New Adult: No Sex Required

Photo credit: Muffet on Flickr
As New Adult novels have become more popular and successful over time, I’ve seen a lot of talk, both interesting and infuriating about the emerging category. 

The stereotype, which I’m sure most of you have seen, is that New Adult novels are Young Adult novels with explicit sex. 

It’s not hard to see where the misconception comes from. The most popular New Adult novels, the ones that really brought attention to the category, are largely Contemporary Romance novels in which their characters partake in steamy scenes. Sex, explicit or not, happens in New Adult and is completely acceptable. 

The issue that people seem to be getting confused on, however, is that sex is somehow a requirement for a novel to be categorized as New Adult. This, to me, is mindblowingly erroneous. New Adult novels are about a lot of things: independence, new responsibilities, being away from home for the first time, serious relationships, starting a family, grappling with the question of what it truly means to be an adult and so much more. Yes, some of them have sexy scenes. But New Adult is so much more than the sex. 

The point of New Adult novels was and never will be the sex. There's a genre for that already, and it doesn't encompass the entire category of New Adult. 

To infer that sex is somehow a requirement of New Adult novels is like saying that an Adult thriller that doesn’t have sex isn’t actually intended for the Adult audience at all, or like saying that a Young Adult novel without dark themes isn’t Young Adult. 

But don’t take my word for it. 

Last week, literary agent Suzie Townsend from New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. (who, as an agency, collectively represent awesome books like Divergent, False Memory, Losing It and Shadow & Boneinterviewed several agents and editors about their opinions of New Adult and what New Adult meant to them. Here are some answers I found particularly telling: 
“‘OMG. I'm an adult. Now what?’ in any genre. Like YA, it concerns a lot of first-time issues and struggles, but they're what most people face in/after college rather than in high school. It's a different focus and a different mindset. Repeat after me: NA is not sexed-up YA.”—Gordon Warnock, Foreword Literary
“I'm seeing way too many NA submissions that are simply YA with sex. That's not NA and that's not what I'm looking to add to my list. I want to see more novels about the experience of being NA. Unsure what this is? See my definition in GIFs here.” —
Kathleen Ortiz, New Leaf Literary 
For those who want to learn more about how the industry views New Adult, I definitely recommend reading through the whole post. 

The way I see it, New Adult novels, like Adult novels, can have sex in all it’s varying literary degrees—from explicit to “fade-to-black” scenes. But sex doesn’t determine whether or not a book fits into the category any more than it determines whether or not a book may be sold as an Adult novel. 

So that’s my opinion, but what do you think? Is sex a requirement for New Adult novels? Why or why not?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Is sex required for a book to be considered NA? Here's why one writer says no. (Click to tweet
Do you think sex is a requirement for New Adult novels? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)


Jen Donohue said...

Part of the "NA is YA with sex" thing seems (to me) to stem from the fact that nearly all of the NA that's out, being published, etc. is NA Romance. I've seen agents (maybe it was even Suzie Townsend? Or maybe it was Pam van Hylckama Vlieg) say that though they would love to see non-romance NA, the market wasn't there for it yet. Or something along those lines.

But, NA is a weird category to me anyway (though really, I guess any of them can be. There are blurry lines regarding adult and YA already). I don't see it at the library, certainly (Where things are YA, Adult fiction, or split into their adult fiction genre) and don't have a major book store here to look. Is it a separate bookstore category yet too?

Ava Jae said...

I definitely understand where the thinking comes from, because you're right—most of the popular NA right now is Romance. It does seem to me, however, that a lot of publishing professionals are open to expanding it to other genres, but of course, as anything in publishing goes, it'll take some time.

As for the shelf space, NA is an emerging category, so right now it doesn't have it's own shelf space. Amazon gave it it's own category tag, but (much to many people's chagrin) it's been listed as a sub-category of Romance. Hopefully that will change over time.

Everything is still really new, and I think NA has the potential to expand to include genres all across the board, just like YA and Adult.

Vicki Orians said...

Agreed! Well said.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Vicki!

jezzell19 said...

