May 25, 2018

Developing a New Adult Fiction Collection

I developed this piece as a literature review for my class in Collection Development. Since joining bookstagram and interacting more with self-published authors, I’ve learned so much about the burgeoning New Adult genre. Additionally, I fell in love with the ACOTAR series by Sarah J. Maas, which I feel fits into the New Adult genre, despite being marketed as Young Adult.

I’d like to share this literature review with you in hopes that it will help more people learn about this genre/age group!

New adult fiction is a developing genre. In recent years, there has “been an uptick in books published for the eighteen-and-up readership – labeled “new adult” (Brookover, Burns, & Jensen, 2014). Previously, “traditional publishers thought that readers in the 18-to-24-year-old age range … were already being serviced by YA” (young adult) “and existing adult titles” (Naughton, 2014). “The actual term ‘New Adult’ sprang from a contest held by primarily adult publisher St. Martin’s Press in 2009, seeking manuscripts featuring eighteen-and-older characters that read like YA but would be published and marketed for adults” (Brookover et al., 2014). Despite the contest and the coining of this new term through it, “by 2011, St. Martin’s had failed to publish any material generated” through it. However, “the call for submissions inspired a number of young writers” who adopted the new adult, or NA, genre “and found success by self-publishing in the new genre” (Pattee, 2017).

In 2000, psychologist and professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett devised the term emerging adulthood to describe the period of development from the late teens through twenties, focusing on ages eighteen to twenty-five. The theory relates to Erik Erikson’s “psychosocial theory of adolescence as a life stage during which the conflict of identity versus role confusion is resolved.” However, unlike adolescents, “emerging adults … have reached their majority and enjoy the rights and privileges associated with this milestone; furthermore, they form peer communities in and around institutions of postsecondary education and engage in serious romantic relationships. Most notably, Arnett argues that members of this group consider and describe themselves as neither adolescent nor adult.” Others argue that the realization of this age group is due to environmental factors, including social changes and the labor market, rather than developmental factors (Pattee, 2017). However, it is clear that in today’s world, emerging adulthood certainly is considered its own step in the aging process.

“A new adult means a new market” (Cart, 2014). Currently, young people who belong to “the emerging adulthood demographic are members of the Millennial generation, which have overtaken the once dominant Baby Boomers in number” (Pattee, 2017). Because of this, new adults are an ideal market. Some believe that the new adult title is no more than a marketing gimmick, used “to attract former YA devotees who have ‘aged out’ of the market. But, actually, there doesn’t seem to be any imminent danger of that, since currently a total of 62 perfect of YA book sales go to readers ages 18 to 44 years of age and 22 percent of readers 46 to 65 – only 16 percent goes to readers 13 to 17” (Cart, 2014). When examining readers of the young adult genre, other studies have released that “55 percent of the readers of books intended for ages 12-17 are actually over the age of 18” (Klems, 2013). It is clear that today’s readers are not aging out of any reading genre.

Despite this recent description and development of the genre, the market has existed for some time. “Authors had been writing ‘raw’ coming-of-age-stories for years without a catchy term” (Naughton, 2014). Some have considered Frescesca Lia Blocks’s Weetzie Bat, “published as YA in 1989”, to be the first “crossover novel”. In 1999, MTV/Pocket Books published The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. The book reached the entire MTV demographic, ages twelve to thirty-four. In 2005, Size 12 Is Not Fat by YA author Meg Cabot was released. The main character, Heather Wells, “works as an assistant dorm director at a college dorm, evidence that the publisher, HarperCollins, was consciously targeting the college-age demographic.” That same year, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight was published, and not many years after, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy began. “These two books, and the movies based on them, helped create a flourishing crossover literature” (Cart, 2014).

In describing the differences between new adult and genres like young adult or adult fiction in general, those in the field largely focus on “the sex factor” (Wetta, 2013). “New adult books tackle more mature subject matter than YA is able to cover and certainly have stronger sexual content” (Jorgenson, 2014). “There are more steamy scenes in the genre’s books than in YA titles in general, but that is likely because of the age difference between the audiences” and characters. “Sex might occur in NA books but not be described, it might be related vividly, or it might not happen at all. NA has much more to offer than sex; it portrays the transitioning to adulthood that takes place post-high school” (Cataldi, 2015).

So there are more characteristics of new adult fiction than steamy romantic scenes. “The new adult novel … is more often character rather than simply plot-driven; the setting is often more fully realized; adult characters (i.e., post-28) may play significant parts; and the subject matter, if not more sophisticated, at least receives a more subtle treatment” (Cart, 2013). “Hallmarks of New Adult fiction include first-person narration, dramatic, soap-opera like plots, and characters with ‘issues’ ranging from history of abuse, anger management issues, and troubled family lives” (Wetta, 2013). Beyond that, some authors and fans argue that new adult novels are more about coming of age than their YA counterparts. The fans and authors “argue for two phases of coming of age: the emotional preparation for the journey being represented in YA, then the journey itself showcased in NA” (Brookover et al., 2014).

“While universally acknowledging that the strongest subcategory of new adult is romance, many authors are itching to broaden the boundaries” and some believe that this must be done to make sure that the genre is not just a fad. Even within the romance genre, LGBTQ characters, themes, and romantic plots are more prevalent and considered natural and expected (Naughton, 2014). “Fans of paranormal, fantasy, and sci-fi stories in YA looking for more mature stories can find a wealth of titles on a wide spectrum of heat levels and featuring slightly older characters” (Wetta, 2013). Outside of fiction, Zest Books “has always published nonfiction for teens but is finding more freedom by moving into the NA realm. Its How Not To Be a Dick: An Everyday Etiquette Guide, by Meghan Doherty, was a crossover hit” (Jorgenson, 2014).

