Agency Lessons: YA vs. NA

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

I got a great email question this past weekend and I have a feeling maybe more than one of you has wondered about this. A reader asks:
What is the difference between young adult and new adult? The only difference I am able to find is NA is allowed to have sex and more unsettling that 'NA is a fake genre'. All the other lines seem very blurred and confusing.

Oh boy, everybody get comfy while I try to break this down. The reason the lines are blurry is because so is life. We don't wake up magically one day on our 18th birthday as full grown adults ready to tackle board meetings and taxes. Growing up is a gradual process, often bumpy, that isn't defined by any certain age. At 36 I'm still working on the whole growing up business.

That said, there are a few key areas that we can look at to define the differences between these two growing markets.

1. Age
We don't become magic adults at 18. However, age is a good place to start. Also, since there are lots of legal things that take place at 18, this tends to be a hard line that most editors I know follow. 18 and still in high school, YA. The second you start that first semester of college NA.

The upper limit on NA is a little nebulous, but generally until people start having their life together. If your character is still somewhat dependent on their parents financially or has to call mom the first time they make meatloaf, you are probably still in the NA zone.

2. Independence

YA is all about trying to exert independence while still having that safety net of not being an adult yet. Mom and Dad are usually still present, though maybe more in the form of an annoyance or barrier to freedom than as a key player. In NA, we see a change. It's that first leap where parents aren't there, either because your character is in college or because they are living on their own. This is all about figuring out how to navigate that scary world you couldn't wait to be a part of, only to realize it's not everything the brochures promised. NA stories rarely include the parents, though they can often be present in the form of texts or check-in phone calls.

3. The sex
It's really all in the details for this one. Plenty of YA stories have teens having sex. While this used to be completely taboo and enough to get your book banned from every library out there, times they are a changing. The literary world recognizes that some teens have sex, so excluding it completely is unrealistic. However, we are talking about teens. As in not 18. So any sex is generally closed door or fade to black.

With NA, you're more likely to find scenes commonly found in adult romance. Sex seems are more accepted and tend to be a bit more forthcoming with the details. However, just like there are all kinds of adult romance genres, NA is starting to spread its wings. I just recently saw an imprint make a call for clean NA romance. Also, there is some movement that readers would like to see more genre fiction from NA, which may or may not include sex scenes. In short, it can be in there, but it doesn't have to be.

Hopefully this helps to clear it up some. NA is still an emerging market, which means the guidelines are still on the wishy-washy side. The good news is that if you are interested in writing for this group of readers, the doors are open and you can be one of the authors that sets the rules. Happy Writing!

Also, just a quick reminder that I still have the Thunderclap experiment going on. We have until Friday afternoon to hit the supporter goal, but I'd love to exceed the 100 minimum so I have more info to evaluate on this platforms usefullness to authors. If you haven't signed-up yet, you can do it right here and it only takes a second.