More and more often we’re hearing about self-published e-book sensations that go viral and eventually get scooped up by traditional publishers. With more than 150,000 e-books sold in the U.S. (not to mention the weeks it has spent on the New York Times bestseller list), Tammara Webber’s Easy definitely fits into that category. Penguin took over the rights in October, and Berkley published a trade paperback edition on November 6. Many readers are already hooked on this story of a 19-year-old who deals with tough issues in college—from sexual assault to falling in love again.
However, there’s an interesting “trend” angle to this novel that makes it unique. Easy is part of an emerging subgenre called “New Adult” literature. NA books are appropriate for older teens and adults, and they typically feature characters who are transitioning from teendom to adulthood. Webber is very passionate about writing stories that explore this life stage. In a guest blog post she tells us what “New Adult” means—and why it’s important.
New Adult—or just new marketing?
By Tammara Webber
I confess, my initial reaction to the term “New Adult” was lukewarm, because I thought it was a seriously dumb label for a literary category. Who wants to be called a new adult? When I was a college student, a bookstore couldn’t have paid me to walk down an aisle with that designation at the head of it.
What intrigued me, though, was the concept behind the harebrained title. A long-standing decree from publishers warned agents (and therefore, authors) against submitting manuscripts with main characters older than 18 or younger than mid-20s. The justification? They won’t sell.
Enter the birth of digital self-publishing, the rapid growth of the e-reader market, and more recently, widespread apps that turn any smart phone into an e-reader. Those college-aged protagonists no one wanted to read about? Indie authors offered those stories to readers directly. Lo and behold, the previously nonexistent audience appeared.
Shocking? Not really. Much of the “NA” audience is just an extension of the YA audience, as well as a natural progression from it. Is an 18-year-old—who is a legal adult—an adult in every sense of the word? Not until she’s financially independent. Until then, she’s on the same coming-of-age path she was before—she’s just closer to her goal. A professor friend told me that she hadn’t realized how young her students were until her own sons were in college. “They have adult bodies and more advanced language skills, but their thought processes and reasoning haven’t quite caught up,” she said.
This leads me to confession number two: I’m not convinced publishing needs a new category. Heck yeah, I slapped a “New Adult” tag on each of my “Mature YA” books, because I’m not stupid. If everyone is going to say I’m writing “NA,” and that tag helps readers find my books, then by all means, I’ll add it. But what needed to happen has happened: Authors are writing and selling novels with characters in the college age range, without benefit of a distinct category.
Where those books should be “shelved” is something brick-and-mortar retailers will have to figure out. The idea that these stories can be edgier because the protagonists are 18 and up is unnecessary. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that plenty of YA books are edgy—they contain swearing, drinking, drugs and sex. In other words, reality.
If by edgy one means tackling tough topics—well, anyone who reads YA on even the most intermittent basis knows that’s been done and done well: Speak, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Sky is Everywhere, Looking for Alaska, Some Girls Are, Shine, I Know It’s Over . . . No one needs to look for a New Adult designation to find edgy, or dark, or titillating literature—and thank God for that.
Lest you question my credentials for welcoming edgy content to YA, I have an incontestable qualification: I’m the parent of three children between the ages of 17 to 23. I love that my son brought Going Bovine into my room at 2 a.m. with tears on his face and said, “Read this.” I love that my daughter and I could discuss and contrast Alex Fuentes (from Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles) with “real boys.” I’m a parent who welcomed the edgy stuff, and recognized the importance of it for creating dialogue with my kids. It wasn’t about what I wanted to talk about—because I can do that without assistance from literature or celebrity-endorsed commercials, thanks—but about what they wanted to talk about.
I’ve heard that NA seeks to appeal to readers “18 to 35.” Or 34. Or 30. Or starting at 17. Again, unnecessary. The elimination of the weird dearth of characters in the 19-23 year-old age range was the essential thing. The placement of those stories should be based on content, not the ages of the protagonists. If a book has a YA voice, if it speaks to serious issues as archetypal YA does, then it should be categorized as YA, and perhaps given a “mature” label to let the parents of 14-year-olds know that this book should be parentally-guided. Books like Easy and Slammed fall into that category. As for those 20-somethings (and older) being able to find them? We already read YA. We’ll find them just fine.
As a self-published author, I found enough readers to put Easy on the NYT bestseller list for nine weeks—three of those on the combined and the e-book lists. The audience is there. Now let’s publish for them.
Readers: What do you think of the “New Adult” designation? Do you like to read about protagonists who are in that stage between living at home and being a full-on adult?