(illustration from NY Mag‘s interesting article on the ‘new adult’ phenomenon)
If you’re reading our blog because you’re a dedicated comics reader who follows the ins-and-outs of the comics publishing industry — rather than a dedicated books reader who follows the ins-and-outs of the book publishing industry — chances are that ‘New Adult’ is a term that has not frequently crossed your path.
New Adult is a new publishing category. Probably the best thing to read to try to understand it is this NYTimes article, but the short version is: it’s an age category that fits between Young Adult and Adult — books with characters who are in college, just graduated from college, and still trying to figure their lives out.
YA is an age category that’s very regulated by teachers and librarians and parents — there’s only so much racy content (outside of the classics) that a teacher or a librarian can typically get away with in their classroom or library if they’re presenting the book as for teenagers. And I’m sure you know from your experience with having parents that not all parents are thrilled about their innocent teenagers reading books filled with sex and drugs and other exciting content issues. Sometimes these issues are things that you can get away with in YA — it’s difficult to make the case that high school cyber-bullying is too difficult a topic for kids actually in high school to deal with. But if an author is writing about the casual hook-ups that can happen in college or dealing with the dating scene after moving to a new city where you don’t know anyone and getting your first job, those are both things where it’s difficult for teachers or librarians to say, ‘this is a vital issue that MUST be taught in the classroom!’ and these things may also not be a parent’s favorite topics.
Thus: New Adult.
We published a book last week called The Cute Girl Network; you might have heard about it since we’ve been talking about it a bit. And while we were publishing it, we came to realize that this is a book that fits very well into the New Adult category — and also that this category might be very specifically helpful for comics.
Even if you’ve just been listening along to the comics industry, I’m sure you’ve encountered a variation of the following exchange:
Person: Oh, a book with pictures! How delightful. I will read it and possibly share it with my young friends/relatives, as they like pictures as well.
Half an hour later
Person: Dear God, there is nakedness/sex/violence depicted in this book! I must speak to my library/bookstore at once about banning it.
Some of these conversations happen when a book that’s clearly for adults is mis-shelved in a Young Adult area. But some of these conversations happen because you have a graphic novel full of young-looking characters (or a multi-aged set of characters) who are mostly engaging in behavior that is perfectly fine for a teen audience . . . except for that one scene where two of the main characters are in bed together.
Categorizing these books is difficult, because mostly the content is YA appropriate — except for that one bit, which will be fine for most people but you should probably warn those other people who will be less fine and are also excitable. This leads to a lot of rating designations that say things like YA EXCEPT FOR SEX!!! on the backs of books or publishers basically throwing up their hands in the air and leaving the categorization to the will of the gods.
But, no longer do these need to be your only option! Now that ‘New Adult’ exists, any time there is a mostly squeaky-clean book with a smidgeon of slightly racy content, all you need to do is put ‘New Adult’ on it somewhere and people will understand precisely what they are in for.
There’s been a lot of nervousness in the book market about content issues in graphic novels, since they’re so new to so many readers who are still learning how the form works.
Hopefully this will help.