The May/June issue of Writer's Digest has some great articles on Mastering your Genre. One article in particular for the YA (young adult) writers called YA Today, had some helpful advice from a round table of agents and editors specializing in the teen market. Even if you don't write YA (I do middle-grade) I think you'll take away something valuable about writing for a somewhat fickle audience - teens. Aimee Friedman, Senior Editor at Scholastic, says that "Today's teens in particular tend to be remarkably mature, articulate and pop-culturally aware." She says that in regards to the styles and voices that YA readers respond to, "...teens have an amazing radar for inauthenticity- for "phonies"...YA readers really respond to an authentic voice- one that doesn't feel pandering or dumbed down in any way." This is the same for middle-grade readers, finding the right voice for that age group can also be tricky, but if you keep it honest and real, fresh and frank, as Wendy Loggia, executive editor at Delacorte Press, says, then you're on the right path to continuing the hallmark of what teen fiction is.
Sloppy Firsts (Random House, 2001) by Megan McCafferty (one of my favorite YA authors)
The Maze Runner (Random House, 2009) by James Dashner (an excellent page-turner)
here's a pretty good book trailer, too...
One of the most creative sci-fi/fantasy series for YAs I've seen in a while, Scott Westerfeld's The Uglies (Simon & Schuster, 2005)...and the illustrator Keith Thompson was one of my ffa's - flipside featured artist, for the artwork in Leviathan...
The esteemed members of the WD article on YA genre offered their opinions on what they'd like to see more of pop up in their inboxes: well-written paranormal; a good gay novel where sexuality is not the issue, only part of the fabric of the story; and dark-edgy fiction, and historical fiction with a paranormal twist. They also discussed what topics have reached a saturation point for YA readers - vampires! One thing that's for sure, according to agent Stephen Fraser, is that "books about disenfranchised teens will always be around... Books about a struggle with the world will always be around."
I also liked Stephen Fraser's thoughts about about being tired of receiving manuscripts with a dystopian view (hmmm, maybe I should query him) - "Let's be more creative and see something more positive. How about humor? How about surprising kindness? And let's give human beings more credit than to think everyone is basically greedy and hateful."
Are you feeling more prepared to submit your manuscript now, all of you YA writers? Are you sure about that? You might want to read Editor Anica Mrose Rissi's list of nine points that every writer should consider before submitting. The top three are: 1) Revise, revise, revise! (hey, I'm doing this!). I don't want to read your first draft ever. 2) Start with conflict and tension to raise questions, arouse curiosity and create the need for resolution. (this is currently why I am so caught up on chapter one of my book Trevelyn's Shimmer. Chapter one needs to be spot on!) and, 3) Start with the story you're telling, not with the backstory. Throw the reader directly into a conflict and let her get to know your characters through their actions. (...also something I'm doing with my book, although it's easier said than done. For some reason we newbie writers like to make sure that our readers really know exactly, precisely, specifically who and what they are reading about! We don't want anyone getting lost in the woods! Providing a road map for someone driving to your house is all fine and dandy, but it doesn't work in writing. So just stop this. Stop it, now. Trust that your readers will figure things out.)
So, what were the top five golden nuggets of advice that I grabbed from the WD Mastering the YA genre article? These:
1) Emotional truth
2) Compelling plot
3) Strong hooks
4) Unforgettable characters
5) and most importantly, Stay focused on and write about what excites you
Now are you ready to start writing the best YA ms ever? Ready. Set. GO! ...and I'll see you on the bookshelves.