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Posts tagged ‘teen writing blog’

How To Tell Good Literary Agents From Bad Literary Agents, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

In my previous post, I discussed why a novelist should have an agent. What follows is a step by step process for how to tell the good agents from the bad.

A good agent doesn’t ask for money up front. Every book and magazine on being a writer will tell you this. Everything agents earn from you comes out of sales of your work. Most agents make about 15% on domestic sales and 20% on international sales. I’ve heard some agents are asking for a bit more but this is the basic guideline. Many good agents will also deduct some expenses from your take home pay, for example any travel, postage and long distance costs that were incurred during the sale of your manuscript. My agent does this and I’m okay with it. If someone asks for a “reading fee” or charges you for their editing services up front, I’d be very wary.

A good agent has a list of recent sales to reputable publishers and is capable of landing a decent advance. Most agents will list their clients on their website and you can check there for recent sales but the best way to determine an agent’s negotiating prowess is to buy an inexpensive subscription to The Literary Marketplace, where almost every sale to a publisher is trumpeted with a little code key for how much money the author landed for his/her manuscript. If an agent has gotten a “Significant Deal” or a “Major Deal” for a client within the last few years, you know this agent is capable of successfully running a bidding war. This doesn’t guarantee a bidding war for your work but at least you’ll know it’s a possibility.

A good agent gets good reviews from their clients. Before signing an agency contract, you can ask for references for your agent. I believe most agents are very willing to have current clients speak with prospective clients. You might want to ask things like how long it takes for the agent returns the author’s phone calls and emails, how long the author had to wait for the agent to submit their first book, and how the author would describe the agent’s communication style. I would caution you not to be too stringent with the way you evaluate these answers. A good agent will have a lot of clients and can get very busy, and might not always return calls/emails as promptly as you might wish. Also, I had to wait about six months for my agent to submit the first book I sold with her but I’ve never had to wait that long since. In other words, sometimes a good agent is worth waiting for. Only you can decide how long you’re willing to spend waiting for your agent to get around to you.

But how do you get an agent in the first place? My next post will answer that question. Stay tuned!

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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Making Time To Write Your Novel, by Lish McBride

I dislike the phrase “finding time to write”. It implies that this precious time can be just stumbled upon, like maybe one day you might move the couch and find a whole pile of it and think, “There you are, you clever rascals!” Now, I don’t know how busy you are, but I feel like playing hide-and-seek with writing time might not be the best way to go about things.

Most people I know are really busy. If you’re a teenaged writer, you probably have school, homework, sports, drama, choir, chores, a job, friends and so on to juggle. If you’re an adult writer, your list is just as long, though obviously with a few changes. Waiting to stumble upon time just isn’t going to happen and quite frankly I think it sets up a bad habit. If you wait for time to arrive and the muse to strike, you’re never going to finish your novel.

I know what you’re thinking. “But if I just get published, everything will get so much easier. I’ll have so much writing time that people will have to move it just to sit on my couch! I’m going to write a million novels!” (Apparently, I’m obsessed with couches today.) I get this thought process; I really do. I had the same ideas. I’d like to say I’ve never been more wrong but, really, I’m wrong about a lot of things.

When I was trying to write my first novel in graduate school, I kept thinking about how hard it was to juggle school, writing, work and family, and how much easier things would be if someone bought my novel. I had this amazing fantasy of what my writing day would be like. I’d wake up after a great night’s sleep. I’d have breakfast and drink my coffee and ease into the day. Then I’d head to my office where it was quiet and maybe there was a window for me to look out of while having my deep thoughts. (My deep thoughts mostly consist of things like, “What would a pygmy chupacabra look like? How much swearing is too much? Can I work an obscure 80’s reference into the plot?) I would drink tea and write in an oasis of books, notes and tiny post-its.

Man, wouldn’t that be nice? The thing is, I just seem to be getting busier. I have a full time job, as many writers do. Unless you’re independently wealthy or marry someone who is, you will probably have to have one as well. If you’re lucky, it’s not forever. Most of us aren’t lucky. I volunteer once a week at 826 Seattle. I have an eight-year-old, which means school lunches need to be packed, soccer games attended and a lot of driving time in between. That’s already a lot. Then I have writing time and editing time. Plus I do a lot of extra things like blog posts, interviews and manage my social media like Facebook and Twitter. I consider these sorts of things part of the job. I like reaching out through the internet and talking to readers, bloggers and librarians but it does take time. I answer emails – which takes longer than you might think – and talk on the phone a lot. Then there are bookstore, library and school events. Some of these things may not seem like much. It only takes 5-15 minutes to reply to an email, but what if I have thirty emails that I absolutely have to reply to today. It adds up and you end up nickel and diming yourself to death, so to speak.

