Emerging 'New Adult' Book Genre Puts Smut Fiction on Bestseller Lists

PHOTO: At a recent book-signing at A Real Bookstore in Fairview, Texas, fans drove hundreds of miles for a chance to meet Colleen Hoover, author of "Slammed," "Point of Retreat" and "Hopeless."
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If you could put lust in a bottle, it might look like a scene from "Twilight": Bella whispering, "I dream about being with you forever" to her vampire love, who responds, "you're ready right now," and then dramatically kisses her neck.

It's the alluring nectar of forbidden love. But before "Twilight" was a blockbuster movie, it was a publishing gold mine, selling a quarter of a billion copies.

"Twilight" even inspired author E.L. James to write "50 Shades of Grey." The kinky juggernaut spawned "50 Shades"-themed bondage classes and single-handedly boosted the book industry. The book series once dominated the number one, two and three spots on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Now there is a new genre merging the "young adult" fan base with "erotic fiction" fans. It's being called "new adult."

And "New adult" authors like Colleen Hoover are getting the rock star treatment. At a recent book-signing at A Real Bookstore in Fairview, Texas, fans drove hundreds of miles for a chance to meet her. A year ago, Hoover was a social worker, raising her three sons with her husband in a single-wide trailer. But sensing talent, Hoover's mother encouraged her to write a book.

"She's always been a good writer," said her mother, Vannoy Fite. "She always made me laugh when she wrote."

Hoover decided to go for it and give the book to her mom for Christmas.

"I finished it in late December and tried to figure it out to give it to her and my sister and some friends who wanted to read it," she said.

So she self-published her novel, "Slammed," a love story with more sexual tension than actual sex, on Amazon Kindle. It's about a taboo relationship set amidst poetry slams.

"I did try to query agents and I got a lot of rejection letters and about how I should change it to third person and take out the poetry," Hoover said. "The book had already come out and I was getting rejection letters after it hit the New York Times."

That's right. The New York Times. Hoover bypassed publishers and literary agents and made it onto the acclaimed bestseller list five months after it was a Christmas present to her mother. Hoover cleverly gave away free copies of "Slammed" to key influencers and word of mouth ricocheted around the Internet.

"Every day, my sales would just increase by one or two until eventually it hit the top 100," she said.

Elizabeth Chandler, the co-founder of GoodReads.com -- a social media network that allows its 14 million users to share books they are readings with comments and ratings -- thinks Hoover's story is "indicative of the rise of self-publishing."

"Publishers took notice," Chandler said. "Readers responded and they drove the trend verses the way it used to be."

The demand for "new adult" books is boosted by its mature themes. The stories often involve lovers finding their way in a complex world. They are a bit like the old Harlequin romances set in modern times, with younger characters, many of whom are in college, coming of age and often exploring their sexuality. Not Pulp Fiction. Think Smut Fiction.

After this story was first published online, many readers took objection to our use of the phrase "smut fiction," with several fans of the "new adult" genre saying that is not what these books are about.

While it may seem like pornography dressed up as fiction, several book sellers say that's not the case. That in fact many young readers are expanding their reading lists.

"When I was a kid, you didn't have 'new adult,' you had 'Valley of the Dolls' and Stephen King, so how is this any different?" said Kira Egan, an assistant book seller for Bank Street Bookstore in New York City. "It's a very '50s aesthetic to sex. In my experience, it's more like the door closes and the camera pans away, literally, in a literary fashion literary."

And readers seem to crave this new genre.

"I went from reading zero books to reading a 100 in only eight months," said Made Migliaccio, 33.

"I love fluffy," said 28-year-old Ria Parks. "Seeing people fall in love and how it works and how strong their bond is, and it's just -- everybody wants that for themselves."

These themes about love and romance helped catapult Cora Carmarck onto a slew of bestseller lists. The twenty-something college student and part-time teaching assistant self-published "Losing It," a story about a young woman who is desperate to lose her virginity.

"I think it's a timely subject," Carmarck said. "We're in a day and age where we can approach this more honestly and openly, which is nice."

She wrote "Losing It" during her three-week break from school.

"I wrote the book in three weeks," she said. "I remember thinking, if I just make $1,000, it will be worth it."

So how much did she rake in from sales?

"Surprisingly a lot considering most self-published books are priced really low," Carmarck said, laughing. "My price point was $3.99 and I made about $200,000."

And her success eventually landed her a six-figure book deal with publishing giant HarperCollins.

As for Hoover, her husband was able to quit his job as a truck driver and the family has moved from their single-wide trailer to a modest home. And for the mother whose holiday present inspired it all? An early retirement.

"This whole past year has been crazy," Hoover said. "I'm just trying to focus on all the positive aspects of it and so far, I've loved it."

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