The Ballot Boy: adult or YA?

I began writing the first draft of The Ballot Boy in Venice in 2008.

I conceived the book as a standalone novel for adults, written in the past tense, in the third person. I soon realized the story was too big for one book and broke it down into a trilogy. That was at the height of Harry Potter and Hunger Games, and, given my hero’s age (14-17) someone suggested I write it for the YA audience, where trilogies are de rigeur. After another draft, YA, third person, I opted for the intimacy of first-person and the immediacy of the present tense.

Another three drafts later, thinking my work was done, I asked an agent friend to read it. Her comments were hard to hear and spot on. She said, “I started out shelving books at Barnes & Noble. My first question is always ‘which shelf does it go on?’ Your book falls between shelves. It’s too YA to be adult, too adult to be YA. You need to decide which shelf you want it to go on.”

I took a deep breath, set the manuscript aside, and thought about it for two years while writing other books. Everything – target audience, tone, voice, and r-rating – was up for grabs. Underlying those issues was the big one: my intent. I felt constrained writing The Ballot Boy as YA. Adopting the no-holds-barred freedom of writing adult fiction I could write the book I originally intended.

A final draft followed, first person, present tense, adult, still with a distinct cross-over potential by virtue of the hero’s age which, thanks to the laws of the Venetian Republic, was non-negotiable. The Ballot Boy, more about longing than lovemaking, can easily be read as YA. That is not the case with the remaining volumes where Nico’s sexuality flowers and sex becomes crucial to character development.

Despite Nico’s “youth” in The Ballot Boy, I see the trilogy as one adult book, a life from age 14 to 27.

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