All of us face that moment... The moment when you’re asked to do something you don’t want to do, and you have to make a decision: move forward with their way, or build your own highway. This is a story about the moment I decided to rebel against a small number of agents and book publishers who wanted me to share in their obsession.
In January 2010, I started writing my debut novel, The Holder’s Dominion. In a way, this book chose its own genre. Like Kaylie, who’s the college sophomore protagonist, I was introduced to gaming at the University of Texas. And that experience led me to write for gamers and nongamers about the unpredictable and important ways that video games benefit (not ruin) and enhance (not waste) our lives. My experience with gamers involved not only highly intelligent, freethinking, brilliant college students, but I also met career-driven professionals who were living healthy and successful lives—all while gaming. Therefore, to be true to this experience, The Holder’s Dominion would have to be written as new adult. I had no idea, though, how much conflict this decision would create.
Although now in vogue, “new adult” wasn’t a hot term when I was writing Holder’s. When I started reaching out to agents and publishers, the interest I got from the industry was overwhelmingly positive. Agents and publishers seemed fascinated by gamer fiction written to help family and friends of gamers understand them and their world. Holder’s takes on the challenge and answers the tough questions. I imagine we’ve all heard: “Are video games a waste of time?” “Why does my spouse play video games into the night?” A parent might ask, “Why does my child want to play a video game instead of going outside to play?” The Holder’s Dominion reveals online gaming in a way that is easy to follow for members of pre–video game generations and current video game enthusiasts.
There was a flurry of interest about the book from agents and publishers. And with that came the question:
Publisher: “It’s YA, right?”
Me: “Not exactly; it’s adult with a YA crossover. The book does ride the line of YA because the protagonist learns about herself and her family, so it has that ‘coming of age/resolving family conflict’ feel... But the plot takes place on a college campus and has more adult content than full YA books, i.e., there are a few curse words in the book, and the reading level is bit more intellectual than a typical high school YA book. However, there is no extreme adult content—no romance, no sex, no abuse, no violence, no paranormal activity, etc. I suppose you could consider it YA if people don’t mind that she’s in college, not high school.”
The agents and publishers had similar responses: if it wasn’t YA, then they would have to pass. But if I were willing to rewrite the book with the protagonist in high school, they’d be likely to sign me.
I let the idea marinate in my mind for a few days, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t change the heart of the story. The whole foundation revolves around that “shove” we all go through into adulthood. When we leave the nest, we’re forced to grow up quickly. Beyond our high school days are powerful new adult stories that begin and blossom in our late teens and early 20s. Inevitably, I had to rebel, go rogue, and keep my book as the crossover genre it was then, and proclaim it proudly as the new adult genre it is now.
Heartened by encouragement from a variety of people in the entertainment industry, who said Holder’s has a message that has relevance now, I decided to publish with Beaver’s Pond Press, a hybrid publisher, to speed the release of the book. And my decision to stick with new adult has been vindicated by early reviewers, who’ve expressed how much they like the college setting. Three cheers for the new adult genre!
So remember: you don’t have to get sucked into the obsession for YA unless you want to. Heartfelt stories matter, whether they are set in high school, college, or beyond.