WORDS FOR WRITERS: What’s the difference between YA and NA?

Board Books, Picture Books, Chap Books, Middle Grade Young Adult, New Adult, Adult, Erotica.

These are the age-range/maturity range book categories that I’m aware of, starting from least to most mature. These aren’t genres, like science fiction, or romance, or crime thriller, but the assumed reading level of the audience.

Most books have both a genre and an age market, which are two different things. You can have a Middle Grade Western and an Erotica Science Fiction, or a Board Book Psychological Drama if you really wanted to.

Young Adult and New Adult, however, are the two categories where the age market also comes freighted with assumed themes and plot styles. It’s not saying they have to explore those themes and plots, but that they usually do.

And because the age range is so similar (teenagers & early ‘adults’) I’ve seen this question floating around Tumblr a lot recently: What is the difference between YA and NA?

While there’s no real hard-and-fast rule, there is a difference between Young Adult market books, and New Adult market books, from conversations I’ve with authors, publishers, and agents, I think at it’s most basic and simple it can be broken down as:

Young Adult

  • YA protags are one or two years older than the intended audience (so 15 to 18)
  • YA is about the protags’ firsts (first kiss, first time being responsible for themselves, first time they realized what’s really happening around them, first time they killed someone, etc)
  • YA is about the protag figuring out who they are and what their morals are (internal growth)
  • There can be romance, kissing, and even sex, though the latter is usually not too explicit and often “fades to black”.

New Adult

  • The protag is the same age as the intended audience (19 to 30 or so)
  • NA is about seconds, or what happens after, and the emotional impact of that. It answers the question “so now what?”
  • NA is about the protag figuring out their place in the world and their relevance to their school/employer/loved ones/dystopian regimes/fantasy rulers (external struggle).
  • There can be romance, kissing, and sex, which is generally more explicit, but may not be a central plot point like it is in erotica.

Basically, YA is Bilbo in The Hobbit coming into his own as an adventurer and hero. NA is Bilbo in those “Everybody Lives” fics  on AO3 where he stays in Erebor and becomes the Prince Consort and has to figure out how to help and not harm the ruling of The Lonely Mountain. That’s not to say that all NA is domestic and about setting up house – you can still have mystery, action, tension, etc. it just happens at the same time and pushes the protag into figuring out their place in their world.

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JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: What’s the difference between YA and NA?