Beyond Wizards and Vampires, to Sex
By LESLIE KAUFMAN
The New York Times
Published: December 21, 2012
Vampire and wizard fans are apparently ready for characters who shed their robes and show a little more skin.
Publishers and authors say they are seeing a spurt in sales of books that fit into the young-adult genre in their length and emotional intensity, but feature slightly older characters and significantly more sex, explicitly detailed.
They’ve labeled this category “new adult” — which some winkingly describe as Harry Potter meets “50 Shades of Grey” — and say it is aimed at 18-to-25-year-olds, the age group right above young adult.
The goal is to retain young readers who have loyally worked their way through series like Harry Potter, “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight,” all of which tread lightly, or not at all, when it comes to sexual encounters. In the “Twilight” books, for instance, readers are kept out of the bedroom when Bella and Edward, the endlessly yearning lead characters, finally consummate their relationship.
Providing more mature material, publishers reason, is a good way to maintain devotion to books among the teenagers who are scooping up young-adult fiction and making it the most popular category in literature, with a crossover readership that is also attracting millions of adults. All while creating a new source of revenue.
This week Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing released, in e-book format only, an “uncut and uncensored” version of “The Vincent Boys” and “The Vincent Brothers,” books for teenagers that were on the USA Today extended best-seller list when Abbi Glines self-published them in June.
The earlier versions of the books followed young-adult conventions and went to the edge of describing sex, and no further. The new uncut versions, labeled appropriate only for ages 17 and up, are explicit about sexual activity — with exclamations of rapture and all.
Other titles that have had recent success in the genre include “Losing It,” by Cora Carmack, about a college senior who decides to shed her virginity in a one-night stand; “Slammed,” by Colleen Hoover, about a high school senior who has a summer affair with a man who turns out to be her new poetry teacher; and “Easy,” by Tammara Webber, about a college freshman negotiating new love and a stalker.
“We are seeing a transitional generation,” concludes Ms. Glines, who started by publishing young-adult fiction and has slowly been adding steamier material as she has seen it drive up sales of her books. “They want a good narrative with the emotional intensity of teenagers, but they want sex, too.”
The material that Simon & Schuster added online was initially written by Ms. Glines for her original version of the “Vincent” books but was excised when she decided to sell to the young-adult market. While most works do not come with a ready-to-go sexual insert like that, publishers said that in the future books could commonly come in two versions and be marketed to both audiences.
Of course sex and coming of age are not new to fiction. Some critics have complained that “new adult” is just another marketing label to induce readers to buy more books. Pamela Spengler-Jaffee, a HarperCollins publicist who works with William Morrow, an adult division that has been signing new-adult authors at a frenetic pace, admits, “It is a convenient label because it allows parents and bookstores and interested readers to know what is inside.”
Beyond appealing to the maturing tastes of young readers, these more sophisticated books could potentially draw in the millions of older readers who have flocked to the young-adult category, publishers said. A study released in September by Bowker, a market research firm that studies publishing trends, showed that more than half the buyers of young-adult books were 18 or older, and the vast majority said they were purchasing for themselves.
While publishers like the concept of creating a new-adult category, its hybrid nature has been problematic. The books fall into an undefined territory between adult and children’s literature, and there is no obvious place for them in bookstores. Even within publishing houses, new-adult authors are being split between children’s and adult divisions.
But while publishers hesitated, a crop of young authors began forcing the issue: they began self-publishing novels on the Internet about 19-to-25-year-olds who are leaving home for the first time for jobs or college or a first real relationship. Online readers discovered some of these books and made them best sellers by word-of-mouth.
“Beautiful Disaster,” for example, is about a good girl with a dark past who encounters a bad boy with tattoos when she goes to college. It was self-published in 2011 by Jamie McGuire and sold more than 200,000 copies. Ms. McGuire was signed to a deal with Atria, an adult division of Simon & Schuster, earlier this year.
Elizabeth Chandler, a founder of Goodreads.com, a social networking site built around books and that has 13 million members, said she noticed new-adult fiction suddenly gaining popularity on her site in 2011. The number of readers who recommended books with a new-adult label has suddenly exploded, she said, from a negligible amount to more than 14,000 titles.
“You don’t see it in bookstores,” Ms. Chandler said, “and you don’t have an aisle for new adult, like you have for young adult. But the rise of self-published books has catered to this audience, and we definitely see it trending online.”
The books have so much potential that some popular young-adult authors are switching tracks to join up. Meg Cabot, author of the successful “Princess Diaries” series, is now writing about a young woman named Heather Wells, who is a resident assistant at a New York City college.
Ms. Cabot said that while she changed the settings and added some sex for good measure, the genre’s core was still about fantasy. “This is for a generation that is having an extended adolescence — maybe they would like to leave home but can’t, because they can’t find a job,” she said. “This is about escaping to a new life in New York — it is like going to boarding school with wizards, only aged up appropriately.”
My feelings: I like the idea of new adult, because frankly, I don't find the one climactic kiss featured in young adult books too exciting. Yet, if you were to read an adult fiction, you get into the explicit details of "mommy porn." I need a happy medium, but the ones I have read so far have not been so great. Perhaps this is related to the other point mentioned in the article: New adult fiction is not found in bookstores. These books are almost always self published books that may get picked up by a publisher and later produced in paperback to be sold in stores. I've found typos, which I wouldn't care as much about if the story or writing was decent. But I'll give this genre another go.
Had you heard of new adult fiction prior to this? What are your feelings?