What is new adult fiction?

As I was writing my new novel The Nowhere – an Australian coming-of-age novel with LGBT+ themes – it dawned on me that it could be a tricky book to market. This is because even when I came up with the original concept and sketched out my plan, I knew I wanted to create a juxtaposition between the protagonist’s story being told as both a teenager and an adult.

As predicted, this resulted in a story that combines teenage leads experiencing things for the first time with adults who have almost experienced everything. In some parts it feels like a book that would appeal to a young adult audience, while other themes pull it back into the adult fiction market.

The result of which led me to do some research into an emerging genre dubbed new adult (NA) fiction, which tends to feature protagonists in the 18 to 30 bracket. I started to wonder whether The Nowhere would sit better in this new adult fiction category, and decided to explore the developing genre further.

What is new adult fiction?

The term ‘new adult fiction’ was initially coined by St. Martin’s Press in 2009, when they had a calling for “…fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult — a sort of ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult'”.

New adult fiction tends to focus on issues such as developing sexuality, deciding on a life direction and leaving home. Over the past few years the genre has quickly gained popularity, particularly through books by self-published bestselling authors such Cora CarmackColleen Hoover and Jamie McGuire.

The genre was initially met with criticism, as many believed it was simply a marketing ploy – that the readership wasn’t there for books aimed at this demographic. Elsewhere, authors and readers alike argued that such a distinction was needed. A publicist for HarperCollins went as far as describing new adult fiction as “a convenient label because it allows parents and bookstores and interested readers to know what is inside”.

Themes in new adult fiction books

Although YA novels – especially the ones aimed at an older young adult audience – are known for their exploration of troubling themes such as the search for identity sexuality, depression, suicide, drug abuse, bullying, family issues and more – many of these themes cross over into the new adult genre.

Perhaps it’s not as clear-cut as saying new adult fiction tackles themes that affect our lives somewhere between being a young adult and an adult. In our ever-changing world where kids are living at home longer because they can’t afford to get onto the property ladder and people are having children later – if at all – it’s no surprise that the issues once reserved strictly for young adults would now be relatable to ‘new adults’. That said, these issues tend to be dealt with differently in new adult books. Understandably, with an older mind and perspective.

There are also themes and issues that occur in new adult books that are unique to the genre. These include starting college, getting engaged and married, starting first jobs, new families, how friendships change, end and begin post-high school, financial independence, loss of innocence, fear of failure and more.

Like YA fiction can do when aimed at the older readers of the demographic, new adult fiction focuses predominately on life after its protagonist has become of legal age, and how they deal with the new challenges of adulthood. The difference in new adult fiction, is this will occur post-high school instead of during or prior to.

Is The Nowhere a new adult fiction book?

The more I examined the idea of new adult fiction, the more I came to believe my new novel fits the demographic of the blossoming genre. My protagonist, Sebastian Johns, has left high school and is struggling to comes to terms with who he is and what his place is in the world.

Most of the book focuses on Seb’s late teenage years where he lives on an isolated farm in Western Australia with his short-tempered father and younger brother. Here, he longs for escape and a better life, which he hopes will finally become a reality when Jake, his new neighbour of his same age, moves in and the pair begin dreaming up ways to escape.

But while all this fits perfectly into the new adult fiction market, there are portions of the book that cut into different parts of Seb’s life – predominately twenty years after his years on the farm, where it’s made evident that something horrible ended up taking place. The themes touched on later in Seb’s life, particularly a period spent living in London ten years after his time in ‘The Nowhere’, blur the boundaries even further between new adult and pure adult fiction.

It was then I realised that although target audiences are important, particularly when it comes to marketing a book, they are not worth obsessing over. After all, fiction is a form of art, and art doesn’t always fit neatly into a box. I hope that when I release The Nowhere, it will find a place in many people’s hearts, whether they fit the demographic of young adult, new adult or adult fiction.

As a reader of many types of books in all sorts of genres, the one thread that runs through them all to make them a standout to me is their ability to make you escape. Whether that’s through a circumstance you have lived through, are yet to live through or will never live through – it ultimately doesn’t matter. If the story resonates enough to keep you turning pages and coming back for more, the author has done their job.

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