Do we really need all this segmentation?

posted in: On writing | 44

I was idly scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed this morning and came across an interesting promo for a book. So I had a look at the blurb and the cover and noticed a reference to “a great new NA book”. (Or words to that effect.) I frowned. NA? Not applicable? New Age? And then I twigged.

‘New Adult’. I’d seen a reference to it somewhere before. It’s a market segment. Hey, segmentation is a perfectly legitimate approach and it’s why Facebook keeps asking questions like where do you live? In my case, they’d know not to bother trying to push ads for American restaurants at me.

So how is NA different to YA – young adult? Mind you, I’ve always had a bit of a problem with YA, too. What’s a ‘young adult’? If you’re still at school, do you qualify? If you’re fifteen and an apprentice does that qualify? To my mind, a ‘young adult’ might be somebody who has left school, turned 18 so they can legally drink, have sex, get married. Or is that 16? Or 21? Having a thing called ‘New Adult’ just makes it worse. Do you graduate from YA to NA when you turn 21? When you leave school? And when do you move from NA to… whatever’s next? GU (grown up)? MWK (married with kids)? AD (adult divorced)?

One author explained to me that the NA category gives the buying public an idea of what to expect. A young person newly arrived at adulthood but without experience, somebody in the eighteen to twenty-five age group. It’s a bit like saying YA is for readers in their teens, and this is likely to be a coming-of-age story.

So now, if I want to get a list of books to satisfy my reading needs I guess I have to say ‘science fiction but not dystopian, no zombies or werewolves or vampires, romance ok but not erotic, not GLBT, not childrens, not YA…’ But isn’t that why we have genres, blurbs and covers, and why (if we have an ounce of sense) we read the first few pages before we buy? And why wouldn’t I buy an NA book? Just about every war story involves young people in that 18-25 demographic facing horrible situations. That’s just one example.

As far as I’m concerned, if it’s not for kids it’s for grown-ups. I was reading ‘grown up’ books at quite a young age and now, at quite an old age, I’ll still read books labeled as YA (or younger) such as Harry Potter. It’s hard enough sifting through the myriad micro-slices of genre without adding to the confusion.

Rant over. We will now return to normal programming. Feel free to hit me with your opinions.

44 Responses

  1. rinellegrey

    NA seems to be about more than the age group of the characters, although many people talking about the genre will say that’s all it is. But I tried marketing my novel to the NA group, since my character is 19, but it’s been rather a failure. They seem to be after a book that is faster and racier than mine is. It’s been an interesting experience, and really does bring home to me how important it is to identify your target market!

  2. pippajay

    I didn’t like having to label my scifi novel as YA, but publishers want books defined when they’re submitted, and after getting it rejected twice as YA (which neither publisher accepted anyway) that’s what I felt I had to shop it as. NA just seems an added complication. Either a book is suitable for all ages, or it’s suitable for adults only. But it seems we all have to cram our work into individual little labelled boxes.

  3. Andrew McAllister

    The age old saw is still true: There are only two kinds of stories – entertaining and not entertaining. And which book falls into each of those categories is entirely up to you.

  4. juliabarrett

    Because these labels, whether necessary for discovery or frankly, superfluous, are limiting. An author is, as I say perhaps by necessity, limiting her audience. Of course you can claim an author is targeting her specific audience. Some books such as The Hunger Games are labeled YA. A book like The Hunger Games would previously have been listed as fiction or science fiction or fantasy. I almost didn’t read it because of its YA label. It is not a YA book– it has a much broader appeal. The story is definitely not limited to teenagers despite the fact that the main characters are teens and preteens. Its themes are universal. Perhaps in terms of marketing we increase sales within a particular sub-group of readers. But in the larger scheme of things we limit ourselves. I have very mixed feelings about increasingly smaller pigeonholes. I say this as both a writer and a voracious reader – I can’t imagine how many excellent books I pass up simply because they are labeled YA or NA.

  5. Richard Leonard

    There’s really no such thing as a single-genre book. Any book can be described using a pie-chart of many genres with varying proportions of each. I might even argue that a book that is strictly exactly one (micro?) genre might be rather unexciting. And even impossible. But I can’t prove it, it’s just a thought.
    Not really sure about the fine slicing of genres. It just results in more ingredients for a great soup or salad! Do you want an exotic meal? Just some bread? Or maybe just some flour or a pinch of salt on its own?

  6. Greta van der Rol

    It’s been an interesting discussion, but I’m still struggling with the notion that a new category/genre (whatever you want to call it) is needed for books aimed at/starring people 18 to 25-30. In my rather considerable reading experience, that includes an awful lot of books – without any need to label them as ‘new adult’.

