Ask an Editor: Young Adult vs. New Adult

What’s the difference between Young Adult and New Adult books, and how do I tell which group my manuscript fits into?

 

A book isn’t YA just because of the age of the protagonists, although that’s part of it, but also because of the types of experiences they are going through. YA is all about firsts—the first time you fall in love, the first time you have sex, maybe your first heartbreak, the first time that you cared about something enough to really fight your parents for it or to stand up to authority—those kinds of things, things that cause a coming of age. Usually these things happen junior or senior year of high school, possibly freshman year of college. Usually.

YA books need to feel authentically teen. Not just in the plot, but the voice as well. They need to feel like stories about teens for teens. As an author, you’re talking to them—not down to them, not at them, but to them—and you’re telling a story, not teaching a lesson. If the voice feels nostalgic, it probably isn’t YA. The characters are learning, not looking back from a place of experience. So a lot of what makes a YA book a YA book is in the voice. For more of my thoughts on this, check out this blog post about teen novels.

romance sunset

New Adult is a little older. Think college, not high school. So maybe it’s the second time you fall in love, or it can be a new set of firsts, like the first time that you have to live on your own or the experience of being in a college dorm or your first drunken frat party. New Adult is such a new category (the term started in 2009) that it is still strongly connected to a contemporary setting. It’s post-high school, usually college, but occasionally your first job or internship. The important thing is that your life is changing and everything is in transition.

NA books often are dealing with more adult issues than in your typical YA novel. Think sex, drugs, and rock and roll. For example, the heroes will often have drug issues or the heroines are overcoming abusive backgrounds. There’s a lot more sex in a New Adult book generally, and it’s a little more graphic than YA. Not like erotica-level sex—not Fifty Shades of Grey—but they tend to talk honestly about sex and the characters have it more often because these books are set at the time of your life when people are experimenting with sex.

romance ferris wheel

YA as a mainstream category started with the later Harry Potter books, Twilight and The Hunger Games. Don’t get me wrong, there have always been YA books, but they weren’t widely recognized or labeled as such until you had these kinds of phenomenon books. But New Adult came out of self-publishing. Many self-published authors were filling a gap in traditional publishing. There were books for very young kids, middle graders, and teens, and then there were books for adults. But there weren’t any books about 20-somethings except for a few chick-lit type things (such as The Devil Wears Prada). But then suddenly there were all these self-published bestsellers about teens in college or just out of college, bridging that transitional gap between being a teen and living with your parents and being a full adult with a stable job, supporting yourself and dealing with adult things. After we noticed this gap, traditional publishing started trying to fill it by picking up authors like Cora Carmack and Abbi Glines.

So if you’re trying to decide whether your romance novel is YA, NA or adult, start by asking yourself how old your characters are. Are they in high school? Are they in college? Are they living on their own and working on their career? Then, ask what kind of issues they’re dealing with. Is it firsts (first loves, etc.)? Are they in transition and experimenting with life? Or are they fairly confident in who they are, and it’s just time for a change?

If it’s the first two, maybe consider submitting it here at Swoon Reads! *winkwink*

Have a question for our editors? Let us know in the comments below.

About the author - Holly West

Editor at Swoon Reads and Feiwel & Friends. Giant geek. Semi-professional fangirl. Half-Elven Rogue Cleric. Also answers to That-Girl-Who-Reads-A-Lot.

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18 comments on "Ask an Editor: Young Adult vs. New Adult"

WHJohnstonSLO on March 3, 2018, 11:20 a.m. said:

WHJohnstonSLO


I don't know if you still keep up with this post, but I am hoping. I recently wrote a query and an editor told me never to us NA for a book descriptor since it's a buzz word. "Refrain from labeling as NA, which has turned into a more niche romance label within the industry (at least in the US market)." they said. Is this the case?

My novel has a 25 year old protag, but he's leaving home the first time, getting away from home and family to explore a strange new place and meet new people. He's experiencing love the first time, and dealing with supernatural problems as well.

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WHJohnstonSLO on March 3, 2018, 11:21 a.m. said:

WHJohnstonSLO


The editor suggested YA crossover instead of NA/YA crossover.

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AuthorBrittanyCarter on Feb. 9, 2018, 12:11 p.m. said:

AuthorBrittanyCarter


Hi. I'm new to the group, and I am also on my last round edits of a book I would like to submit in a month or so. I noticed it said that you publish YA but then I noticed there are some NA tags on here as well. So why are some NA allowed and some not?

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Rezz on Jan. 18, 2018, 11:23 a.m. said:

Rezz


My book has 6 characters that range from 8 to 41 years of age. The voice is First Person, age 41. Much of the dialog includes an 8 year old and a 25 year old. Confused about which NA or YA ?

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Swoon Reads Staff on Jan. 18, 2018, 1:39 p.m. said:

Swoon Reads Staff


Hi Rezz,

Based on that information, we would actually probably categorize your book as neither YA or NA, but rather we would consider it an Adult book.

Hope that helps!

Best,
Swoon Reads Staff

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David Karsjen on Sept. 25, 2017, 6:43 p.m. said:

David Karsjen


My novel is based on some older main characters but also includes some senior high school students. Would this fall into the NA category?

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Mikail Ali on May 4, 2017, 10:04 p.m. said:

Mikail Ali


I am writing an YA. But my boy who is going to be 18 gets trapped in lusty net of a 31 year old aunty. Will it be consider YA or it will go to Adult category?

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Ondi Laure on Feb. 23, 2017, 5:45 p.m. said:

Ondi Laure


Can Swoonreads recommend a good editing service for my YA manuscript?
Thanks!

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A.F. Lamonte on Nov. 1, 2016, 7:06 p.m. said:

A.F. Lamonte


I'm not sure if mine could qualify as YA. My characters are 17, but this would not be appropriate for a YA audience. I'm curious to know what the guidelines are with submission, what is acceptable or not. Wattpad, for example, would let me post the book if I marked it as Mature rated because of the language, sex, and horror aspect. (Mature YA/NA Paranormal Romance is the genre).

Thank you!

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Holly West on Nov. 2, 2016, 5:25 p.m. said:

Holly West


While the age of your characters is important, it's not the only defining factor. If you don't feel like your book is appropriate for a teenager to read, then it's probably not a YA book and shouldn't be marketed as such. We are okay with a certain amount of language, sex (but not erotica) and dark/horror themes, but Swoon Reads is a YA imprint so a lot depends on how you handle those elements.

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