‘New adult’ genre goes beyond wizards and vampires

Leslie Kaufman / New York Times News Service /

Published Dec 30, 2012 at 04:00AM

Vampire and wizard fans are apparently ready for characters who shed their robes and show a little more skin.

Publishers and authors say they are seeing a spurt in sales of books that fit into the young-adult genre in their length and emotional intensity, but feature slightly older characters and significantly more sex, explicitly detailed.

They’ve labeled this category “new adult” — which some winkingly describe as Harry Potter meets “50 Shades of Grey” — and say it is aimed at 18-to-25-year-olds, the age group right above young adult.

The goal is to retain young readers who have loyally worked their way through series like Harry Potter, “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight,” all of which tread lightly, or not at all, when it comes to sexual encounters. In the “Twilight” books, for instance, readers are kept out of the bedroom when Bella and Edward, the endlessly yearning lead characters, finally consummate their relationship.

Providing more mature material, publishers reason, is a good way to maintain devotion to books among the teenagers who are scooping up young-adult fiction and making it the most popular category in literature, with a crossover readership that is also attracting millions of adults. All while creating a new source of revenue.

This week Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing released, in e-book format only, an “uncut and uncensored” version of “The Vincent Boys” and “The Vincent Brothers,” books for teenagers that were on the USA Today extended best-seller list when Abbi Glines self-published them in June.

The earlier versions of the books followed young-adult conventions and went to the edge of describing sex, and no further. The new uncut versions, labeled appropriate only for ages 17 and up, are explicit — with exclamations of rapture and all.

Other titles that have had recent success in the genre include “Losing It,” by Cora Carmack, about a college senior who decides to shed her virginity in a one-night stand; “Slammed,” by Colleen Hoover, about a high school senior who has a summer affair with a man who turns out to be her new poetry teacher; and “Easy,” by Tammara Webber, about a college freshman negotiating new love and a stalker.

“We are seeing a transitional generation,” concludes Glines, who started by publishing young-adult fiction and has slowly been adding steamier material as she has seen it drive up sales of her books. “They want a good narrative with the emotional intensity of teenagers, but they want sex, too.”

The material that Simon & Schuster added online was initially written by Glines for her original version of the “Vincent” books but was excised when she decided to sell to the young-adult market. While most works do not come with a ready-to-go sexual insert like that, publishers said that in the future books could commonly come in two versions and be marketed to both audiences.

While publishers like the concept of creating a new-adult category, its hybrid nature has been problematic. The books fall into an undefined territory between adult and children’s literature, and there is no obvious place for them in bookstores. Even within publishing houses, new-adult authors are being split between children’s and adult divisions.

But while publishers hesitated, a crop of young authors began forcing the issue: 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 first real relationship. Online readers discovered some of these books and made them best-sellers by word-of-mouth.