Lit – Because they’re advertised in women’s magazines, come in candy-colored covers, and were published in response to a trend in this subgenre a few years ago.
Women’s Fiction – Because some bookstores don’t offer “chick lit” as a category.
Young Adult – Because there’s no graphic sex, even for the contemporary romances.
Teen Fiction – Because I heavily use flashbacks that have the characters go back to college, usually when they’re teenagers.
I’ve embraced all of these categories and genres, but eventually started to see how they can be confusing for international readers taking a chance on a book with Philippine characters and setting. American romance readers expect more sex in a contemporary romance, and they won’t find that in any of my books. Young adult readers expect many of the coming-of-age tropes in novels to happen in high school, but in my stories they usually happen in college — because many Filipinos start college at 16 or 17, though that’s about to change now that we’re transitioning into K-12. And for a great many Filipino young women, at least those I know, those things don’t even start until they’re in their twenties and working. This is a country that has only begun to acknowledge that sex happens between unmarried people, so I have to tread a fine line in presenting that in a way that doesn’t seem too “Western.” Should I take pains to explain all of this before a person buys my book? Seems too tedious, and I don’t want to appear like I’m talking down to anyone with a “things you need to know about my country before reading this” intro.
Recently I found out about an emerging category called “New Adult”/NA. Think of it as describing the kind of stories that seem too old (mature? risque?) for YA, but too young (naive? innocent?) compared to adult lit. There’s still some debate over whether it’s “a thing” or “not a thing,” because where have you seen a “New Adult” shelf in a bookstore? And why split a subgenre further?
And yet this term perfectly describes the section of universe where my books exist. I also think that it helps readers find the kind of stories they’re looking for. What I don’t want to do as an author is alienate a romance reader with a “too sweet” story, or a YA reader with one that doesn’t feel authentic because the characters are too old.
So even though NA is not yet mainstream (I’ll consider it so when local bookstores start using it), I’ll add it to my regular categories anyway. I think, as a writer, and publisher, it’s the category that describes my work the best. Since reading up on NA, I’ve begun reading books marketed as NA, and I’m usually happy with them. Turns out I’m a target audience for NA too.