Industry Perspective: New Adult FAQs

You probably know by now that I’ve become a champion of New Adult. Well, I've been talking about it with readers and writers and people in publishing. Because New Adult is relatively “new” and it’s been skyrocketing in popularity, a lot of people seem to have a lot of questions about it. I took to twitter and asked for the most pressing questions they had, and put together the most frequently asked ones together.

Then it occurred to me that it might be better to have more than just one opinion so I’ve asked a few friends to share their thoughts in addition to mine to help give you answers.


Gordon Warnock, Foreword Literary
Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary
Kathleen Ortiz, New Leaf Literary
Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary

What does New Adult mean to you?

Gordon Warnock: "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.

Kathleen Rushall: In a sense, New Adult is similar to YA in that it can cross subject matter, but whatever the plot, it’s defined by general themes of what the characters are going through. However, those themes are different for New Adult than they are for YA. Where in YA we find characters trying to find their place in the world while still struggling with restrictions or being under someone or something’s control (be it parents, guardians, the government, etc.), NA is a step beyond that age. Generally, NA focuses on characters that are free from those kind of restrictions for the first time in their lives. They are finding their path, whether it’s experiencing love, experimenting with something in a way they haven’t before, discovering a career path, or leaving home for the first time. NA is all about beginnings and the challenges that can bring.

Kathleen Ortiz: NA isn't just YA with sex or an adult romance with some teens. It's about the experience of going from teen to adult -- and then realizing you're not quite as mature / adult as you thought you were. It's that turning point in life where you don't have the shelter of your parents and where you're 110% responsible for your actions.

Suzie Townsend: What I love about New Adult is that it’s so representative of the way we stumble through our college years and our early twenties, trying to find a place in the adult world, even though we still don’t feel like adults.

Does a New Adult manuscript have to have a romance?

GW: No, but that's the bulk of what's doing well right now. The presence of a romance is often appropriate, considering how much of an issue that is at that age, but it isn't necessary. One NA that I sold before NA was a thing didn't have a romance. The author and I discussed it during edits, and we decided against it. It just wouldn't have worked.

KR: I think it’s a very important component, yes.

KO: For now, NA needs romance. It's certainly found its biggest audience through romance readers, so it does help to have the strong romance plot.

ST: I’m not sure how it will be for other agents, but for me, I need the romance. It doesn’t have to be sex--it can more of a hint of romance.

What advice would you give someone trying to break into New Adult?

GW: It really has to be something you're passionate about writing. If you're looking to simply crank out a quick manuscript in a hot genre, we can tell, because it's usually going to be shit.

KR: Don’t write for a trend; write what you love.

KO: Read read read. Just like writing in any genre, know what kind of stories sell in this age group, what has worked and what hasn't. Write your own unique story that will appeal to this age group.

ST: I’m going to echo what everyone has already said. Read in your genre, write what you love, and be patient.

Do you see growth potential in other New Adult genres (ie science fiction, fantasy, mystery, etc)?

GW: Oh, yes. A million times, yes. It pains me that Amazon lists NA as a subcategory of Romance.

KR: Absolutely. I think we’re on the brink of New Adult covering other genres in addition to contemporary romance. As I mention above, it’s not just about attending college or a contemporary love story: it’s about conjuring that sense of liberation, excitement, and sometimes unease that is often associated with that age, or the college years. The story doesn’t necessarily have to take place at a university (or even in this world or time period) to do that.

KO: Definitely potential for these other genres. Just a matter of time! (though I do feel they still need a strong romance line)

ST: I think there’s potential for growth, but we’re at a pivotal moment for the age group. As we move forward we will need to see a successful New Adult title in a genre other than contemporary romance in order to see the expansion. (Here are my expanded thoughts).

Are you seeing a lot of New Adult submissions? What would you like to see more or less of in terms of submissions in the genre?

GW: I see a fair amount, and I'm personally sick of the virgin angle. That's been done. Give me something new. I'd personally love some NA non-fiction.

KR: I’m interested in seeing New Adult submissions that are authentic, gripping stories with characters that are real and engaging. Just because it’s labeled “New Adult” doesn’t mean it will be something I feel compelled to read. Like anything else, the writing must be there. It will need a strong voice, great characters, and intriguing hook.

KO: 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.

ST: Yes. I’ve seen a huge spike in my queries for NA and for all kinds. In terms of what I want, this is going to be sort of a lame answer, but in contemporary, I want something that I don’t feel like I’ve seen before. Right now, a lot of the contemporary romance submissions I’ve received lately seem like stories that I’ve already read. In other genres, I want New Adult submissions with really strong characters that feel authentic to the New Adult experience (as opposed to just older YA).

So those are the agents’ takes.

And because there are people with an even better perspective out there, I also reached out to a few editors as well.


