/, NA, New Adult, nsfw, Writing/NA Myths Debunked: Part 1 (NSFW, 17+ only)

After reading this informative post where agents answer this very question, I figured I’d answer it as well.

I have tried to explain/describe NA on several occasions using fact based, real examples from popular titles in the genre. I can honestly say that until I actually completed my first official “this is going to be sold as a new adult” novel then quickly shifted to writing a YA again, I don’t think I truly grasped the difference.

Now I have.

This could potentially stir up trouble and of course I welcome arguments but please come with more proof than simply saying, “not all NA novels are like that, I can think of this one book written four years ago currently ranked 1,999,999 on Amazon…”

Of course there’s exceptions but please give me an exception that is actually selling in large quantities to a primarily new adult loving audience. If you can give me two exceptions, then I will retract my statements.

Myth #1: NA has less limitations than YA

 

Having never written adult romance, I sort of understood how that genre worked from writer friends and reading a bit of it, but I didn’t totally get it beyond observations like, boy they love their epilogues and their HEA wedding scenes…

Writing my first real, actual NA required a level of discipline, planning, and limitations that I’ve never experienced before as a writer. I had this idea that it would be so easy, and some aspects were easy, but I fought hard against the formula only to realize it was a losing battle. So hearing this myth – NA has more freedom than YA is laughable to me now. NA was a challenge similar to taking seasoned, experienced chef’s use to shelves and shelves of endless ingredients and restricting those chefs to only one shelf of ingredients and having to create something delicious of those.

I’m so grateful for the editorial guidance I had while writing because otherwise, I think I would have either missed the mark big time and sold hardly anything or thrown in the towel. I needed to be pushed to still tell a story of the caliber I wanted but without reaching for illegal ingredients.

Let’s just say, I came out of this experience with way more respect for category romance authors who are able to find creative outlets with story formula limitations. Formulas that cause me to do nothing but whine and whine some more. 

Myth #2: NA is allowed to have more descriptive sex than YA

Anyone who has read a good amount of YA knows that sex is a very prominent and relevant topic. Yes, it’s true that YA often avoids detailed description like pulsing or throbbing male anatomy, screaming orgasms, the use of the word sex as a noun in addition to more common verb use. But generally speaking, if your YA story calls for description, if it’s essential to the plot, you may describe the act in the raw, literal way. You could go fluffy and ambiguous. You could go dark and dirty. The sky is the limit.

I repeat: THE SKY IS THE LIMIT

With NA, you can have a virginal or more innocent main character, but typically when the sexy times start, they have to turn on a more adult language set when referencing what’s happening in the scene. For example, in my self published YA series, Letters to Nowhere, I can write passages like this fearlessly knowing it’s authentic to the character and that will make it okay, possibly even appreciated:


Assuming Jordan ends up exploring that region of my body, is it going to hurt? I can’t even use super tampons without feeling pain so how much will it hurt to have fingers inside me? I glance at Jordan’s hand lying on the air mattress beside me, trying to guess whether the diameter of his finger is larger than a super tampon. If it does hurt, should I pretend it doesn’t so that he won’t feel bad? I mean babies come out of there, right? It’s not like it will hurt forever. Eventually, I’ll adjust…I guess? Weird. It’s like conditioning.” – Return to Us (Letters to Nowhere #4)

Many NA characters don’t have thoughts like this simply because they’ve long ago moved past the wondering what it’s all about stage and have experienced it and know what to expect. But even if they haven’t, this kind of thinking probably wouldn’t pass the editorial floor. It wouldn’t excite NA readers the same way that a character completely driven by desire would.

Here’s an example from an NA novel where the character is basically experiencing the same moment as my character in the above excerpt. She’s nervous and unsure about getting to third base with her date – an experience she hasn’t had with anyone before, just like my character.

“Before I had time to examine what was happening, he flipped me over so that I was lying on my back on the couch…he dipped his fingers between my thighs, lightly running his fingertips up the length of my folds…I bit my lip and opened my thighs wider, allowing him to explore, long past feeling self-conscious.”-Hard to Love by Kendall Ryan

Could you use description similar to the above NA excerpt in a YA novel? I believe you could if it went with the novel and characters, though I highly doubt the use of “folds” would be ideal for YA. But the point is, that this type of description is pretty much what you MUST do in NA if you are to describe sexy times zoomed in this closely. You do not have the freedom to insert contemplative thoughts of the diameter of one’s finger versus the diameter of a super absorbancy tampon.

