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Posts tagged ‘US teen novel author’

Handling Feedback About My Novels, by Carolyn Meyer

Over the past months I’ve written sequentially about character, plot, narrator, voice and dialogue – all the particular challenges of writing a historical novel for teens. In practice all of these happen more or less simultaneously. Eventually the day comes when you’re ready to send your novel out into the world. You ask for an opinion, but what you want is praise. Anything less is a disappointment – or even infuriating. They just didn’t get it!

Maybe your first reader is your spouse or child. They’ve watched your struggle, and they love you. So you probably won’t get an honest opinion. If it isn’t honest, it isn’t useful.

Friends are also unlikely to give you the feedback you need. Some writers rely heavily on writing groups. I tried one early in my career and found that none of us was skilled at giving constructive criticism. I didn’t know if I could trust what I heard, and eventually I quit.

Now with an established career I have a signed contract before I write the book, and I send what I believe is a finished manuscript directly to my editor. I’m relieved – but I’m also anxious. I want her to pronounce it perfect. But what if she hates it?

So far that hasn’t happened. I’ve never had a contracted novel rejected, but I’ve also never had one accepted without a lot of revising.

Months pass before I hear back. The response is usually a detailed letter that begins, “Dear Carolyn, I have finished reading (fill in the title), and I love most of what you have written.”

The key word here is “most”. What exactly does the editor not love? Sometimes there are structural problems, so chapters should be cut or moved. Sometimes characters need more development. Sometimes the beginning doesn’t pull the reader in quickly enough. The one I get the most often is: “But how does the character feel?”

Years ago my reaction was to feel wounded and my instinct was to argue. Eventually I learned how to work with the advice. Luckily I’ve always had editors I trust. I can accept most of the suggestions, if not all, and make the revisions. The process goes back and forth over a period of weeks. In Mozart’s Shadow required four revisions before the editor and I declared ourselves happy with it.

Once the book is published everyone waits expectantly, and a little worriedly, for word from the reviewers. The reviews aren’t always stellar. Reviews of Cleopatra Confesses were mixed. Some reviewers wrote admiringly, while others picked it apart. After the professional reviewers, many of them teachers and librarians, come the readers themselves. They’re not just teens: More than half the buyers of YA books are said to be over 18. People aged 30 to 44 account for 28% of the sales – and they post their comments online. Adults want more adult material and may be dismissive of YA books for younger readers. Young kids don’t always know how to write useful reviews, with their comments ranging from “best book ever” to “borrrring”.

You can learn a great deal from an editor’s criticisms, but once a book is published there is nothing you can do to change it. Reading reviews, especially when they’re snarky, can give you heartburn. It’s best to ignore the bad ones, enjoy the good ones and keep on writing.

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Carolyn Meyer’s author website: www.readcarolyn.com

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

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In Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StoryMary, Bloody MaryThe Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-AntoinetteCleopatra Confesses     Deadly Little SecretSaraswati's Way

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Marketing Your Teen Novel On A Small Budget, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

If you read my post last month on inexpensive ways to market your novel you learned how you can promote your work for free.  If you have a promotional budget set aside – even a smallish one – here are some options for how you can stretch your marketing dollar.

$100:

Order some business cards.  They’re cheap and worth every penny.

Bookmarks.  Some authors swear by them.  If you’re especially savvy, you’ll print part of a reading group guide on the back.

Speaking of guides …. Print up some copies of your teacher and reading group guides and mail/distribute where appropriate.

Bookplates: You can purchase inexpensive sticky labels from the business supply store and design some with the included software.  Great for school visits and responding to fan mail.

Bring candy to signings.  Nothing encourages Q&A more than a sugary treat.

$250:

Beef up your website.  Purchase some economical do-it-yourself software and register your domain name.

Join SCBWI and attend regional conference.  See, you’re ahead of the game!

Make up press kits and mail as needed.  Carry extras with you – they come in handy!

Order postcards and send to indie booksellers, librarians, reviewers, etc.  This can potentially blow your budget, so always ask your publisher if they’d mind paying for postage.  You get the added benefit of their mailing list!

Create speaking brochures and mail to schools and libraries.  Speaking gigs get your name out, help sell books and (ideally) act as supplemental income.

$500:

Throw a launch party for your book.  You’ll definitely need to keep it on a shoestring budget, but this is a great opportunity to get the word out about your new book.  Ask an indie bookseller to work the event (or provide the space) and be sure to invite any teachers and librarians you’ve befriended.

