With multiple print and digital bestsellers across international markets, new adult has established itself comfortably in the publishing gap between YA and adult romance. Publishers like Grand Central, St. Martin’s, Atria, and HarperCollins have affirmed their commitment to the category with a healthy 2015 list of new adult titles.
New adult, which got its start with self-published e-books, is conventionally defined by three main criteria: the characters must be late teens or early 20s, the narration is usually first person, and the sex can be hot—but not so hot that it crosses the line into erotica. “These characters aren’t liberated from the concerns of adulthood, as they would be in YA,” says Jhanteigh Kupihea, senior editor at Atria. “But they’re not yet shaped by the highs and lows of adult relationships, careers, and shifting family dynamics, as they would be in a romance or women’s fiction.”
The freedom that this in-between space has created for authors and readers has allowed the category to flourish. New adult authors aren’t hindered by the genre expectations found in romance (happily ever after) or YA (age-appropriate content). For this reason, NA is an important category for queer youth, with its exploration of identity and freedom, says Sarah Frantz Lyons, editorial director at Riptide, a publisher dedicated to LGBTQ narratives. “Traditionally, college and the time right after college is when a lot of queer youth are able to come out, because they’re striking out on their own,” she says. “They want to be true to themselves.”
The Data on Digital
While editors navigate the acquisitions process, the publishing teams are working on how to best to reach their target readership. In the new adult marketplace, that often means a focus on digital: e-books have had a consistent edge over print editions since the genre’s inception. The new adult BISAC code was added in late fall of 2013, and the available data suggests a trend toward digital.
According to Connie Harbison, director of quality assurance at Baker & Taylor and chair of the BISAC Subject Codes Committee, the new adult code was given to 31 print books in that first year and 697 in 2014; so far, it has been used 404 times in 2015. The number of e-books with the new adult BISAC code has increased each year, from 145 titles in 2013 to 413 in 2014 and 524 in 2015 to date. The differences may be a reflection of the publishing plans for new adult titles that don’t always involve a simultaneous print and digital release.
“It was digital that gave rise to the genre,” says Rose Hilliard, senior editor at St. Martin’s, who adds that while some of the publisher’s new adult titles have caught on in print, the biggest market remains in digital.
Tessa Woodward, senior editor at HarperCollins imprints Avon and Morrow, agrees. “New adult readers love e-books,” she says, and while the category is still evolving, readers skew heavily toward digital.
This reality has led publishers to become more flexible with their plans for various titles. Leah Hultenschmidt, editorial director of the Forever and Forever Yours romance imprints at Grand Central, publishes new adult titles under both imprints. Forever Yours is digital with a POD component, and Forever is traditional print. In some instances, Hultenschmidt says, Forever will publish a new adult title in e-book format first, followed by a trade paperback, or it may publish simultaneously in print and e-book.
As far as getting the books to their digital-savvy readers, online word-of-mouth is key. Hultenschmidt cites the importance of digital influencers like Maryse’s Book Blog, Aestas Book Blog, and Natasha Is a Book Junkie when it comes to targeting NA readers. “We’ve noticed they can definitely spur sales when they love something,” she says.
And while those sales are heavily digital, that may not necessarily be the result of reader preference. “It can be hard to find NA books in print,” Atria’s Kupihea says, adding that part of the issue is a lack of established sections for NA at bookstores. “Some stores shelve it with romance, others with YA. That said, I think the accounts and booksellers have been as supportive as possible. B&N still comes up with great end caps to showcase new adult, and Target’s Emerging Author plan has been really useful for the authors we’re still trying to establish in print.”
Whether new adult can make further inroads in print with the continued cooperation of retailers remains to be seen. In the meantime, new adult titles proliferate in the supportive environment where the category got its start—online.
A Sampling of New Adult Titles, Fall 2015
Before We Were Strangers
by Renée Carlino
Better When He’s Brave
by Jay Crownover
by Noelle August
Can’t Go Back
by Marie Meyer
Grand Central/Forever Yours, Aug.
by Sam Schooler and Heidi Belleau
by Emma Hart
S&S/Pocket Star, Oct.
Forever with You
by Jennifer L. Armentrout
by Tessa Bailey
Avon Impulse, Aug.
Mistletoe and Mr. Right
by Lyla Payne
by Season Vining
St. Martin’s Griffin, Aug.
by Sam Schooler and Heidi Belleau
by K.A. Tucker
by Colleen Hoover
by Ronnie Douglas
by S.C. Stephens
Grand Central/Forever, Nov.
What Lola Wants
by Calista Fox
Grand Central/Forever Yours, Nov.
Jennifer McCartney is a writer and editor. She has written for the Atlantic, Vice, Teen Vogue, Curbed, and Backpacker, among other publications.