I’m not even going to get in to my to-read pile.

I don’t have days off; not really. Now, I’m not trying to whine. I choose to volunteer and I can say no to some of these things, and I do. I can’t do everything. So I have to be very careful with my time and choices. I don’t have an office (I live in an apartment) and I certainly don’t get to ease into my day. I do, however, get coffee. So while the quiet office oasis is an ideal, a far-off wispy dream that I am working toward, it is not yet a reality.

What I’m saying, my writing friends, is that you have to take a hard look at your life and prioritize. What must stay? Work pays your bills and feeds your stomach but you have to feed your mind and soul too.  It’s hard to create and write when the tank is dry. You’re not going to stumble across a pile of free time. You have to make it happen.

When I was struggling over my novel/thesis, I was trying to figure out how other writers did it. I remember checking out Kelley Armstrong’s website because she is very prolific and I knew she had kids. She basically stated that you have to schedule time to write. Treat it like an appointment, something that has to happen, like going to the dentist. Give it importance. I still think that it was a wise thing to say.

Don’t fight yourself. Know what will help or hinder you. I often get distracted at home, so I go out. I have regular writing dates with friends. We hold each other accountable. If you can’t afford to do the coffee shop thing, find a free space like a library or a friend’s kitchen table. Sometimes my friend Brenda will organize a writing day where we’ll all bring food and hang out all day and work. It’s great.

I have wonderful family and friends who support and understand what I need to do. Whether that means my partner might take on extra house/kid duties or a friend might babysit so I can get an hour or two of editing done, every little bit helps. It’s hard to make time happen. I know it is. Even if you can only get thirty minutes a week, that time does add up. When you get it, attack it. Fill those few, precious minutes with as many words as you possibly can. In the end, it all comes down to you.

Homework: Think about the times you were successful in getting some writing done. What made those times a success? How can you replicate it? What gets in the way of your success? How can you weed out these things?

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

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On Joining A Writing Group Or Writing Alone, by Paul Volponi

Over the last 14 years, I’ve written 10 Young Adult novels. I wrote the first one, Rikers High (originally entitled Rikers), without even knowing I could write a novel. Before that, I’d written mostly sports articles. I attempted the novel because HBO was pondering the idea of taking a newspaper article I’d penned on teens attending high school in jail and turning into a movie. I knew they’d change things plenty, running with it in any direction they wished. So I wanted a novel to reflect my actual experiences, with my name on it.

What gave me the glimmer of hope that I could actually write a novel? Well, while I was working on Rikers Island, I was surrounded by other teachers who were aspiring novelists. They would sit in the computer room before and between classes working on their stories. I turned to one of them one day and said something like, “That’s amazing how you guys can write such big stories with all those characters and plot twists.” The guy replied, “If I can write a few good paragraphs a day, it really adds up.”

That was probably the best writing advice I’ve ever received and my only real interaction with a writers’ group. Living in New York City, I casually know several accomplished Young Adult novelists. A few of them meet regularly in a writers’ group, bouncing ideas off of each other and showing pages of their new material. Do I think being part of a similar group could help a fledgling YA novelist? I absolutely do. It’s fantastic to get feedback on your plot-lines, characters, dialogue and key scenes.

How come I don’t do that? Lone wolf syndrome, I guess. I like to work early in the morning, then re-read and rewrite in the afternoon. I work every day without fail. At night, I spend time with my wife and daughter. I prefer not to go out to meet with other writers. I do, however, have several first-readers who look at my early versions of things – usually well before my editor ever sees it. It’s a small readership of people whose opinions I respect.

Obviously, every writer is different. It may be very hard to even find good advice or a supportive group, let alone make meaningful connections with other YA novelists, but I do believe that getting feedback from somewhere can help a writer immensely and should be sought.

