What is New Adult Fiction? 3 Tips for Writing New Adult Books

brainstorming character creation genres
What is New Adult Fiction? 3 Tips for Writing New Adult Books

“New Adult!” It’s a term you may have heard in publishing, but still have no clue what it actually means. Is it just a novel with a college-aged protagonist? Is it a sexier, steamier version of YA? Is it even a real category or genre? What exactly is new adult fiction and how do you write one well? That’s what we’ll cover in today’s post!

What is new adult fiction?

New Adult (NA) fiction is a self-publishing category for books that deal with the experiences of “new or emerging adults” and whose target audience falls within the age demographics of 18 to 25 years old (though some extend this market up to about 30). Common themes explored in new adult fiction are identity/self-discovery, sexuality, leaving home for the first time, navigating college, entering the workforce, etc. While there may be some overlap in themes between NA and Young Adult (YA) fiction, NA reflects the perspectives, interests, and problems of young adults at this stage in life. 

Since new adult is a category based on the experiences of a particular age group, books in this category can fall under any genre: sci-fi/fantasy, mystery, romance, horror, etc., though most of the more popular NA books fall into the genres of romance, contemporary, or fantasy. Unlike the other categories, the new adult genre is a relatively new category in publishing that began around 2012 with self-published authors who were writing books with main characters in their college years. 

As of now, this category is typically used in self-publishing. While traditional publishers have worked with NA authors since there’s still no “official” NA category within traditional publishing, books by NA authors are labeled as adult with some YA crossover elements or placed in the young adult fiction section if they don’t contain too much graphic sex or violence. Sometimes, NA books may be shelved in both the YA and adult sections, like Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.  

Characteristics of New Adult Fiction

New adult fiction age range

The protagonist or hero in a new adult book has usually just left adolescence. They are between the ages of 18 to 25 and are still in the process of their self-discovery phase. They have yet to settle into a career, marriage, or starting a family. Often, these stories are set in college. One example is Casey McQuiston's Red, White & Royal Blue, a contemporary romance in which the POV character, Alex, is in his last year of college and just beginning his career in politics. New adult protagonists may be entering into their first job, internship, or small business. This phase in the character’s life is marked by change, which can create a lot of instability for the character.


Independence and taking responsibility for one’s self and actions are a central theme of many stories in this category, especially those where the hero is leaving home for the first time and embarking on a new journey in college, a new city, or even a new country. 

This newfound freedom and independence can lead to exciting adventures and new relationships, which can be tricky to navigate as the character is figuring out who they are and what they want apart from what others in their life may want for them. While characters in NA may still seek advice or counsel from parental figures or other older adults in their life, they are empowered to solve problems on their own.  


Another main characteristic of this category is themes surrounding identity and self-discovery. Characters are exploring who they are and what values and beliefs they hold outside of what they were taught as children and teens. There’s an emphasis here on figuring out what they truly want for their life. Part of this exploration of their identity can include discovering and/or embracing their sexuality and/or gender identity. 

Speaking of sexuality, let’s address the elephant in the room. Due to NA emerging in the wake of successful romance novels like Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, this category has developed a stigma of being “YA with explicit sex.” While some NA books do contain explicit sex scenes, as sexuality is one aspect of human identities often explored, it is by no means a requirement for this category. 

Remember, traditional publishing doesn’t have an official category for NA, but if it did, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell would be an example of what NA novels without explicit sex scenes may look like. In Fangirl, our main character Cath, is going off to college and has to figure out who she is apart from her twin sister Wren and the fandom they’ve been a part of since her childhood, making this the perfect book for the NA category.      

Tips for writing new adult fiction

Characters must act their age

Since NA characters are in their late teens and early twenties, they will be more mature than most YA characters because they have a bit more life experience. So, while your NA character may be wiser and more mature than your typical YA character, they are still coming of age and may engage in reckless or dangerous situations without thinking of the long-term consequences of their decisions. In other words, they may be old enough to realize they don’t have to pine over their high school sweetheart and they can find love again after breaking up, but lack the impulse control to realize jumping into a relationship with their married college professor is not a good idea.

Build your world around the new adult experiences

One of the main characteristics of new adult novels is self-discovery. Your characters are likely out of high school now, and figuring out what comes next. For many people, this may be college. For others, it could be entering the workforce right away, joining the military, starting a business, or taking time away to explore their interests and/or travel abroad.

They can have a number of living arrangements as well. If they’re in college, they may live in a dorm on campus or they could live with friends or roommates in an apartment off-campus. They can even live with their significant other or love interest. Or they may like their privacy and choose to live alone. Whatever you choose, the setting and the world you create can offer many opportunities to bring new people and relationships in their life, and with that, conflicts that may arise out of them.

Consider time and schedules when building your setting and world. In YA fiction, because the characters are typically in high school, their time is more structured, and chances are your protagonist and their friends and/or love interest will have similar schedules, allowing them to spend a lot of time together unless you come up with creative ways for keeping them apart. In NA fiction, you don’t have those same constraints. Your character’s time and schedule may be way less structured and because of different interests or levels of responsibility, your character may have a hard time balancing friendships and relationships with school, work, or other responsibilities. This can cause more conflicts in their relationships.  

The voice of new adult

In NA fiction, your character’s voice will be more mature and confident than their YA counterparts. Since NA characters have a bit more life experience, they’re going to have a bit more confidence and maturity when it comes to approaching different situations. This season of life for them may still be filled with many “firsts,” but different from what they experienced as teens. 

For example, they may have had a “first love” as a teen, but this could be their “first serious long-term relationship” or maybe they’ve already had a “first job,” but this is the “first job leading to their career.” In these situations, even if they’re experiencing a “first,” they’ll likely already have some personal experiences to draw from, which helps them approach the new situation with confidence and maturity. However, don’t forget that they're still growing up, so while they may be more mature, they still won’t act or react the same way a thirty-year-old would.

Ready to write new adult books?

If you’re hoping to be traditionally published, you’ll have to decide if you want to query your book as a YA novel or an adult novel with some YA crossover elements. Since NA isn’t an official category in the publishing industry (yet!) you may have to make some changes to your book to fit one of the traditional publishing categories. However, if you plan to self-publish your novel, you’re free from any constraints, so use the tips and info above to start crafting your first NA novel. For more tips and information about writing NA, check out Deborah Halverson’s book, Writing New Adult Fiction.

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