  7. Laurel C Kriegler

    As an avid reader for most of my life (and in my early thirties currently), I really do not see the point of this age classification thing. I started reading Asimov (adult!) as a teen, but moreover, was reading sexually explicit romances (and at least one erotica novel) by 14. That would, I believe, be classed as adults only reading. What’s the point of making artificial, and ultimately moral, classifications that are out of step with the reading public and society in general? While I do believe in a moral order and yes, no sex before marriage, it strikes me as very strange that the writing world is doing this in the face of society.

  8. Liss (

    I actually was thinking about this the other day. I don’t understand the need for so many different labels. I remember walking into the library as a kid and there was fiction, nonfiction and autobiography sections not till I was older and walked into a Walden Books did I realize there was such things as genres. I had been reading things that were considered adult when I was in the 5th grade.

    • Greta van der Rol

      Yes, exactly. I was the same. I know there are more books out there and online selection is different but even so.

      I mentioned Neville Shute’s book ‘The Pied Piper’ in a FB discussion on this topic. The MC is an old man, trying to get back to England from France when the Germans invaded in 1940. The other main characters are children. I read the book as part of the English curriculum when I was 14 or so. What age group would that book fall into? Or is it just a good book for everyone? I’m sure you’ll be able to work out my feelings on that one.

    • The Masquerade Crew (@MasqCrew)

      When I was a teenager (not so long ago), my hometown library had mystery, general fiction, western, science fiction & fantasy (one section), romance, and new releases. Under that system, a book can only be found under one label. Simple for a library, but it would make it even harder to find a book today.

      Under a multitude of digital labels, a book can be found in any number of locations. So, if you are looking for a book about vampires, zombies won’t show up unless it’s a book about zombies and vampires.

      It is a sifting measure, a marketing gimmick if you will, one that I welcome. But then again, I’m an ebook marketer, so I understand it … a little … I think.

      • Liss (

        I understand to a point why it is done but I guess it annoys me when I am doing reviews and there is a list a mile long of what genres that the book goes into. If the book hints at something it gets put into that genre and I don’t like that. When I think of genres I think of the book overall not subplots. When I go to look on Amazon for a certain type of book, I have to admit it makes searching easier but I am young and crotchety about change. =)

      • The Masquerade Crew (@MasqCrew)

        Labels aren’t necessarily chiseled in stone. Depending on the marketing system, you can label a book with as many as you would like. Sometimes you have to decide on a category or two, especially on Amazon where a book might fit into a number of places but they limit you to two (I believe).

        Think of Twitter and hashtags, which are just linkable keywords. You have limited space, so you can’t list 100 hashtags in a tweet. Having too many hashtags in a tweet may be too much even if they fit.

        Attaching a hashtag to a tweet about a book is keyword marketing at its best, and you might be able to describe a book with ten hashtags … but that’s not advisable. The individual hashtags will lose their value. I’ve read that three hashtags is the statistical limit.

        The point is that you can use as many labels for your book as you want. You just won’t necessarily be able to use them all at one time.

  9. Greta van der Rol

    Not at all, MasqCrew. It’s an open discussion. I am interested/perplexed to see NA described as a ‘genre’. YA isn’t a genre, surely. There’s YA SF, historical, romance – you name it. It’s a narrowing of genre.

    I accept that segmentation will continue. I think it’s a shame in some ways because it becomes formulaic.

    • The Masquerade Crew (@MasqCrew)

      It depends on how strict of a definition you want to apply when it comes to genre. The general definition of the word allows for quite a lot.

      From a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like.

      This is very broad, and I think YA, NA, or just about any other label could fall under this.

      Each category—each label—tells us something about the book. Sometimes a label fits directly under another label, making it strictly a subgenre. For example, you write space opera. As far as I know that’s a subgenre of science fiction, not any other genres.

      Other labels (or genres) tend to cross over one another, even at the major genre level, so the particular form of a book could easily fall into one of several categories. These aren’t subgenres anymore, but they aren’t necessarily cross genres either.

      It’s kind of like the following picture.

      A book nowadays can have a custom circle, its labels giving a reader clues about the contents of the book, gives the reader something to expect. So, you can easily guess what a New Adult Zombie Romance might be about.

      Does this dilute the waters? Possibly, but with fiction breaking new ground every day, the same old traditional boxes don’t work anymore as a previous commenter mentioned.

      • Greta van der Rol

        As you say, space opera is a sub genre of science fiction. But science fiction is itself made up of a continuum. I talked about this in a blog post here, was a spin-off from the recent discussion regarding science fiction and science fiction romance. If you add NA and YA into the mix, you end up with a very very messy ven diagram.

        To use an example, the way I’ve seen YA described is YA space opera, indicating that it’s space opera for a YA audience. Yes, it does tell you something about the book, I guess. Really, you could describe Star Wars: A New Hope as YA. Couldn’t you? Or NA. What about Star Wars 1? Is that NA? YA? A kids story? Or all of the above? That’s what I find so hard to come to terms with.

