Thursday, January 14, 2016

What Is New Adult Contemporary Christian Genre?

What is the New Adult (NA) Contemporary Christian genre all about, and why am I embracing it? To say ‘I found my niche’ is an understatement! I’ve been writing in this category for years but just didn’t know it existed. Then I found out that it didn’t exist prior to about 2012, and still barely exists!

When people ask me what genre my novels fall into, I have always struggled. Well, they’re at a Young Adult (YA) reading level with a very mature theme and college-age characters, but they’re also very Christian-themed books. They don’t really fit into the YA genre because they involve adult physical relationships. You can pretend to be shocked if you want, but (newsflash) even Christians have sex! Preferably after marriage, but that too brings up real-life struggles of the difficulty of staying chaste prior to marriage, especially in a world that criticizes that very pretense. It’s not the easiest thing to accomplish, and I address that in several of my novels, possibly all of them.

A few days ago I asked a question on one of my online communities (on Facebook) about how to get a book published in that general description, and someone pointed out that my book probably falls into the category of New Adult (NA) rather than YA. I didn’t know such a thing existed, so I started doing some research. It turns out that my novels fit the category almost perfectly!

By the way, the readers of NA fiction are not necessarily new adults (in that age range)! I’ll explore that later in this blog post, but first let’s examine what makes a novel fit into this category. These are according to Deborah Halverson in her book Writing New Adult Fiction.

Here are the nine traits that distinguish NA fiction from teen fiction or fiction for adults:
(Those of you who already read my novels will be nodding your head reading each of these!)

  1. Main characters between the ages of eighteen to twenty-five (although some online communities claim 18-30 is the age range)
  2. Themes related to identity establishment (characters learning who they are and what they want out of life)
  3. Independence as a story driver (characters learning to take responsibility for themselves, their own actions, and their problems)
  4. A self-focused perspective (new adults are often focused on their own needs, wants, dreams, and interests)
  5. Heightened sense of change & instability (this stage in life is naturally full of change)
  6. Clash of high expectations and harsh reality (optimistic characters who aim big and mess up even bigger!)
  7. Peer-heavy social circles (parents are nearly out of the story, peers become the new ‘family’)
  8. Significant romances (beyond the ‘first kiss’ of teen years, these relationships are intense, often include marriage and sex)
  9. New adult relevant circumstances (may include temporary living arrangements, short-term jobs, fluid social circles, unfamiliar activities and settings, and financial stress)

If you’ve read my books, you are probably already aware that they are indeed New Adult novels! But, from where did this NA category originate? Crossover readers became writers! What is a crossover reader, you ask? Basically, the same group of readers who propelled the Twilight series and Harry Potter series into superstardom.

Crossover readers, as defined by publishing market research firm Bowker in September of 2012 were 18 years or older, purchasing YA books for themselves, not to give as a gift to a teen. The largest segment of these readers were thirty- to forty-four-year-olds. Simple escapism is cited as the reason for their choosing these stories, as well as nostalgia for a simpler time in their lives.

When crossover readers ran out of Twilight novels (the series ended, I know, we’re all still crying!) they started writing stories that they wanted to read. That’s exactly what happened to me! I wrote The Cove in the summer of 2011, before this genre even existed! No wonder I couldn’t define its genre or convince a publishing company to embrace it!

The largest group of readers of NA fiction are that same crossover audience that took YA to the top of the industry, with college-age readers coming in second, and some advanced teen readers bringing up the rear. My readership includes all of those and more. I have a lot of teens who love my novels, several people who are old enough to be my mother who love my stories, and everything in between.

What about the Contemporary Christian aspect? Pretty much all of my novels include my church! It’s as simple as that. You write about what you know and it’s difficult to separate yourself from your core values. My core values include my walk with Christ, and my membership in my church. Take it or leave it. I am who I am.

So, I’m working on forming communities of like-minded readers and writers so that we can enjoy each others’ stories. I’m also very open to stories that are not Christian, as long as they are clean. If I run into the ‘F’ word even once in a book, it’s going back on the shelf. Sorry. If I run into explicit sexual details, I will not read that book. I believe that physical relationships are very sacred and very special. Lovemaking between a husband and wife is almost an extension of God’s love. Anything less than that is demeaning. Sorry, that’s my opinion.

So, where do I go from here? Now that I know that my fiction has a home, I’m learning all I can about it and will be completely reevaluating my novels. This may take a little time, and I’m open for all kinds of input from you, my readers, family and friends. If you’ve already read my novels and want to help me revise them, give me your feedback! What did you like? Hate? Wish I would change? Because now’s the time to do that! If you have not read my novels, would you like to? Several of my novels are not yet published and I can give you sample chapters that you can read and provide your opinions. I value opinions!

My study about New Adult fiction will involve a book I found called Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson. I’ll update my blog as I come across interesting details that I want to share! Would you like to come with me on this journey of discovery? What’s your opinion? - Julie L. Spencer

Want to read my New Adult Contemporary Christian novels?