So which scene reflects reality more accurately? Honestly, I could see both being true-to-life. But again, the point is the boundaries being more restrictive in NA than YA.Which is something I hear contradicted daily by those less informed on the genre, imo.

Myth #3: NA characters can be more diverse in terms of personality and behavior

I’ve heard readers say things like, the guys in NA books are assholes, that’s why I read YA. And the females are all so broken and falling apart. It gives the impression that character extremes are allowed in NA and not as acceptable in YA. While the brooding guy and the girl with the dark past are a common trope in NA, true extreme personalities are very rare. I learned this the hard way after creating a very extreme and unusual female MC in my forthcoming NA novel, Third Degree. While she is still on the more extreme side, I had to get creative and work very hard to fit her in the right box while still holding on to the character my gut was telling me to write. I’m very satisfied with the final product but it was the most difficult to fix editorial note I’ve ever been given. I was confused, defensive, and left feeling inadequate when asked to change her for the sake of the audience. These are all normal and expected feelings for authors to have and we have to learn to deal with them and to move forward. Or decide if the change is stretching our personal boundaries too far.

Even though novels like Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell are set in college with 18+ year old characters, a quirky leading guy like Levi wouldn’t fit the NA mold. Nor would the progression of the romance in that novel.

An unlikable girl like Parker Fadley in Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers (a book that inspired and improved my early writing) wouldn’t fly in NA. She’s too harsh, too abrasive, too self destructive.

NA characters can have experienced very bad things, can run to bathrooms and have panic attacks but rarely are the ugliest sides of these issues shown. And additionally, rarely are straight-up mental illnesses addressed in NA through main characters. Mental illness due to chemical imbalances and/or genetics. This is one rule I broke in my NA and had to get creative about it, mostly by not presenting the issue upfront. I hid it hoping it would be okay once the reader was invested in the characters. But characters with OCD, Asperger’s, bipolar disorder, non-trauma related anxiety disorders can all be found in YA, in fact that’s often a selling point, but are unlikely to show up in NA, at least not through the love interests. Friends, parents, siblings – yes, these issues appear in NA through these outlets. Same goes for terminal illness, facial or physical deformities, disabilities like blindness or hearing loss, and eating disorders. Pregnancy or young parenthood is iffy as well, but not completely off the table.

Is it wrong to avoid these topics in NA? Am I insulting all NA novels by mentioning this? Of course not. I believe, in my honest opinion, NA is one of the first genres truly written for the readers. They (we) have led the direction of many novels because most successful NAs were published without the involvement of a third party (aka – self publishing). Whereas many YAs are bought or created with huge consideration given to factors outside of the actual readership such as librarians, schools, literary awards, and film studios. NA novels don’t care about those factors. Well, of course they care about librarians, but only because they are readers and may enjoy the novel, not for the backing of organizations such as ALA.

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Okay, I think I’ve rambled enough for one day, but stayed tuned for more NA myths debunked.

What do you think so far? Agree or disagree? Authors please feel free to weight in, especially because I know how much you can understand from experiencing writing the genre.  

But of course, as I’ve already stated, the opinions of NA readers are the most important of all opinions so please, express your thoughts here![/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

2018-02-19T13:57:43+00:00

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8 Comments

  1. Amy February 19, 2014 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    Wow, Julie, nicely done. I don't read a lot of Young Adult or New Adult so I don't know much about these myths, nor have I thought about them. However, reading these, especially the two description examples makes a lot of sense to me and how characters would act/feel/think at different ages. I for one, don't really want to read about teenagers in the way that the NA example would describe things, yet, the way Karen thinks in the YA example make it more natural and less creepy (may not be the best choice of words, but hopefully you understand what I am saying – thinking like a mom here). More nostalgic almost. Great post!

