"New Adult" has become one of the leading buzzwords of today's book marketplace, but what exactly does it mean? A recent panel discussion put together by the Publishers Advertising and Marketing Association made answering that question one of its first priorities. Amy Tannenbaum, a literary agent with the Jane Rotrosen Agency, described this emerging genre's focus on late teen and 20-something characters: "They're no longer kids, but they're not quite adults," she said. "They don't have to think about the consequences of their actions the way adults do."
L-r: Pascocello, Tannenbaum, Bergeron, and Hwang with PAMA president and Workman marketing director Jessica Wiener
Cindy Hwang, an executive editor with the Berkley Publishing Group, noted that, as in young adult fiction, New Adult novels are often coming-of-age stories, set in (or just after) college rather than high school. "College-age novels used to fail because they were published by YA divisions," she explained; college stories just made teen readers anxious, rather than entertaining them. But an author like Jamie McGuire could self-publish a novel like Beautiful Disaster and, not knowing that it wasn't supposed to "work" in the existing marketplace, find an untapped audience of women in their 20s who'd been waiting for a sexually charged college romance. (McGuire did so well on her own that she was able to sell the novel, and a sequel, to Atria--to Tannenbaum, in fact, who was still editing then.)
Though some New Adult titles have sensual elements to them, Hwang was careful to make a distinction between erotic romance--where the relationship is still the primary focus of the story--to erotica, which emphasizes the sex. She expressed some displeasure at the conflation of the two categories, and how trying to wedge the success of New Adult into a post-50 Shades landscape has led to descriptions of New Adult as "sleazy YA" and (in her opinion) the mislabeling of some authors and their books. "Would I define Sylvia Day as New Adult?" she asked rhetorically, citing the author of the bestselling Bared to You and its sequels. She would not, though other people have.
Everyone, however, bristled at the suggestion that New Adult might steer away from "mature" subject matter. "We're an adult imprint, so our marketing efforts are focused on adult audiences," said Amanda Bergeron, an associate editor at William Morrow and Avon. Hwang suggested that the metadata associated with New Adult titles could be refined; already, we're seeing certain publishers indicating such titles are intended for readers 18 and older.
Rick Pascocello, v-p and executive marketing director of Berkley/NAL, noted that the success of New Adult was primarily an Amazon/e-book phenomenon. When the question of how this genre plays in bricks-and-mortar indie shops came up, Hwang observed "it's been harder for the bookstores to figure out where to place the titles." McGuire's novel has been the only New Adult to break out in print so far, but Pascocello commented that several of Berkley's accounts have begun to ask for similar books. Bergeron also reported that Morrow is planning to distribute a sampler of its New Adult titles later in 2013.
Hwang warned that while there have been prominent erotica success stories in the last two years, "it's harder now for a new author to break in--and it's probably going to be harder for them to build an audience." The market, she added, is already "saturated." Big-name authors like E.L. James will likely continue to do well, but we're not likely to see many more authors following in her wake. Tannenbaum was more optimistic about New Adult's prospects: "I don't see an end in sight," she said. "Why would people want to stop reminiscing about their college years?" And, as even Hwang admitted, "the thing is, we haven't peaked yet." --Ron Hogan