Where Do New Genres Come From?

By Laurie Stevens

I have a friend who writes Young Adult (YA) fiction.  Age doesn’t really matter to her imagination, she says.  So, a couple of years ago she confided in her agent that she wanted to write a book about two college freshmen. The agent told her to hold off because booksellers had no idea where to place such books in the stores.  One year later, my friend read about the successes of Abbi Glines, Colleen Hoover, Tammara Webber and Jamie McGuire — authors who are at the forefront of a new genre – New Adult. NA is basically Young Adult with some sex and more “grown-up” challenges thrown in.

Meg Cabot, author of the successful “Princess Diaries” series, is now writing about a young woman named Heather Wells, who is a resident assistant at a New York City college. If traditional YA authors like Ms. Cabot are switching gears to write about newly made adults then something is definitely abuzz. But the most interesting thing about this hot new trend in the lit world is that it was born in the badlands of self-publishing.

Self-pubbed authors have not only made great strides in connecting with readers and getting good books out that may have been formerly snubbed, but they have also created this new genre. Unfettered by the constraints of bottom lines and bookshelf space, indie authors have blazed a trail by publishing books that address the issues of a neglected demographic: young people who have outgrown Harry Potter but are not quite ready for the complicated sexuality of Christian Grey (of Fifty Shades fame).

And, as Ms. Cabot demonstrates, even traditionally published authors are jumping on this hot new bandwagon.

Seems it’s worth the while. Jamie McGuire, author of Beautiful Disaster and Walking Disaster, went from a digital self-publishing success to landing a major publisher. Beautiful Disaster has sold more than 500,000 copies and Warner Bros. has optioned the film rights.  McGuire, 34, who lives in Oklahoma, does credit the “self-publishing revolution” for the explosion of New Adult and for creating a niche where none previously existed.

Why has this genre hit the jackpot? Well, think about it. What books address the issues of young adults still living at home due to a soft job market?  What books address the post-puppy love/pre-marriage romances of college kids? Young Adult (for readers ages 12-18) and commercial women’s fiction don’t fill that gap, but NA does.

New Adult works like any other category of fiction. You can have New Adult horror stories in which vampires invade a college campus, or New Adult science fiction whose plots are set in imaginative lands. The category can be combined with all genres (New Adult Mystery, New Adult Fantasy), so there is a story of every possibility to enjoy.

But how and why did self-published authors create this?  The reason is pretty simple and brings us back to explanation of my friend’s agent. The books fall into an undefined territory between adult and children’s literature, and at the time, there was no obvious place for them in the bookstores. And publishers are not inclined to publish books that have no place on sales shelves.

While the publishers hesitated, however, a slew of young authors began addressing the issues of new adults. They began self-publishing novels on the Internet about 19-to-25-year-olds who are leaving home for the first time for jobs or college or a experiencing a first serious relationship. Online readers discovered some of these books and made them bestsellers by word-of-mouth.  And if you don’t think that word-of- mouth works anymore, consider this: When Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster was self-published in 2011 it sold more than 200,000 copies.

Elizabeth Chandler of Goodreads.com said she noticed new-adult fiction suddenly gaining popularity on her site in 2011. The number of readers who recommended books with a new-adult label has suddenly exploded, she said, from a negligible amount to more than 14,000 titles.

Perhaps bookstores are reserving some space now for this new genre.  Whatever the future holds, it’s still nice to see that readers’ needs are being met with or without corporate permission.  That’s the true Indie spirit. There are various places to learn more about the New Adult genre, but this one caught my eye.


Laurie is a novelist, screenwriter, and playwright and has written for television and film. Her stage play, “Follow Your Dreams”, co-written with writer/director Ronald Jacobs, ran for eight weeks in Los Angeles. Laurie’s articles and short stories have appeared in numerous national and online publications, and her new novel “The Dark Before Dawn,” is the first in a psycho-thriller series based in the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles. Each book in the series will chronicle the healing process of Gabriel McRay, a detective who suffers from the effects of a childhood trauma. Each case he investigates will impact whatever place he’s at in his healing process! Psychology and forensics interest Laurie, so her writing is rich with both.   

3 replies
  1. Cornelia Amiri
    Cornelia Amiri says:

    Great article. The books that first reached best seller list in this genre to my understand were all indie – but I don’t know that much about it – it doesn’t fit my writer voice but I like to read it. I think though that there have always been a lot of successful movies and books that could fit the New Adult genre – Love story – could fit it – actually. I think Indie may open up a lot of new genres. I believe in anything that encourages authors to write from the heart rather than write what an agent or publisher is telling them to write. That’s just my opinion though.

  2. Shennon Doah
    Shennon Doah says:

    I loved reading this article! All throughout the writing of my first novel and during the editing, I struggled to call it YA paranormal, because I could find no other place for it to fit. NA suits it much better, since it is about an adopted girl going off to college, struggling with new experiences, and realizing her true identity. I have self published, and I appreciate learning about this new genre. Thank you so much for enlightening me!

  3. Jason Matthews
    Jason Matthews says:

    It amazes me that agents and publishers have made such an effort to define artwork for decades, as in “we don’t know how to classify these pages in a genre–sorry, we can’t sell it.” No wonder that paradigm is changing so quickly.
    Interesting times we live in, for readers and writers alike.


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