New Adult (NA) fiction is the rage these days in the publishing world, but what is it exactly? Is it an actual genre or just a marketing term? At a lively PLA 2014 ConverStation session entitled “New Adult Fiction: What is It, Where is It, and What Should We Do with It?” facilitators Sophie Brookover (LibraryLinkNJ—The Library Cooperative, Piscataway, NJ) and Kelly Jensen (Beloit (WI) Public Library) ) threw out five questions for the audience to discuss at their tables and then share in the main conversation. How do you define New Adult? Do you think New Adult matters as a category? Do you have patrons asking specifically for this category? How do you explain to colleagues who the NA reader may be? Should NA fiction be shelved in a special place?
Most of the participants agreed that the label was too narrowly defined and not helpful for readers who dislike the 50 Shades of Gray association. “What has emerged is a very narrow category focusing on romance,” explained Jensen. “Publishers are scared of the term and prefer to categorize titles that might appeal to New Adult readersin other genres.” She cited the example of a young patron who wanted a fantasy merged with a coming-of-age-story.
Who are these readers? ”Are they just out of high school? In college? Just graduated from college and in their first job? ”We can’t pinpoint exactly,” commented Jensen, who noted that these readers are very tech-savvy and are willing to buy ebooks at the $2.99 and under price point. “These are readers looking for something different. Not all of them want what is being marketed as New Adult.”
Brookover also argued that librarians need a new name for a set of appeal terms that have long existed—college life, first apartment, first job, first real relationship, college friendships. “It could be handy to look at your backlist through the New Adult lens.” Readers’ advisors should also look for appeal factors in book reviews and in such popular TV shows as Scrubs, The New Girl, Girls, and Sons of Anarchy. “You don’t have to become a NA maven,” said Brookover. “But it’s important to be alert to and aware of appeal terms.”
As for where these titles should be shelved, Jensen and Brookover agreed that placing them in general fiction, rather than romance, gave these books a greater chance of being found by NA readers..At the end of the program, the duo announced that they have a Twitter conversation on this topic and other RA issues twice a month on Thursdays at 8pm Eastern time at #Readadv.
For more information and discussion on this topic, see “What’s New About New Adult?” by Brookover, Jensen, and Elizabeth Burns in Horn Book, January/February 2014.