When Is Your Book New Adult, And When Is It Young Adult?

I wrote this a while back for another blog and thought I would put it here too.

I love the YA and NA genres. For those that don’t know, YA = Young Adult. NA = New Adult. NA is a fairly new genre and there are a lot of places where the two overlap. And this was something I struggled with for my newest book. The main genre is Paranormal Romance. When it came to a secondary though, which one was it? It seemed to walk the line between NA and YA, kind of a cross over. I began marketing it as a YA title. But, after a few comments, I started researching because I admit to being a tad confused as to exactly what separated the two genres.

I used to think it was sex. But nope, because YA (particularly those with characters in the 17+ age range) can have sex in them. Admittedly, it’s usually sex that fades to black and happens behind closed doors. There is nothing overly descriptive or explicit about it. But, NA doesn’t have to have explicit scenes in it either. It can be just as sweet and clean as YA if it wants.

Was it violence? Nope, plenty of violence can happen in YA. Especially in the Paranormal Romance genre which usually involves any manner of superhuman type characters. For YA it’s again, maybe not as descriptive.

Was it foul language? Nope. Surprisingly, YA has foul language. Or maybe not surprising to anyone who has heard teenagers speak when there are no parents around. Perhaps some of the harsher curse words are avoided or used extremely sparingly, but otherwise swearing does happen in YA.
Was it certain activities? Nope. Drug use, alcohol drinking, smoking, etc. all pop up in YA. Perhaps because these are all things young adults actually have to confront, the things they try, the things they want to stay away from. Either way, those are all issues in the lives of young adults, so it makes sense for the characters in young adult books to have to confront these issues.

Age? Kind of. YA characters usually fall between the ages of 15 and 19. NA characters between the ages of 18 and 26. But, there is an overlap in the ages, you say. Yes there is. It’s another area where the two bleed together.

So then, if any of these can be in both YA and NA, when does one become the other?

It boils down to where the characters are in their lives. In YA books, the characters (or at least the main one) is still dealing with high school problems. Still living at home. Still under the watchful eye of a parent. They still have homework to finish, a room to keep clean, parents to sneak around on, and they are still experiencing a lot of firsts (though firsts is another area where the two genres can blend into each other). They are facing bullies at school, and trying to save the world (or maybe just their part of it), while trying to study for that trig test because if they fail it their parents are going to kill them. Sex and violence can be there, but are generally muted.

NA books deal with characters (including the main) who aren’t at home anymore. Or if they are, they don’t live there full time. They are in college, they are living on their own, they are making their own decisions, they are finding out who they are and where they are going. They don’t have to ask permission to go on a date. There is no watchful parent hovering just out of the room when the love interest is visiting. No need for sneaking in or out windows. With NA, the story can have explicit sex scenes that can be as detailed as the author wants them to be. The violence can be as bloody and gory as the author wants as well.

After struggling with where to put my Raven Daughter series, I finally decided it fits better in the NA category. Jo (my main character) is nineteen, but she doesn’t live at home anymore. She shares an apartment with a friend. And in the beginning of the book, when she is still at home, her mother has been so ill for so long that Jo and her sister have been paying the bills, cleaning the house, and preparing meals. She has a job…or maybe it’s a calling, and how she spends her free time is entirely up to her. She does have a guide, but he is only there to assist her in training in her new powers, and to offer advice when it’s asked for. And when she starts falling for bad boy Caius, and her guide tries to warn her of the implications of such a relationship, she has no problem telling her guide where to stick it and there isn’t anything he can do about it. The violence isn’t overly muted, and where there is no sex in the first book, there is in the second and the scenes aren’t all fade to black or behind closed doors, though they also aren’t extremely explicit.

It was after this that I realized my other YA books weren’t YA either. They were NA. None of my characters in my Bound series are in high school. None of them answer to parents. All of them make whatever decisions they want whether it’s moving in with a guy, or taking off cross country with a guy, without ever asking for parental permission. The main characters in those books may be 19, but they definitely fall into the New Adult category.

Writing about characters in their late teens? Confused as to whether or not your book is YA or NA? Now you know.


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