Take some influential people to lunch.  Identify some of the kid-lit leaders in your community.  Ask them if they’d mind letting you pick their brain for ideas of how to be more involved.  Once you both start talking shop, you never know what opportunities can become available for you and your work.

Make your own creative book-themed giveaway.  Take them to your events, and make sure to send some to your editor.

Commission a book trailer.  This is the hottest new promotional tool, and it costs way less than you think (hint: with the right software, you can even make it yourself!).  Upload the clip to MySpace and YouTube.  Announce its launch on listservs and blogs.

Create a podcast.  Buy a microphone for your computer and record away!  Podcasts can be uploaded to iTunes for free and are another way to beef up your web content.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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Deadly Little SecretDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)Project 17Silver is for Secrets     Saraswati's WayRikers High

Writing Teen Novels
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Using Your Character’s Senses To Show Your Story-World, by Kashmira Sheth

As a writer, many of us see the story unfolding in our head. When we start putting those scenes down on the page most of them are written out as what our main character or our narrator ‘sees’. I love what eyes can see and the type of sensory details it can provide the readers but it is important to remember the four other senses too.

In real life we experience many things with sight but at the same time we also gain knowledge of our physical world through the other senses. It is important to write stories that not only use the sense of sight but also employ sound, taste, smell and touch to make the physical world of the protagonist richer and more complete.  For example, if there is spilled sugar in the kitchen our character may not see it but will experience it with other senses. How she discovers it could depend upon if she is walking barefoot or wearing shoes.  If barefoot she may notice it by feeling it on her feet but wearing shoes she might hear the crunch first.

Rich sensory details bring multiple layers to a story. A misty, foggy March morning with beautiful imagery is good. But if we take the same scene and add the sound of a bird, say a cardinal, piercing though the mist it could add a new dimension. The reader hasn’t seen the cardinal, and yet the sound can bring the image of red crested bird ready for spring. By adding sound we give an impression that beyond the veil of mist there is a world out there, a world of sound, color and life.

Similarly, the sense of touch brings texture to the story. Just observing that a wool shawl looks soft or rough doesn’t create the same image as adding how it feels to the touch. That the wool shawl felt smoother than my furry kitten or that it felt like I was holding a prickly pear gives a fuller, more accurate and vivid description.

Taste is one of the most important and indispensable tools for fiction writers. If you are writing about food, no matter how much you describe it just doesn’t do it justice. It is like going to a restaurant and getting a dish that looked lovely. The presentation is great but what you are after is the taste. Are the green beans crunchy and flavorful? Is the dressing tangy? Is the crust melt-in-your mouth flaky?  In my writing, I use the foods and spices of India to bring out the flavor of Indian dishes.

Last but not least is the sense of smell.  Smell is probably the most evocative of all the senses. You may visit a beach that you used to go as a child after twenty years. You may notice that half-a-dozen new resorts have been built, changing the look of the beach. Yet you might feel that there is something very familiar about the place. It probably is the scent of the salty, moist air. It is the scent that will take you back to your childhood of building sand castles and wading into the water.

Using all the senses to describe the place your protagonist inhabits is critically important in a YA novel. It immerses your reader fully in the scenes and settings of the story. As writer, it is satisfying to make the world come alive, one sensory detail at a time.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     TracksAuslanderThe Traitor's KissCleopatra ConfessesAcross the Universe

Writing Teen Novels
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Voice In My Teen Novels, by Kashmira Sheth

When I first started writing I had a hard time understanding what voice was and how I could give distinct voices to my characters. Should I have them talk with an Indian accent? Would that be enough? I didn’t think so.

I read more books, looking for voice, and as I wrote my first novel the concept became clearer. Voice is how people express themselves. It has to do not only with accent, but also with word choice, with sentence structure, with figure of speech, and most importantly with how a character views the world and themself. Beyond all that there is time, place and culture to consider.

There are regional differences in how any language is spoken. Characters speaking in English from the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States or India sound different from one another. They pronounce things differently, greet each other differently and put emphasis on different syllables. In some parts of the world, people may spit sentences out so fast you wonder how they were able to keep them from getting tangled up.  In others, people may draw out their words slowly and carefully like each sound is a nugget of gold that they have to weigh precisely.