      • The Masquerade Crew (@MasqCrew)

        Maybe writers should be forced to draw pie charts, indicating how much of their book falls under various labels. “My story is 23% YA!”

        Describing a story as a kid’s story brings up another factor: reading level. Describing something as middle grade or as a children’s chapter book may be describing the contents of the book (the lack of adult themes, for example), but it also might be hinting at the level of reading required, which is more of an age thing. But there’s really nothing wrong with a young person who reads above their age level picking up an adult fiction book. Vice versa, there’s nothing wrong with an adult picking up a book meant for children.

        Star Wars is a particularly good example. No one can agree what it is exactly. So, the answer is it’s all of the above if you ask enough people, especially if you ask people to list as many keywords to describe the story as possible. If someone thought of the NA keyword, I could see where it could come up because of Luke’s age in A New Hope and what he has to deal with after the death of his aunt and uncle. But I agree. That is stretching.

        A friend of mine shared her YA story with me, saying that I probably wouldn’t like it because it wasn’t written for me. I’m in my early 30’s. At the time I was almost 30 I believe. Anyway, I loved it, so just because something is labeled for a particular group or mostly marketed for that group doesn’t mean others won’t like it.

  10. Marj

    As a reader, I’m like you, Greta. I read all sorts of books, especially YA, but also thoroughly adult fiction – thrillers and such. But what does irk me is that the age of the protagonist is looked at as limiting your genre. My current books about a boys’ home feature boys of between eleven and eighteen, but they are likely to appeal to mothers who have had boys more than to boys of that age.

    • The Masquerade Crew (@MasqCrew)

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a mother reading that kind of book, but I tend to agree that these labels aren’t telling us who should be reading these books, but rather the labels tell us something about the content of the books.

  11. J. Lea Lopez

    This is really an issue created by modern traditional publishing. Big publishing says “we won’t publish your book if it doesn’t fit neatly into these boxes” and so agents say “we won’t rep your book unless it fits neatly into these boxes.” Writers are saying “we want to write these stories that don’t always fit those boxes.” NA has gained a lot of momentum through self publishing and smaller presses, forcing big publishing to take note and hopefully add this other “box”.

    Nobody is trying to redefine what it means to be an adult, and no one is trying to use NA to tell any particular age group what they *should* be reading. We wouldn’t need NA if the publishing industry had been publishing these kinds of books all along, but they haven’t. Ask any NA writer how many times they were told they should make their characters either older or younger to better fit as either YA or adult fiction. The problem is that if a story is genuinely NA, aging up or down is likely to drastically change large parts of the story, making into something else.

    And as The Masquerade Crew has said, defining your market can be a very good thing. With thousands upon thousands of books to choose from, I certainly don’t have time to read every blurb or look at every cover. If I have a name for what I’m looking for to help me narrow things down a little more, then I want that option available.

    • The Masquerade Crew (@MasqCrew)

      Thanks for the shout out.

      As more books flood the market, which I don’t think will stop anytime soon, further segmentation will probably be needed. In fact, I can see the terms “keyword” and “genre” mixing so much that it will be difficult to distinguish them. Of course, Amazon took away the ability for the public to tag books with keywords because it was being abused. In principle, though, it was a good idea, and I’m glad that it’s still there for authors to identify what their book is about.

      In some ways this segmentation movement has gained momentum because of technology. Today it’s easy to apply multiple labels to a book because they are digital being sold in a digital environment. In the past you couldn’t do that because you couldn’t put a book on two different shelves, in two different sections of a bookstore.

  12. juliabarrett

    Sorry – I am so annoyed by these two labels. YA and NA are marketing gimmicks, nothing more. And, apparently, they are effective marketing gimmicks. Blech.

    • The Masquerade Crew (@MasqCrew)

      Interesting that the word gimmick has a positive and negative connotation. A gimmick can increase the appeal of something because of a clever idea. It can also carry the meaning of being devious.

      Authors and publishers aren’t being devious when they label a book one way or another, at least not in principle. I agree that it’s a marketing gimmick, but if it’s effective and generally honest, I wouldn’t call it devious. If it helps a reader make a buying decision by instantly telling them the general makeup of a book by simply showing where it is located in a bookstore (online or off), why turn your nose up at it?

  13. Janice Heck

    I agree…I read books from all levels, from picture books to classics and back again. No telling what I will be reading next week. The marketing scramble does tend to go overboard a bit. I am a not-too-new senior citizen; AARP card holder; mystery, detective, crime reader. Throw in a little Zombie stuff (Kevin J. Anderson and Jon Maberry) for fun. I’m trying to swing over into fantasy, but for this week its kids’ picture books and Daniel Handler’s Adverbs (an adult book from a kid writer–Lemony Snicket). I’ve got a couple of Rebecca Moesta YA’s on deck, as well as Kevin J. Anderson’s The Last Days of Krypton. You might say I read everything in sight, regardless of the category. Space opera sounds intriguing. Maybe next week.

