My writing used to seriously bite. It’s really not that hard to admit.
If I look back at what my fiction writing was fifteen, ten, or even five years ago, I’m a million times better, primarily because of searching out strong advice and practicing.
So I’ve worked.
It’s a Bunny Eat Bunny World
by Olga Litowinsky –
The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman –
My takeaway: That first line of a manuscript needs to be amazing, astounding, can’t-put-this-book-down hooking, so work it, Baby, and work it good! Lukeman, a literary agent, stresses some writing is just plain “better.” As one agent has told me, “We are looking for writing that’s superlative.” Lukeman, with his solid advice about voice, plotting, and writing style, tries to get every writer there.
Hooked by Les Edgerton –
My takeaway: Backstory can be a slippery slope. It can either send your reader sliding back and slipping straight out of your book and into the latest TV show they find more entertaining, or it can be sprinkled in effectively. Edgerton, in his “coffee house,” let’s-chat writing style, discusses the balance between present action and backstory. He even creates new terms – passive backstory vs. active backstory. Passive being that blow-by-blow-by-blow-by-blow (you get the idea) of what happened in the past. Active is that perfect little drop of telling the past and using it as a springboard for impending action. Great advice!
And my latest resource book to seriously influence my writing life is – Drum Roll, Please! - Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies
by Deborah Halverson.
My takeaway: Deborah rocks! Oh, and also, if you aren’t exactly sure what constitutes a YA novel or what goes into one to make it effective, then the writing pitfalls are wide and deep and will swallow your publishing aspirations whole. Yikes!
Even if I weren’t always thirsty for more writing advice -- YA writing advice, specifically -- I would have purchased this book because Deborah was key to helping me become a stronger writer. I hired her to edit one of my novels before I sent it out to the literary world because I knew she was an exceptional writer and editor.
Deborah was kind enough to answer some questions about her career, the YA industry, and what writers can do to become better and stronger at their craft.
YA books have exploded in popularity. Why do you think YA attracts so many readers of all ages?
The spotlight is on young adult fiction, big time, thanks in large part to a succession of blockbuster movies and phenomenal sales for the books themselves. This high profile success has plenty of grown-ups looking twice at YA fiction, where they discover what longtime fans of YA have known all along—that young adult fiction is filled with rich characters and narrative voices, robust storylines, top-notch dialogue, and compelling concepts. Plus, YA storytelling is pervaded by a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. Who can say “no” to a reading experience that promising?
Do you find you like to read the same types of fiction books you write?
Indeed, I tend to write what I read, and vice versa. I adore the magical realism of Tom Robbins, Salman Rushdie, and Don DeLillo, I delight in the quirky, spoofy humor of Libba Bray and M.T. Anderson, and I totally lose myself in the stunning character work of Karen Cushman and Phillip Pullman. When I read their books, I’m so inspired that I feel a physical urge to run to my computer to tap out my own fiction. That said, every writer should read widely in order to understand the bookselling marketplace as a whole and to find inspiration in different styles. Being an editor, it’s especially important for me to read broadly so that I can guide writers as they position and craft their novels no matter what genre they choose.
Your two YA novels, Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth, are both laced with humor even as the main characters deal with some difficult issues. How important do you think humor and levity are for teen readers?
Any projects you’re currently working on that you can share with us?
I’m excited to be working on three hi-lo readers, in the process gaining personal insight into a different corner of the children’s publishing industry. The book concepts must appeal to seventh graders, while the vocabulary is at the first- and second-grade level. I’ve also just finalized a contract for a picture book about Santa Claus, which my six-year-old boys think is just the bee’s knees. And now that WYAFFD is solidly out in the world, I can finally get back to work on a YA fiction series that’s been waiting (somewhat) patiently on the backburner.
Since you’ve worked as both an in-house editor and now as a freelance editor, what do you think are the benefits of hiring an editor to review your work before submission?
I’m biased, of course. But the fact is, in-house editors are extremely careful about offering contracts these days. It isn’t enough to write a really good manuscript—you must write a manuscript that can compete with the cream of the crop. An experienced freelance editor can help you hone your general writing chops, improve specific stories and characters, and shape your project for the marketplace. That last one is very important: to be published, it’s vital that you offer something fresh for an identifiable marketplace.
Being a mom of triplets and a writer and a freelance editor, you know better than anyone what it’s like to have a lot of work to juggle. What does a typical workday look like for you, and what advice would you give other authors who have time constraints?
