A Call for NA Books: Why Are We Missing Out?
What is NA? Unless you're a writer desperately trying to market your NA book or a reader wishing this genre would magically appear, you've probably never heard the term. It's not an accepted genre in traditional publishing; therefore, you won't find it on bookstore or library shelves.
This is a major letdown for many authors and readers, and a huge missed opportunity for publishers. Let's talk about why . . .
WHAT IS NA?
NA stands for New Adult, and it encompasses the demographic of young adults who have graduated high school but are still finding themselves and establishing their lives. It carries a lot of the same themes as YA (coming of age, first loves, explorations) but with the newfound weight and responsibilities of adulthood, i.e. starting a career, going to college, moving away from guardians.
The NA genre largely targets college-age adults, but it can stretch through all of the 20s since that age bracket is full of exploration and new life choices. The precise age doesn't matter as much as the theme of self-discovery.
WHY NOT JUST "ADULT"?
There's nothing wrong with slotting an NA story into the adult genre . . . if it were that simple. Unfortunately, publishers consider the themes that make up NA to be "too YA" and request characters be aged down to suit a YA audience.
I guess all adults are ancient and wise out the gate?
This leaves a gaping hole in reader demographics, forcing 20-something readers to either pick up YA books for relatable themes (and endure the disconnect of the characters being in high school) or read up into older adult books that completely skip over their "in-between" period.
That's not to say college and 20-something books don't exist, but they're either a) few and far between, difficult to find, and drowning in a sea of older adult, or b) almost exclusively borderline-erotica romance. Maybe I'm not looking in the right places, but every 20-something character I find is already post-college, established in their life and career, and chasing after some paranormal hottie (with a lot more banging than YA).
I know I'm not alone when I say that's not what I meant by NA . . .
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
I don't know if you've noticed, but millennials and Gen Z (the demographics NA would currently be targeting) are huge. That is a massive untapped reader market who are caught in a book limbo of YA or smutty adult.
And, yes, I've seen the criticism here: "There are PLENTY of characters in their 20s, just look"; "I'VE seen college books before"; "Why don't you just read adult if you're an adult?"
1) These are adults fresh out of high school or college. They don't relate as closely with characters closing in on 30 who are already settled in who they are—especially when said characters have already been married or engaged, have a child, and/or are progressed in a career. Hence, we lose that "newness" to life.
2) Again, characters in their early-to-mid 20s are often entrenched in erotica or erotic romance. This leaves readers stepping back into YA to find books less preoccupied with sex and more focused on coming-of-age. Paranormal romance isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea.
3) Sure, there are college-age books out there, but find me a college coming-of-age fantasy that's not erotic and shares themes with YA without being YA. Make sure it's traditional, not indie. Tell me how long it takes to comb for that particular book.
The issue is not "are there any out there," but "how long will it take me to find this and how closely will it resemble what I'm looking for?" For young adults dealing with so many changes and new responsibilities at once, it becomes too time-consuming—so they turn to YA where they can easily grab what they're looking for off a shelf.
WHAT WE'RE LOOKING FOR
While there's a thriving NA section on digital indie platforms, you're not going to find anything in the traditional sphere—which, believe it or not, has a lot of impact. When such a section doesn't exist on shelves, it a) limits access for readers who can't afford / don't like digital platforms, b) reduces awareness for the genre so readers don't even know what to search, and c) reduces access to popular titles, book merch, and fandoms that crop up around traditional YA titles.
YA is becoming increasingly dark and more "adult" to fit the needs of this demographic, which . . . isn't the best course of action. So many times, I've seen discussions about how much better a YA book would be if the characters were the ages the plot clearly intended them to be. The more "adult" a book becomes, the harder it is for readers to accept the main characters are supposed to be sixteen.
On the flipside, this may not be the best course of action for teen readers, either. The more YA books step into NA territory, the less teens will have to associate with as well.
In the end, all new adults want is a section to call their own. Something they can as easily grab from as YA, where the characters are guaranteed to reflect their ages and concerns. Mature coming-of-age tales that don't force college students to pretend the characters aren't in high school and that span a wider genre range than erotic romance. When an entire section exists for a specific demographic, it opens the gates for so many options readers can explore to suit their tastes.
What are your thoughts on the NA debate? Do you wish there was more for new adults? Any good NA recs? Drop it all below!