Priyanka Krishnan, Random House
Margo Lipschulz, Harlequin
Megha Parekh, Grand Central
Junessa Viloria, Random House

Does New Adult have to have romance?

Priyanka Krishnan: To put it simply, yes. At an editorial meeting, if you can talk about the wonderful, sexy, heartwarming, hilarious, believable, fresh romance in an NA submission, that’s the fastest way to get people to want to read it. And I think as far as the NA audience goes, the majority of the readers are coming to these books looking for a great romantic plotline. That said, does every other page have to be devoted to sexytimes? No! In fact, I don’t think these books need to have explicit sex scenes, and I hate the idea that people are writing off this genre as “erotic YA” or something along those lines! (What does that even mean?) Ultimately, I think the most important thing is that the romance feels true to the characters and true to the moment in life the author is trying to depict. I mean, when I was in college, I wasn’t having crazy, Fifty Shades-style sex (contrary to what that sentence implies, I am also not having crazy Fifty Shades-style sex now. I know you were wondering); but at that time, for me, relationships were more dramatic, more innocent, more passionate, more awkward, more cringe-worthy, more turbulent, and more heartbreaking than they have been at any other point in my life. So, capture that. Or capture what it was like for you. Just remember, whatever you’re capturing, the romance should feel authentic. The characters and situations might be imagined, but the emotions need to be real.

Margo Lipschulz: All of the New Adult novels I've read and enjoyed have included a central romance that's integral to the storyline and to the main characters' growth. I think that intense relationship drama--watching the protagonists navigate the ups and downs of a love that is different from anything they've experienced before--is part of what draws readers to this genre. That said, there doesn't necessarily have to be a traditional happily-ever-after ending to their romance--since these characters are young (college-aged or early 20s), they're not necessarily thinking about marriage, babies or a house in the suburbs. An assurance that they're happy for now, that they've worked out their immediate issues and hope to stay together in the future, can be just as emotionally satisfying to the reader as a marriage proposal at the end of the book.

Megha Parekh: Yes. For New Adult, the romance is what drives these books. All the New Adults that I have read revolve around the hero and the heroine, and how their relationship makes them stronger as individuals or heals them.

Junessa Viloria: I think readers expect some element of romance in a New Adult book, and personally, I do want to see romance in a New Adult manuscript. New Adult is all about self-discovery in that wonderful period between adolescence and adulthood, and I think love and romance are a big, delicious part of that time.

What advice would you give someone trying to break into New Adult?

PK: I really hate offering advice because, hey, you could follow my advice down to the letter and get nowhere. Or smirk and think, “she’s an idiot”, do exactly the opposite, and end up incredibly successful. (If it has to be one of the two, I hope the latter happens for you.) But basically, I just want to read something that sparkles. I don’t want a derivative of Losing It or Easy or The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden; granted, the basic premise for a lot of NA might be similar, but convince me your story is a fun twist or a fresh take on it. If it helps, think of me as always having one hand on one of the books above and one hand on your ms—at any point, I can put down your book and go back to the one I already know I love. Don’t give me a chance to do that! But ultimately, the best advice I can give is, don’t write the story you think I want the read. Write the story you want to read, and create characters you really care about. Find the agents who represent the NA books you love and query them. Query the hell out of them. If that doesn’t work, look for alternative methods to get your story out there. I can only speak to what I know, but you don’t have to have an agent to submit to Random House’s digital NA imprint, FLIRT. (*Shameless self-promotion: Tweet at me if you’re interested in that route, @mspriyanka!*) Self-publish on Amazon, put your story up on Watt Pad…do what it takes to get some eyeballs on your book. You probably know agents look at these platforms, but guess what—we do too!

ML: Read the genre! Read until you're satisfied that you understand why people are gravitating toward these stories, and make sure that these stories are what you truly want to write yourself. Don't write New Adult just because you think you'll get more attention than you would writing YA or contemporary romance. Don't try to market your book as NA if it has 20-something characters but doesn't otherwise feature any of the hallmarks of this genre.

MPI would tell them that don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of “conventional” romance a bit. New Adult seems to have become the place where darker or nontraditional themes have been more widely explored. Also, while it’s called New Adult, the key word is Adult. These books are definitely marketed towards an adult audience. I think a lot of people make the mistake of skewing too YA in their subject matter, which an adult imprint can’t publish and a YA imprint also can’t. Write for adults – whether that be with your plot or the sensuality level.

JV: I’d say to read what out’s there and then try to put their own spin on it. I see a lot of manuscripts that are very similar to what’s already out there and I want to see a different take to this genre. I think that now’s the time to experiment, especially since it’s so hot right now.

Do you see growth potential in other New Adult genres (ie science fiction, fantasy, mystery, etc)? 