Much of a writer’s battle is with time, and I’m no exception there. But it’s a battle I’m happy to have. I’m a multitasker at heart, so my varied life feels quite natural to me. My trick to staying motivated is the old fashioned deadline. Nothing gives me greater pain than seeing that red “overdue” icon on my calendar app. I’ll even set my own deadlines when none are imposed upon me. That said, personal deadlines are the first to go when life hucks a monkey wrench my way.
Writers are always worrying about trends in the market. What do you say to writers who worry about whether or not their work will be “trendy”?
The publishing industry is a slow-moving one. By the time you recognize a trend, write and revise a manuscript to suit it, go through the submission process, and then get your book produced in-house and into stores, the trend will likely be over. Manuscripts most likely to benefit from a trend are those that are already in the publishing pipeline when the trend is recognized. Instead of writing to a trend, write to a very specific audience and genre and then put a fresh spin on your story so that you’ll stand out as something new within that established market.
Being both an editor and a writer, do you find your inner editor gets in your way when you are trying to write? What advice would you give to writers who can’t turn off their inner editor long enough to pump out a first draft?
My inner editor is a total pain in my . . . well, I write for young people, so I won’t finish that sentence. I recommend that you defy the ornery editor within by making a deal with it: agree to let yourself cobble together a draft that is little more than characters and events pinned to a bulletin board. It’s a painful proposition, I grant that, but if you can ignore the ugliness of that draft and nail down your basic story elements, your inner editor can be indulged in Draft 2 as you flesh out the characters and scenes and hone the narrative voice.
You do a great job in WYAFFD outlining the different publishing options for today’s writers. For someone who has a YA manuscript ready to send out, what quick advice would you give them about deciding between soliciting a traditional publishing house or going the self-publishing route?
Answering these questions as honestly as you can will help you decide: Are you self-motivated and willing to work hard? Are you market-savvy enough to position your book in the marketplace, to design a cover that appeals to that market, and to articulate to the world exactly what your story is and how it’s different from others like it? Are you willing to pay others to design your cover, or do you have the skills to create a high-quality cover yourself? Are you willing to put in the time and money to turn yourself into a self-marketing machine? Do you have the financial resources to self-publish—and are you willing to lose that investment if the book doesn’t sell more than the average several-hundred self-published units? If you can’t answer all of these questions with a confident “yes!” then traditional publishing is probably the more realistic choice for you.
Teen books often push the limits and get that “edgy” label. What do you say to someone who questions whether the current hard-hitting YA is worthwhile for teens to read, and do you think writers should be fearful of pushing the YA limits too far?
There’s been plenty of hullabaloo about the “dark” YA fiction in recent months. That’s an unfair portrayal of the YA realm. Plenty of books for young people leave out the sex and drugs and children killing children. Write the story you feel you need to write. If you push the limits too far, editors and agents will be vocal about their hesitations. Or try this: Picture yourself reading passages of your book out loud to a group of young people in a class, at a book club meeting, or at a book signing. If presenting that content to them face-to-face makes you squirmy, there’s your answer. Every writer has his/her comfort zone. Wherever you fall in the storytelling spectrum, be sure that the elements you include are organic and vital to the story. You must stand by the integrity of the story you’re writing, not just your right to write it.
A HUGE thanks to Deborah Halverson for sharing her insight! For more about Deborah, check out her website DeborahHalverson.com . And as a generous parting gift, Deborah is giving everyone access to a free downloadable WYAFFD cheatsheet - http://www.dummies.com/cheatsheet/writingyoungadultfiction -- Hurray!!
In addition, if you live in the
United States or , you have the chance to win a copy of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies by submitting a comment for this post. Comment on Deborah’s interview or give a suggestion for a writing resource that has helped you become a better fiction writer. PLEASE LEAVE YOUR E-MAIL IN THE COMMENT SO I CAN CONTACT YOU IF YOU WIN. A random drawing of posted comments will be done the week of December 11. Canada
So think about the takeaways you have taken away and “Take It Away!” by posting for your chance to win. Good luck!
***WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES GIVEAWAY UPDATE***
We have a winner in our drawing for a copy of WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES. (Another drum roll, please!) Janet from Ripley, West Virginia is our lucky winner. Thank you to all who posted comments. And once again, thanks to Deborah Halverson for a fabulous interview!