Sex and the Single Reader
''Fifty Shades'' has boosted an emerging genre, New Adult: racier than YA, edgier than traditional romance
Actual bookstores are so scarce, it’s harder than ever to clear shelf space for a new genre. But back in 2009, during a meeting at St. Martin’s, editor Dan Weiss coined the term ”New Adult” — which became a category of books that’s now reaching a climax in popularity.
Until recently, few books centered on romance between college-age or early-20s characters. ”They’re too old for the YA shelf and too young for the adult shelves,” says Harlequin editor Margo Lipschultz. ”Therefore, in the eyes of traditional publishing, it didn’t exist as a category.” Then came Fifty Shades of Grey. The erotic megaseller raised industry eyebrows not just for its explicit sex but for its heroine’s unusually young age: 21. Fans of New Adult don’t consider Fifty Shades part of the category, but it whetted readers’ appetites for millennial tube-top rippers such as Jamie McGuire’s recently released novella Happenstance. ”Readers want to reminisce about the passion at that time of life — I think that’s why New Adult became so popular,” says St. Martin’s Griffin publisher Jennifer Enderlin.
Books in the genre — which thrive in the digital sphere — are also defined by their roller-coaster intensity. ”There are tons of tattooed, scarred bad boys with damage a mile wide and a trail of broken hearts a mile long,” says Lipschultz. Enderlin sums up New Adult as ”young people dealing with more angsty issues than in YA. There’s much more emphasis on toxic relationships, sex and drugs, a lot of passion and emotion, very fraught.” Yep, that sounds like your early 20s. Or a single episode of Girls.