PK: This is a tough question to answer. I would love to see some wonderful historical NA, something with a dash of adventure or mystery thrown into the mix. I think that could be really fun if done right. But that brings us back to the question of what “NA” really is—there’s historical fiction out there with younger protagonists and a romantic subplot. Do we call that NA? Is NA strictly contemporary? I’m not certain. But that’s what’s interesting about it, it’s an evolving category. I’m all for seeing what we can do with it, but it’s also a matter of analyzing what works and what readers want to see more (or less) of. We don’t want to be throwing everything at the wall just to see what sticks.

MLYes, absolutely. I think some of the common themes of contemporary NA--coming into your own, simultaneously dealing with first-time adult responsibilities and with the emotional urgency/intensity of the college (or just beyond) years--can easily translate to other genres as long as the characters and relationships are paramount to any world-building or mystery elements.

MPThere is definitely room to grow in all sub-genres here, as this is such a new genre. Lately, I’ve been seeing paranormal/fantasy New Adult as well.

JV: I think that right now, people are expecting a certain type of read when they pick up a New Adult novel – contemporary with a romance element. However, as more people become aware of New Adult, I do think that there’s room for growth for other New Adult genres, provided that they have similar elements that readers have come to expect from these books. I think that readers would welcome something fresh and original in New Adult and I think other genres could provide that.

Are you seeing a lot of New Adult submissions? What would you like to see more or less of in terms of submissions in the genre?

PK: I am receiving a fair amount of NA submissions, but I would love to see more! Send them to me, send them all to me! (#addict) In terms of what I would like to see more or less of: First, if you’re going to do angst, try to avoid the cookie-cutter brooding bad boy. I’m bored of that guy. Why does he brood so much? (Similarly, while I do like when characters are dealing with weightier issues, not every character needs a tortured past.) Second, don’t neglect the “other” relationships. I’d love to read NA with a great bromance a la Seth Cohen and Ryan Atwood, and see more best friends and frenemies getting page space. Because, yes, while I do think NA stories need a compelling romance, that’s not all they need. Falling in love is only one part of the journey. Third, I like funny and I like characters with a sense of humor; I like silly and I like moments where no one is taking life too seriously. I could use more of that, generally!

MLI'm definitely seeing an increase in NA submissions, but not all submissions that are billed as NA actually fit my definition of NA--character age alone is not enough! I'd love to see more NA featuring characters with a fresh, unusual backstory--i.e. if the protagonists are each bringing deep emotional baggage to their relationship, I'd hope it would be baggage that I haven't encountered in many NA books already on the market.

MP: I have been seeing a lot of New Adult romance, mostly contemporary, which I absolutely love. I’m definitely looking for an original New Adult series. But I would love a great New Adult suspense as well.

JVI’m seeing a good amount of New Adult submissions. I’d actually like to see more debut New Adult submissions, rather than things that have already been self-published. I like angsty reads, but sometimes I just crave something fun and lighter than some of the new adults that have been released lately.

So to some all of this up, I think a lot of people are really excited, not just about New Adult, but also all of different the possibilities and growth that could be coming next within the genre.

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Melody Valadez said...

Thank you for this! I've been hearing rumors of this new NA genre, and I'm so glad to have it all laid out by the experts. :) Right now I write YA, but I'm in college, so I'm going to keep my eyes open for possible NA plot lines. :)

Rochelle said...

Love this! Thank you so much! I am polishing a NA story that isn't a contemporary romance, so it is great to know that there is room in the genre for it to expand beyond that.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great post. And yes, I'd like to see more stories that don't feel like the same as the ones I've already read. There are so many topics to explore in NA. Why keep repeating the same old ones?

G.R. LeBlanc said...

What a wonderful read! I love the fact that NA is still in its formational stage and I look forward to seeing how it will develop in the future. It's an exciting time!

Vanessa Shields said...

Thanks, Suzie! This is rad! Very insightful and helpful. Much appreciated!

Garrett Vander Leun said...

Great information here, Suzie. Makes me rethink how I've been wording my NA query and how it might be in the way of agents getting to the pages. Thank you!

Alexia Chantel said...

This post sure was a lot of work, but also worth it. It is interesting to see the views on NA from some industry professionals, this is a budding genre and it will be fun to see where it leads.

janflora said...

I really appreciate this post and seeing so much attention to NA nowadays. I remember asking about it a few years ago on blogs and at conferences when most of the reaction I got was "New Adult is not a thing, it does not exist. LOL" Yes, they actually Laughed Out Loud. But had seen whispers of it online and I knew that my recently graduated, newly independent 18yo protagonist was not quite YA material. Now that her story is almost ready for submission, the interest in NA is encouraging. I hate to see it develop into a Romance sub-genre or "YA Erotica" (*shudder*) though. My MC has 99 problems and her Love Interest is only 1 of them. Just like every New Adult have ever known :)