Writing for the Millennial Adult: Shauna Robinson
Millennials: the offspring of Baby Boomers and the beginning of Gen X who grew up on disco and The Commodores. The generation sandwiched between pre and post iPhone. A generational group who are now very much adults. Like for real adults, not the barely legal just turned 18 and can get into a bar kind of adults.
And even though this group is “grown-up”, most of them are just now seeing media that reflects their grown-up experience. An experience that is quite different from their parents' "work hard and you will everything you want" messaging.
But millennials have discovered the truth in this. A truth that tires and frustrates mostly due to factors largely out of one’s control.
So what does this group do? They look for an escape. Something to temporarily block the reality plot holes in the fictional dreams their parents told them. That YA book explosion from 2005-2015? Thank millennials. The rise of streaming? Yeah, millennials led the way into watching things on a computer screen. The production of tv shows with cinematic quality? Guess the target demographics who tweets, Facebook posts, and word of mouths enough to get these pricey productions renewed for multiple seasons? Yup, millennials.
But going back to books, this a group that truly found their escape in novels. Dystopian trilogies. R.L. Stine. A boy with a lightning-shaped scar. Ellen Hopkins' books with dog-eared pages. Millennials definitely changed the scope of Kidlit. And for the most part, they've stayed aboard the YA train, but there are some who have gotten off at other stops, venturing off into the adult world.
So what happens when they can't find a book that reflects their adulthood?
They write a book that does.
Like author Shauna Robinson.
1. Welp, the first question for these sort of things usually is the ‘how did you get your agent’ question, but YOUR debut, Must Love Books, comes out next January! So, please tell us all about your journey to that point (querying, going on submission, publication offer).
While the writing and revising process for my novel took years--I started writing it in fall 2015, went months at a time without touching it, and wasn’t ready to query until the spring of 2020--querying went much more quickly. I sent my first query in May 2020. A couple of weeks later, while a few agents were reading partials or fulls, I participated in PitMad in early June, and my pitch got a decent amount of interest. In the two weeks that followed, I ended up receiving several offers from agents. It was amazing, but also nausea-inducing. I’d expected a long, slow process of nothing but rejections, and the response was so counter to my expectations that it left me in a state of nausea, not sleeping, downing Pepto Bismol, and trying to wrap my mind around what was happening.
Thankfully, the nausea went away when I accepted an offer from my now agent, the incredible Katelyn Detweiler, in June. After a few weeks of revisions, we went on submission in July--and we got an offer from Sourcebooks the following week. It was a total whirlwind, but so thrilling at the same time.
2. So, it’s widely known that publishing is slow. And this definition of slow is very different from what most people would define as slow (more akin to the speed of a glacier melting). Could you give some insight on why certain stages of the publication process take longer? What advice would you give to writers in dealing with the waiting?
As for why publishing is slow, I wish I had any insight to give! It’s an elusive, mysterious process, and usually all we can do is wait.
When it comes to waiting, the advice I’ve heard most is to work on something new. That’s what I opted to do, and I’m glad I did. I had about two months of waiting between my offer and my edit letter--and I know in some cases, depending on book timing and other factors, that time period can be much longer. Whether you’re waiting to hear back on queries, revisions, or edits, throwing yourself into a new project is a great way to get your mind off your current book. I ended up drafting the bulk of book two while waiting for edits. Of course, I completely abandoned it as soon as those edits came in--I’m incapable of working on two books at the same time--but once I’d finished with edits for my first book, I was grateful to have a second book to turn to.
3. How would you categorize Must Love Books ? Did you write this book to fit within a certain genre or did this label come later once the book was complete?
I categorized my book as women’s fiction and so far no one has yelled at me about it, so I like to think I got it right. For me, it came down to the fact that the focus was on the main character’s journey first and foremost. But there is a romantic plot as well, so my book straddles the line a bit between women’s fiction and romance. That’s probably a consequence of writing the book and then trying to figure it out later!