LOVE this Ava! Just wonderfully stated--and true. :)

NA is a broad category with room for all kinds of stories. It isn't always about what the typical "HUGE" story is. Paranormal Romance authors would probably argue that Twilight doesn't define the genre. And they'd be right. :)

Ava Jae said...

Thank you so much! And I couldn't agree more—there will always be breakout books that lead to stereotyping of a genre or category, but they are by no means the full spectrum of potential within that category. :)

Shay Dee said...

Ah! So I think I just read the article with Gordan Warnock and eventually I came across this post again. But man, what a few depressive reads I've been through.

NA sounds like it's only going hand in hand with romance at the mo (excuse the pun!) and there I was writing a post on not letting a genre/cat. define you. Good thing too.

From your #pitmad I know you was writing a New Adult SF, but by the looks of things, it's not just the ages of the characters that define whether it's NA or not. NA seems to be all contemp/ romance/para romance.
So, do you wonder if you (we!) are labeling our story with something that it isn't by calling it NA?

The only other option I suppose would be to go for adult fiction, something I had no problem with before as back then only YA and Adult was about. But when I saw NA, I thought, yeah, that sounds about right. As it turns out, NA=Romance.

So, do you think we'd be giving our stories a better chance by pitching it as simply...Adult Fiction?
What do you think, other than the ages of your characters, defines your story as NA?

(Because I'm starting to think I haven't written an NA at all, but simply a fantasy novel that just isn't for kids or young adults. I might also pop this question onto Absolute Write when I get the chance)


Ava Jae said...

Hmm, so it's kind of a tough call right now. I think if the only thing that defines your work as NA is the age range of your characters, then it's probably not NA (my guess is it'd be adult). If you still fit the themes (minus the romance) of NA, then it's a harder call.

It was suggested to me recently that you could call it crossover fiction if you didn't want to use the NA label. I've been doing both to see how things go, particularly because as far as my MS goes, it really does fit NA best (and not just because of the ages). I saw Sarah LaPolla mention on Twitter the other day that NA and Adult can have some overlap, but YA really is it's own thing, which I thought was an interesting way of looking at it.

As far as contests and pitch fests go, as of right now at least, I'll be calling it NA Sci-Fi. But maybe that'll change in the future. It depends on how NA develops over time.

So that was a really long way of saying you can call it crossover if you don't want to call it NA. But before you classify it as anything, I'd recommend doing a lot of research on both NA and Adult to see where you think your work would fit best. :)

Shay Dee said...

Crossover? My head is hurting "WAHHhhhh!"

It was hard enough figuring out my genre! I've just gone for Low Fantasy. I think it shares a lot of it's elements.

Ok, so I'll check out crossover, adult and NA and if you have any helpful links, do send!

Thanks for your input Ava!

Ava Jae said...

My understanding is that crossover is fiction that could appeal to both teenagers and adults (so whether or not yours fits definitely depends on the MS. Losing It, for example, definitely would not be crossover). Here's a post about Crossover YA novels that I found helpful.

And then I think I've linked to this before, but here's a post on What is New Adult?.

Hope this helps!

Shay Dee said...

Yes it did! Thank you Ava. Reading it, my story definitely has a majority of those NA factors, but I'll be looking into it even more so I can make a more informed decision before I start shopping my novel around.

Ava Jae said...

Sounds like a good plan. :) Whatever you decide, I wish you all the best!

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Pema Donyo said...

Yes! Oh my goodness. Sex + YA = NOT NA, that's for sure. NA tends to have sex scenes because sex plays a large role in a new adult's life. That being said, I like sex to be at least *mentioned* in New Adult books just because it's an undeniable part of that college-age/post-college life. But explicit sex scenes? No, it's not necessary and sometimes even weighs down the writing. If a sex scene is going to be included, it should have purpose. It shouldn't be used to tip a book "toward" a certain genre.

Ava Jae said...

I agree! I think most times sex is at least mentioned (because, you're right, it's definitely part of the NA experience and even if they're not having sex, they're certainly aware of it). But explictness is by no means a requirement.

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