  14. John Irvine

    Greetings, Greta… I’ve never managed to figure that out either. One is an adult or one is not an adult. I suppose if I had to make a guess I’d say if one is legal to have sex, drink and vote then one is a… wait. That doesn’t work either. I must be a dinosaur because I don’t even know what GLBT is.

  15. The Masquerade Crew (@MasqCrew)

    With so many authors vying for attention, segmentation is great for marketing. That’s what Amazon is all about. In fact, there’s a New Adult section for Romance, and there’s a different section for Teen Romance. Incidentally, the New Adult section is called New Adult & College.

    It’s similar with Boomer Fiction. It’s all about grouping books together, and this is a good thing for authors. Readers don’t necessarily have to understand how the whole system works. Shoot, writers don’t have to either. Just as long as you know where your books stand.

    I’ve read marketing advice about changing your category on Amazon. As long as your book fits into a category, it means a new group of readers who might see your book. It would be a major backfire if you mislabeled your book, though. Readers would strike out against you.

    So, if you have a book with NA elements, you could place your book in that category and sell more books. From a marketing standpoint, that’s really all that matters.

    • Greta van der Rol

      It’s a double edged sword, too. You might just put off some of your potential readership – either through mislabelling or by readers saying ‘I don’t want to know about that’.

      • The Masquerade Crew (@MasqCrew)

        True. Of course, even if you follow all the rules for your genre/subgenre, you will put off someone. It’s a no-win scenario in some respects.

        I’ve read tons of books that I gladly gave 5 stars to for a review because I loved the book, but that doesn’t mean every scene, every detail, resonated with me. I’m grown up enough to not let that bother me. Not all readers are the same way, though.

        But if segmentation means you are competing with fewer books, I think that’s a good thing overall. For the reader who doesn’t care about genre so much, he or she will base their decision on other factors, such as synopsis and word-of-mouth referrals.

        • Greta van der Rol

          I suppose I have no problem (quite so much) with sub-genres. But YA and NA are basically age groups. I read anything that takes my fancy, (within my genre) regardless of ‘age grou’. That’s what’s so artificial about these categories.

  16. Diane Nelson

    Short answer? No. Why do we have to pander to so many ‘expectations’? Where’s the thrill of discovery? Why are we refusing to stretch our minds, our imaginations by adhering to the same mind-numbing categories. Enough already!

      • Mack

        I couldn’t agree more there, unfortunately our species is a rather individualistic one. A lot of people – for example – do not read to discover, they read to be guided. Others read simply for the entertainment, have busy lives and are used to people living and organising life in boxes so they want to take as little time possible to identify consumable entertainment and get it.

        I’m not saying that as writers we should simply follow that pattern of boxing up everything. Far from. But it can be beneficial. Someone who manages to create a message and an awareness of (yet another) box of identification can establish it as part of his or her brand. If succesful, that is a great benefit. And yes, no matter how great it would be if everyone had and took time and inclination to discover, unfortunately humans have severe tendencies towards immersion in hierarchy and organisation.

        That does not have to get in the way of expectations, discovery or imagination. It can coexist, even reinforce the synergy. By keeping things simple. More often than not though, we do live in boxes. Looking over the edge takes time or is scary (so to speak), so knowing what is in a box by reading what it says on it is efficient, saves time, makes it less scary, and so forth.

        I put a short piece from a manuscript I’m currently rewriting on my blog recently (, in a traditional sense reading it on my own blog it strikes me as science fiction, military science fiction. Thinking about it though, I realise that the manuscript itself reaches beyond those boxes (I know, writing does that) but to a point where presenting the book would provide options for (and quite possible benefit from) establishing it in a new genre. Yet another box, yes, but one which would make the fictional universe it is a part of “stand out” for purposes of identification, and sales.

        It is frustrating. I don’t want yet another subgenre. I don’t want to get inside a box. My cats love doing that. I am ok looking at box from a bird’s perspective, I’m not someone who lives in a box, or a barrel. I’ve got zero potential as a modern Diogenes. But I can see the point of the series as a genre of historical science fiction. There you go, yet another box 😛

        • Greta van der Rol

          I do understand segmentation – trying to identify who might wish to read your book. If it’s about bees, target apiarists. If it’s about cooking target chefs. (When I say ‘about’ in this sense, I mean an SF book where bees or cooking are featured). But age groups – sure I can see ‘this is a book about raising babies – target young mums’ or in my own case, ‘Starheart’ is about a single mum, so should we a have a category for single mums? I really do wonder to what extent the buying public uses these tags to select a book. I sure as hell don’t.

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