  2. Julie Cross February 19, 2014 at 7:28 pm - Reply

    all very good points and I have similar feelings as well when it comes to my reading preference. I love quirky, awkward, raw and real. But these examples are a difference of age. In the NA examples, I think those characters are both 21. Which is quite a jump from Karen's 17 and Jordan's just turned 18.

  3. Li February 19, 2014 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    I'll be honest and say this is what I'm really disliking about NA books these days – that there are so many "rules". By saying x is NA and y is not NA, all the stories are starting to blend together – it feels as though the genre has lost the edge, the thing that made the first NA stories out there *different*.

  4. Julie Cross February 20, 2014 at 12:02 am - Reply

    I kind of see what you mean but at the same time, I don't really think the first big NA books were a whole different or deviated a ton from this format as the ones selling big right now. What's happening is readers have come out of the wordwork to read NA. People who haven't read books in years because of kids or school or other things that get in the way of "me time" and they like NA but aren't sure where to go next. Some of them may enjoy YA while others may find adult romance to be there thing. NA isn't like children's literature where it needs to provide such a large variety of types because it's the only genre those readers can read.

  5. Li February 20, 2014 at 8:31 pm - Reply

    I probably could have worded my comment better – I meant that the first NAs were different to the rest of the books available at that time (umm… that distant past!), not that they were different to the current NAs being published today.

    I do get what you mean about the specific group of readers you've highlighted – if you're short of time and want something similar to that NA book you've just read and loved, you'll know what you get if you pick up another book that's labelled NA. The NA label acts like a signpost.

    I guess I'm coming from a different angle – what I liked about NA was that there was nothing quite like the stories that were being told in those books, and by having "rules" about what is NA and what's not, it feels as though the genre is starting to limit itself. Which is not all bad (for instance, for that group of readers above), but it's just not as refreshing.

    I'll shut up now – it's just something I've been pondering lately and your post was timely!

  6. Julie Cross February 20, 2014 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    Believe me, I totally get what you're saying and so many readers are making similar comments. The whole definition of genre is something I'll touch on in the next post in more detail. And really, the guidelines I mentioned aren't actual rules that anyone has defined or listed somewhere. Really, you can do anything you want in NA. It just comes down to whether or not you want to tap into a large majority of the current NA readership. If the answer is yes (in my situation this was the case) then you'll need to decide how closely you want your story to fit the mold that selling the biggest.

    Honestly, my upcoming NA that I struggled so much with is still sitting on the edges of acceptable. I still took some risks that may hurt me, but I stretched as far as I felt that I could and still come out of the project as me. I literally cringe while reading positive reviews of this book with comments like, "believable slow developing romance" or "original plot, different from other NA books" or "quirky socially inept main character" and yes, that perfectly describes my main girl, but I worry about reviews leading off with that and whether or not that will hurt the appeal to NA readers. That's when I'm wearing my "Need to sell" hat. When I'm wearing my "writer/artist" hat I get all warm and fuzzy reading those comments and they are truly the fuel that keeps me going.

    Once we take that leap into the full time writing world, we have to learn to balance the creativity with marketability and that's probably one of the most difficult aspects for me. I always end up outside the box. Even when I try not to be. It's hard.

  7. Viv Daniels March 3, 2014 at 11:30 pm - Reply

    Great post, Julie, and very much in keeping with what I've been noting about NA, too. A year ago, I described it as college based romance, but that doesn't even seem to be accurate anymore. There are fewer characters who are even in college anymore, or if they are, it's like they are in college in name only. Rather than expanding, which is what I think people thought it would do, the market appears to become more and more limited all the time — more like a particular line of Harlequin category novels than an entire market segment like YA, with particular characterizations, voices, plots, and expectations. It's following the same trajectory that chick lit did ten years ago, IMO.

  8. Ella Press August 10, 2014 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    I'm with you on the genre being written for the readers, and for us writers, too. With YA I felt like I had to stay inside a box and respect those boundaries, because then I'd have to face agents/editors who'd need to be impressed. But with NA it's like a door's been opened and we can do a lot of things that YA doesn't contemplate. I still think NA is a baby taking its first steps, a genre that needs more evolving, but it's a genre that was missing and I'm so glad that it's here.

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