I approached book bloggers Liana, Anne, and Marian from Will Read For Feels. Because of their reading habits (varied and voracious!), I asked them to give me a "wish list" of what they're looking for in their NA. I'm surprised (but also encouraged) that they represent readers looking for what might be considered non-mainstream NA. If as an author you've felt torn over taking on your "niche" cause, maybe it's worth it to take the risk and find a new group of passionate readers for your work!
I panicked a little, writing this. In the past year or so, of the books I’ve DNFed, likely 80% of them were books that proclaimed themselves new adult reads. Honestly, I’m still trying to form the shape and color of the NA cubbyhole in my head. It didn’t help that majority of the NA books I’d encountered were contemporary romance novels, which I’d rank lower than paranormal, fantasy, historical, and suspense as far as my romance subgenre preferences go. Still, I took a look at the titles I’d seen labeled as NA, the ones I’d read, DNFed, put on my my TBR list, and simply ignored because the blurbs didn’t interest me or because I read an excerpt or sample chapter and was instantly put off. And I came up with a three-item wish list, although I’m sharing it with the warning that that NA cubbyhole still hasn’t solidified in my head. Here’s what I came up with:
Wish #1: More showing, less telling.
One of the things that makes me add a book to my DNF pile is a whole lot of monologuing on the narrator’s part. And, unfortunately, a tendency toward info-dumping is what initially soured me on the NA category. I’ve since read books that have improved my impression of NA in general, but I’d say about half the contemporary NA romances I’ve read have had me ranting, “Shut up and get things going on already!”
When I read a book, it’s in the hope that I’ll meet new characters to fall in love with. It’s why I’m a notorious re-reader; I love noticing little details that deepen my understanding of a character that I might have missed the first time around. It’s no fun if the narrator psychoanalyzes the characters and tells me everything up front. So, please, I don’t need to be told a character is narcissistic; please trust me to figure it out on my own.
Wish #2: More stronger-minded, independent female protagonists.
I’ve DNFed a few NA romances a couple chapters short of the ending (and in some cases, just one chapter short of the epilogue) simply because I didn’t want to read about a heroine getting an HEA I felt she didn’t deserve. I realize that self-discovery is a very important theme in NA, but I really can’t connect with wishy-washy main characters who leave good men hanging and expect to be forgiven at the end. Which would not necessarily be a bad thing, if they had to face the consequences of their vacillating.
In real life, opportunities at work and in love pass you by if you don’t exercise some decisiveness—or run like hell after them once you’ve realized your mistake. I would like to see more female characters who understand this and make those necessary choices or at least “discover” this at some point in the novel, pay their dues, and then work like madwomen to make things right. So please don’t let the conflict of the story stem from a character’s inability to make decisions. I would dearly love NA HEAs that are satisfying because they are hard-won.
Wish #3: More NA reads outside contemporary romance.
Although I’ve been seeing some romantic suspense and paranormal novels labeled NA, these are still outnumbered by the contemporary romance novels, as far as I’ve been able to tell. And that means it’s not as interesting a category for readers like me, whose preferences run to other subgenres.
I do see the difficulty of fitting NA themes and characters into certain genres, but the few novels that have bravely waved the NA flag outside straight-up contemporary romance have proven that it can be done. To which I, hungry reader that I am, must respond as the starved orphan Oliver Twist did: “Please, sir, I want some more.”
I don't usually have an "organized" way of reading—I just grab a book from my TBR pile that suits my fancy or mood at that moment. While I'm more of a YA and Adult romance and speculative fiction reader, I've been reading more New Adult books, thanks to the influence of co-blogger, Marian. Although I'm still "revving the engine" on this book category, I have a small wishlist that I hope to encounter as I keep reading more New Adult stories.
Wish #1: More compelling subplots/settings
Most of the NA books I've read have romance as the main plot and driving force for characters to develop and to get from point A to B. While I love reading romance, I'd also like to read something that enhances the romance between the main characters. Maybe this could come in the form of the character's profession or a certain hobby or thing they are passionate about in which they could be a subject matter expert. Or probably a subplot that could complement the romance aspect (like workplace politics, etc.). I remember reading a story where the main character won a prestigious contest and she got to tour another country while doing something she was very good at. It had this subplot where I was given a look at another character’s own struggles with their families. Another book I recently read talked about the inner workings of an American TV production outfit. For a person who has only traveled within Asia, the only exposure I could ever hope for in learning about other countries would be through TV, the internet, or in the books I read. The latter can explain a world in more vivid detail (and because I like words that way).
Also echoing Liana's wish list of "more showing and less telling", I'd like to see more stories emphasize on a character's development in a way that demonstrates this metamorphosis versus having them talk to the reader. I want to see how that change affected their personalities and how it could translate to the way they react in a given situation.
Wish #2: More fleshed-out characters
I think this is also similar to Liana's note to have more strong female protagonists, but I'd like to see more characters (not just the females) exhibit more relatable personalities. Some of the NA books I've read have characters that are either too good/nice, indecisive, extremely whiny, or unbearably immature. While I know NA is about self-epiphanies, I’ve encountered stories where characters have personalities that are on the gray side rather than just being black or white. I think it would be such an amazing experience to be able to peel off different facets to a character and see them interact in certain situations and personalities within the story's universe.
In the past years that NA has been in the market, it’s comprised the majority of my reading list. When I learned that my co-bloggers weren’t really into it and discovered their reasons for feeling that way, I asked myself what it is that draws me to the genre. A big part of it is that I can relate to the characters, since I’m in my mid-twenties too. NA gives me that space to explore issues and conflicts found in YA that are presented in a more mature way. Another part of it is—in Liana’s terms—wish fulfillment. No matter what problems life throws at the characters, I know there’s a 99.9% probability that they’ll get their happily ever after. And I have to admit, the physicality of the relationships appeal to me too.
Despite my fondness for the genre, I do have certain problems with it too—things that I never really gave much thought to until I started reviewing books and discussing them with Liana and Anne. They already pointed out several points for development that I agree with, but here are two other things that I hope to see in NA:
Wish #1: Balance between feeling and acting
This partly echoes Liana and Anne’s sentiments about wanting more showing and less telling in NA. I’ve read more than a few books where practically entire chapters are devoted to narration. While info-dumps annoy me, it’s usually the lengthy angst-filled monologues that turn me off a novel. I agree that emotions are important in NA, but when the same sentiments are repeated over and over again without any change on the hero/heroine’s part, it becomes less of a story and more of a diary. I’d like to see characters who are not only in touch with their feelings but also take action to change their circumstances and achieve their goals. I want characters, both male and female, who shape their own lives instead of allowing their lives to shape them.
Wish #2: More care taken when tackling big issues
One of the things that separates NA from YA is that it’s more candid and graphic in its portrayal of sensitive issues such as alcohol, drugs, sex, abuse, health disorders, and whatnot. I like that it can raise awareness and spark much-needed conversations, but I feel that these issues are sometimes glamorized when they really shouldn’t be. Although it’s fiction, I still think that authors should be careful about how they present these topics, especially since their target readers, though not minors, are still at an impressionable age. I hope that they’ll be able to portray these topics in an authentic yet ultimately positive light, and more importantly, that they won’t feel that their story has to be riddled with all kinds of issues just because it’s NA. Nowadays, I’m encountering more books that focus on things other than addiction, rape, and the like, and I really appreciate those additions to the NA genre.
Liana, Anne, and Marian blog at willreadforfeels.com.