From a library perspective, collection development for new adult literature is unique. First, there is the issue of shelving. “YA sections differ from library to library; some contain books for readers twelve and older, others books for fourteen and up. In some libraries, the YA section is read primarily by middle schoolers, with high schoolers borrowing from the adult section instead.” A librarian may buy a new adult title “for her collection” and decide “it fits in better with her adult books because of the not-super-explicit but still frank depictions of sex” (Brookover et al., 2014). For most bookstores and libraries, “titles are usually shelved in adult fiction or romance and occasionally in YA fiction.” Because of this, “displays, book lists, and bookmarkers are vital tools to help market your growing new adult collection to patrons” (Cataldi, 2015).

“While the lack of physical space for the category has been a marketing roadblock for traditional publishers and brick-and-mortar bookstores, it’s a nonissue for e-books, among which New Adult tiles (many of them self-published) have been creeping onto digital bestsellers lists … In fact, independent e-book publishing has been the driving force behind the genre’s rapid growth. Online venues have allowed writers with New Adult novels that were being shut out of the market to create their own place” (Klems, 2013). On one hand, the digital and self-published works add another layer of difficulty for libraries that still are developing new policies for such titles. However, the benefit to developing a digital collection of new adult titles is that “librarians can still help connect readers with the types of books they seek, regardless of where the books are found in the stacks” (Wetta, 2013). “Some libraries may choose to give the books their own section, others interfile. In ebooks, at least, libraries won’t have to choose but can place the same titles in multiple categories” (Jorgenson, 2014). This solves the shelving problems, as the new adult title can be tagged under young adult, new adult, romance, general fiction, and/or whatever other genres it fits.

Beyond books, it is important to note that the term new adult “has been slowly creeping into television and music.” The genre might be considered to include the HBO series Girls and the music category “frat rap” (Lissner, 2013). Librarians may choose to catalog or tag items aside from novels as new adult.

Finally, a library staff in the process of developing a new adult collection must familiarize itself with the genre. “It’s important to distinguish between readers looking for fast-paced and engaging stories featuring characters at the high end of the YA age range and those looking for more descriptive and mature sexual content” (Wetta, 2013). Wetta goes on to provide a comparison to help with readers’ advisory, suggesting relating books to cable networks. “Would they rather read a book whose adaptation would appear on HBO or the CW network? For the network folks, stick with mature YA, for the cable fans, go with the adult titles.” “Librarians also need to be aware that readers of NA fiction are not necessarily new to adulthood themselves … Adults in their 30s and 40s are increasingly drawn to these narratives, too, just as recent years have seen a surge in adults unashamedly reading crossover hits from the YA list. (Jorgenson, 2014).

Ultimately, it appears that new adult is a genre that strikes a chord with the modern reader audience. It is up to the library to develop a collection that best meets their users’ needs. A small public library likely would benefit from cataloging or tagging existing digital new adult titles as part of the genre, and also including them under young adult or adult fiction, or romance, if and when applicable. As for a physical collection, at this early developing stage of the genre, new adult displays are the most effective way to draw in readers. Books should be shelved per the library’s discretion in young adult, adult, or romance sections. Bookmarkers can be placed on the spine to identify them as New Adult. It is important to note that today, “the majority of titles being marked as New Adult are being published by either adult or YA imprints” (Klems, 2013) so it might even be necessary to locate existing books on these shelves to catalog or tag them as new adult. As the genre gains popularity, it may become important or even necessary to create its own section in the shelves.



Works Cited
Brookover, S., Burns, E., & Jensen, K. (2014). What’s new about new adult? The Horn Book Magazine, 90(1), 41-45. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.libezproxy2.syr.edu/docview/1471041093?accountid=14214
Cart, M. (2013). The new adult; or, what’s in a name? The Booklist, 110(8), 36. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.libezproxy2.syr.edu/docview/1469890476?accountid=14214
Cart, M. (2014). Carte blanche: More notes on new adults. The Booklist, 110(12), 68. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.libezproxy2.syr.edu/docview/1502700003?accountid=14214
Cataldi, E. (2015, August 18). Betwixt and Between: New Adult Fiction | Collection Development, September 1, 2015. Retrieved May 3, 2018, from https://reviews.libraryjournal.com/2015/08/collection-development/betwixt-and-between-new-adult-fiction-collection-development-september-1-2015/
Jorgenson, J. (2014, September 12). A World of Firsts | Genre Spotlight: New Adult. Retrieved May 3, 2018, from https://reviews.libraryjournal.com/2014/09/books/genre-fiction/a-world-of-firsts-genre-spotlight-new-adult/
Klems, B. (2013, November 15). “New Adult”: The Next Big Thing? Retrieved May 3, 2018, from http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/new-adult-the-next-big-thing
Lissner, C. (2013, Jun 16). ‘New adult’ genre resonates. Argus Leader Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.libezproxy2.syr.edu/docview/1367792569?accountid=14214
Naughton, J. (2014). New adult matures. Publishers Weekly, 261(28), 37-n/a. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.libezproxy2.syr.edu/docview/1545555009?accountid=14214
Pattee, A. (2017). Between Youth and Adulthood: Young Adult and New Adult Literature. Childrens Literature Association Quarterly, 42(2), 218-230. doi:10.1353/chq.2017.0018
Wetta, M. (2013, September). What is New Adult Fiction, Anyway? Retrieved May 3, 2018, from https://www.ebscohost.com/novelist/novelist-special/what-is-new-adult-fiction-anyway

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