It might have been smarter to start it with the genre in mind, because I ended up having to make some changes to flesh out the progression of the main character’s journey throughout the novel. Had I begun the novel intending to write women’s fiction, I might have known from the start what beats to hit for the genre, and what to focus on and where. Now, I make sure to have the genre figured out before I start writing!
4. The main character in Must Love Books is biracial. How well do you think biracial characters have been portrayed in books and other media? How much of this character was drawn from your own experience?
The first few times I read books with biracial characters, there was some kind of white-passing plot involved. I enjoy reading books that grapple with concepts like race and identity, but there’s room for all types of books, including those where the biggest “biracial identity” struggle a character might have is not knowing how to do their hair! In my novel, biracial identity isn’t a focus, but the main character occasionally reflects on moments of her upbringing--like having a white mother who didn’t know how to do Black hair, something that is absolutely drawn from my own experience (I’m sorry, Mum!).
5. Your book also has an interracial romance in which both of the characters are PoC. Do you feel as though these pairings have a different dynamic than writing a white-PoC pairing?
That’s interesting to think about! With white-PoC pairings, there’s potential to have a moment in which the PoC notices how much of an ally (or lack thereof) their love interest is. If we see them be an ally, this moment can signal their compatibility. If their love interest exhibits microaggression behaviors, this could cause the reader to question their compatibility or wonder if the love interest is open to learning and changing. I’ve seen this go both ways--as a positive moment or a source of potential conflict--and it always makes for some thoughtful moments.
Pairings of two PoCs can have their own conflicts--if someone is expected to marry within their race but falls for someone of a different race, that can certainly pose a challenge! In my book, having a PoC protagonist with a PoC love interest creates room for greater understanding. They’re both involved in the publishing industry, which tends to be a very white space, and the two of them are able to speak frankly about race without feeling the need to dance around the topic like they might with their white colleagues.
6. Every so often, Book Twitter brings up the New Adult argument. Your main characters are millennials in their 20’s. Did you ever think that this book was New Adult? Or always just adult? Do you think New Adult is a space that’s really needed or that perhaps some readers are unaware of adult books in which the characters are under 40 and not going through a mid-life crisis?
I know there are a lot of books about characters in their mid-twenties, and I think of those as Adult (though Google says New Adult can be 18-25 or 18-30? What’s the truth, Google?). I think of my own book as Adult because my main character is closer to thirty than twenty. But I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the 18-22 age range, and how authors may be encouraged to age up or age down their main characters to fit more firmly into YA or Adult. I’m very much team New Adult in those cases--there are so many stories to be told about characters in their late teens or early twenties!
7. Do you know when you’re at risk of burnout? What’s your form of self-care?
Since the pandemic hit, I’ve felt close to burnout quite often. It’s been a delicate balance between being disciplined when I can--setting a daily goal to work on writing even when I don’t feel like it--and knowing when I need to abandon my goal and unwind. The world won’t end if you miss a day (or more) of writing or revising. Your work will be better for it if you take care of yourself and come back to it refreshed. For self-care, I’m partial to baking a favorite dessert, relaxing with a bubble bath, or rewatching an episode of a comforting show for the thousandth time.
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
8. San Diego is your home but currently, you call Virginia home. So, let's play a little game of what an East or West coaster “must love”:
I love this! Though I need to give a disclaimer that this is based only on the particular West Coast and East Coast cities I live(d) in!
West Coast Must Love_____
East Coast Must Love_____
9. Unpopular book or writing opinion?
For all the amazing writing software out there, I’m happiest writing in a messy Word doc!
10. Your dream “Happy Book Birthday” shout-out would be from...
Whatever bakery I’m getting a book-shaped cake from. All I want on my book birthday is cake, if I’m being honest.
Short bio: Shauna Robinson’s love of books led her to try a career in publishing before deciding she’d rather write books instead. Originally from San Diego, she now lives in Virginia with her husband and their sleepy greyhound. Shauna is an introvert at heart—she spends most of her time reading, baking, and figuring out the politest way to avoid social interaction. Must Love Books is her debut novel.
Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55278859-must-love-books
Website link: https://www.shaunarobinsonbooks.com