Today is the day I admit to a writing dislike. Today I voice my displeasure over the marketing label of “New Adult”.
Now some people might read those first lines and wonder why. After all, to them, New Adult is a legitimate label and geared towards the twenty-somethings of this reading world. It’s needed, much like the labels of Middle-Grade and Young Adult.
I have to say I am not convinced by such an argument. I don’t usually like to rain on other people’s parades, but, in my eyes, “New Adult” is a marketing gimmick, one designed to try and target twenty-somethings who don’t really need to be targeted at all. Coming of age stories are nothing new in the world of story-telling. Such stories have been around since mankind developed coming of age rituals designed to take a person from childhood into adulthood. Over the centuries, the rituals have changed, as is to be expected with the expansion of knowledge and technology. People in “civilized” societies no longer marry at the age of twelve nor do they send out fifteen-year-old boys to slay some mighty creature like a bear or a wild ox. Childhood has expanded to the age of 18, where nearly every person struggles with an idenity crisis as they transition from moving out of Mom and Dad’s and finding themselves in a more liberating and yet constricting lifestyle. Free to make your own choices, free to make your own mistakes, but bound by responsibility to actually take care of yourself.
My childhood was in the 1980s, my teen years in the 1990s. In the 80s, the “New Adult” label didn’t even exist. It was simply college students gone wild and done mainly in film. Otherwise, there were no books marketed towards the twenty-somethings because, by the time they reach their twenties, the twenty-somethings are already established in their reading habits based on books they read as children and teens. By the time I was 16, I had already read authors like Dumas, Asimov, Bradbury, Eddings, and Tolkien. I was getting into authors like McCaffrey and King. Heck, by the time I was 12, I’d already read Poe and loved his work. I loved ghost stories as a child. I find me a good one, and I’ll read it. Thanks to Tolkien, King, and McCaffrey, I really adore well-written fantasy novels. When I started to buy books for myself, as a teenager, I sought out the fantasy novels. In my twenties, I was no different (but had expanded to non-fiction, spiritual works). I didn’t need an area in the bookstore with the label “New Adult”. I already knew what I liked to read and went to those sections. And, yes, I had also read middle-grade series like the Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley High, and the Baby-Sitters Club, but had moved on by the time I was 13.
Some of my likes, as a reader, are definitely influenced by what I was exposed to as a child. I’ve mentioned before I grew up watching the original Star Trek series, the Star Wars and Star Trek movies, Battlestar Galactica, Clash of the Titans, the Never-Ending Story, the Superman and Batman movies, and the Transformers cartoon series. An ex-boyfriend of my mother’s introduced my brother and me to The Lord of the Rings while my stepdad told me about Asimov and a work of Bradbury’s that I enjoy.
All of this has influenced me in what I choose to read and what I chose to read by the time I hit my twenties. My sister, who just turned 19 at the beginning of September, is established in what she likes to read. She and I may not have the same exact tastes when it comes to reading, but she does know what she likes and she goes out to buy it. She, too, does not need the marketing label of “New Adult”.
And here’s one other thing about the “New Adult” label that I really don’t like: They’re also characterized by the main genre the author has chosen. A romance story is still a romance story, no matter what the age of the characters happens to be, no matter what obstacles they face are, be it in their twenties or in their thirties. A detecticve story is still a detective story, despite the age of the protagonist. Substance abuse problems transcend age. Slapping the marketing label of “New Adult” makes no difference.
Also, I’d like to point out this, much to my chagrin.
The Twilight Saga is a series geared towards teen girls. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about that. The author intended for the book to be read by a very select audience when she chose a teenaged female protagonist caught in a war of vampires and werewolves/animagi. And yet, I know women in their twenties, thirties, and forities who have read these books, read them and went completely gaga over these books. I know teenage boys who have read these books and enjoyed them. To me, this is proof that a story can transcend a marketing label. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson have done the same thing. One of my classmates from high school reads a lot of junior/middle-grade/young adult fiction so she can help such readers find the right books.(She has a cool job. She’s a librarian.)
To the person who finds a story to be good, the age of the characters, the targeted audience does not matter. That person, irregardless of his or her age, will pick that book up and read it anyway. This, to me, makes the label of “New Adult” completely irrelevant. If I want to write about twenty-somethings, I will write about twenty-somethings, but I will not market it as “New Adult”. I’ll market it as the genres the story is supposed to be, be it Romance, Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Science-fiction, or any combination that the story truly encompasses. If I have a specific target audience, like the middle-grade and young adult audiences, I will label the stories as such so people know that such stories are meant for a specific age group and thus are potentially safe for such readers.
But themes . . . they transcend age, and they transcend genre. You don’t need to be labeled as a “New Adult” reader or writer to enjoy a story about twenty-somethings.
And that’s my two cents.