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Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

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First Person Present Tense Narration In Teen Novels, by Beth Revis

The first YA book I read that used first person present tense was Libba Bray’s epically beautiful A Great and Terrible Beauty. I don’t think I really noticed it until one of the characters “says” something rather than “said” something, and once I noticed it I couldn’t un-notice it. It was definitely something new to me, and I found it fascinating.

Many novels, including my own, have been written in first present – including, notably, the Hunger Games books. In fact, it wasn’t until I read The Hunger Games that I realized the real power that first person present tense can have.

There are two features of first person present tense that we have to consider: the appeal of a first person point of view and the appeal of present tense.

First person: This is a point of view that lends itself ideally to YA literature. Most teens – most people, honestly – want to escape into a novel. They want to experience the world of the story along with the characters. By using the first person point of view, the characters have more immediate accessibility to the reader. You’re not reading about Katniss shooting the arrow, you shoot the arrow as Katniss. Ultimately, what a first person point of view gives to the reader is accessibility.

Present tense: This is a tone of voice that also lends itself ideally to YA literature. The key here is immediacy. This is what brings a whole new appeal to high-stakes stories such as The Hunger Games - rather than telling the reader what happened in the past you’re letting the reader experience what’s happening to the character as it is happening. Additionally, when you’re dealing with a life-or-death situation with the characters, you have the additional fear that the characters won’t make it to the end of the story. In a novel told in present tense, the characters – particularly the narrating character – might not survive to the end. If you want to see just how powerful that underlying fear can be in a novel, check out Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner’s These Broken Stars.

In the end, first person present tense is so often used and so popular among teens because of the two simple traits of accessibility and immediacy. That’s one of the things that makes YA literature stand out – and one of the things that keeps the reader turning the pages long into the night.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

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Overcoming Writer’s Block, by Andy Briggs

You’re hammering away at your story. The words tumble from your brain, excite your fingers, and the resulting text on screen is pure gold. You’re unstoppable.

Until writer’s block looms ahead or, more likely, suddenly appears as you slam into it and stop dead. Now, no matter what you do, you can’t progress with your story. The ideas simply won’t flow, so you decide to write another scene – but, strangely, that won’t work either because your thoughts stray back to your original problem. Worse, you put in a lot of time writing future chapters – then, when you finally crack the block, you discover that your future work doesn’t fit your story and you’ve wasted a lot of time.

So writer’s block is an unavoidable peril. After all, it happens to us all. But there are ways to manage it without wasting your time. In fact, writer’s block could make you even more productive.

So, in our scenario you are writing a chapter and your brain suddenly gets stuck in molasses and the story won’t come. First of all, check what kind of block you are facing. If it is a simple matter of not finding the right phrase, or making dialogue sound just right, then add some placeholder text. I tend to write the blandest text and mark it in a bright red font so I can come back to it and massage it later. Writer’s block has now been successfully skipped over. I have witnessed many great writers agonize over a couple of sentences, then lose the thread of their story, and take months or years to get back on track. All because of an irritating sentence.

However, some blocks are more immovable. Your plot comes to a tangled stop or you have painted both yourself and your characters into a corner that you can’t get out of. These are the worst situations, and sometimes it’s like being trapped in a labyrinth as you follow the same old routes in a circle. Best case, you are wasting time – worse case you have blown your deadline. If this happens to you – stop. Turn off the computer and go do something else. This simple act of not thinking about the story allows your subconscious to solve the problem for you.

This sometimes works, but if not – never fear. I have found the best way to beat the block is to start writing something else. As I write these words, I am having problems writing a chase sequence in a screenplay. It’s a key plot point to the story so I can’t just get away with glossing over the scene. I could spend hours, or days, staring at the screen – or I can write this article. If the solution is still not forthcoming when I next open the file, then I will go to work on something else. I have three books, a couple of screenplays to adapt from graphic novels and several other screenplays I could be getting on with. And I do. I make writer’s block work for me. By the time I hit a block on the new prose I am writing, then I’ll switch back to the original problem and marvel how suddenly easy it is to continue on as if the block had never intruded.

One final thought:  I believe writers sometimes bring writer’s block on themselves by sitting at their computer, opening the previous day’s work and reading it. That is the kiss of death. You will find faults. You will find better ways of constructing the scene – so you do. You go back and change the previous days work. Believe it or not, you are not improving your story, you are trapped in a form of writer’s block – unable to move forward.

I never re-read my work while drafting. That’s what rewrites are for. Never go back!

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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