Depending on their age or background some characters use short, simple sentences. Some use long and convoluted ones that go on and on, with the help of punctuation, and if you are not paying attention, their meanings could be lost.

Then there are figures of speech. Our inner world is colored with our outer world. The physical surroundings, including weather, seasons, terrain, plants, animals, and people have a profound impact on how they express themselves. For example, a character living in a desert might use a spiky cactus to describe a prickly personality, while a character living near a rocky beach may compare it to sharp rocks. A character’s profession will also shape the way they talk and think.  A poet may describe a sunset differently than a scientist, even though they are both watching the same sunset at the same time and same place. The metaphors and similes our characters use or don’t use reflect their environment and their backgrounds. This makes up part of their voice.

Our character’s position in life will influence how our character views the world, which in turn will impact their voice. If she is a princess she is going to view world differently than if she is a chambermaid. They both may be living in the same palace but they view it differently, they express their thoughts differently and they expect others to communicate with them differently. Again, who they are will give each of them a unique voice.

Time, place and culture will also impact our character’s voice. A modern day princess will express herself very differently than, say, a princess in the 14th century.  Also, a 14th century Indian princess might talk differently to her father than a Russian princess during the same time.

What has worked for me is to know my characters well. Then I concentrate on the scene. Once I have a scene in my mind, and see my characters moving and interacting with other people in their physical space, the voice comes out naturally.

Voice was not as elusive as I had thought.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     GlowGenesisSaraswati's WayThe Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Night She Disappeared

Writing Teen Novels
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What Is At Stake For The Characters In Your Teen Novel? by Diane Lee Wilson

Within your story, what’s at stake for your protagonist? Are the stakes set high enough and are the risks real enough that your readers will care about what happens? No matter what genre of teen novel you’re writing, the stakes for your protagonist have to amount to life itself. In other words, at some point in your story (preferably about half of the way through) your protagonist has to face a life and death situation in order to overcome it and evolve into a true hero.

For those of you who aren’t writing murder mysteries, this doesn’t have to be a physical death (although teenaged literary heroes such as Harry Potter have embraced death – and, of course, survived it). But the stakes still have to be high enough that, should the protagonist lose, the consequences would be the equivalent of death. Such consequences might be the loss of one’s true love, great public humiliation or a personal failure. In any of these situations the hero might admit, “I’d rather be dead,” and the reader will suffer along. In a wonderful analysis of the craft of story writing called The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters author Christopher Vogler states, “Heroes must die so that they can be reborn. The dramatic movement that audiences enjoy more than any other is death and rebirth.”

I was recently reminded of this need to challenge the protagonist again and again when I watched the Pixar film Finding Nemo. I’m a big fan of Pixar’s unique characters and rich storytelling, and their writers’ ability to pull at your heartstrings. But I’d forgotten what an emotional roller coaster this particular film was and is. In only 100 minutes the little clownfish Nemo and his dad narrowly escape death more than a dozen times: by shark, jellyfish, deep sea angler fish, aquarium water pump, plastic baggie, crab, seagull, underwater mine explosion, strong currents, being flushed down a sink, dropped on a dock, caught in a net and crushed by a net. In addition, there are many crises that feel like imminent death: the ocean’s too big, the destination is too far, I’ve lost my map, my friend has forsaken me. Even with all of these near-fatal scenes, at no point in the story did it feel like the creators were creating artificial dangers; they simply put two heroic characters in one very difficult situation after another and allowed them to use their personal strengths and intense familial love to attempt to reunite – and Finding Nemo is ostensibly a children’s story! Imagine what you can do with a teen’s story.

Nearly every day of a teen’s life is fraught with emotion and crisis. Happiness blooms from the fleeting smile of a member of the opposite sex and tears from an apparent snub. Life is over after a failed test, a broken heart or parental restrictions. The reactions to these events may seem overly dramatic to an adult (and especially to a parent) but to a teen these crises feel like death itself. Understanding what your protagonist most values will allow you to place that thing at risk – even time and time again – and that will make your story intensely interesting to your teen readers.

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Diane Lee Wilson’s author website: www.dianeleewilson.com

Diane Lee Wilson’s bio page

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Raven SpeakTracksI Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeBlack Storm Comin'     Cleopatra ConfessesThe Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for WritersFinding Nemo Big Golden Book (Disney/Pixar Finding Nemo)

Writing Teen Novels
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Selling Your Teen Novel Manuscript, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Writing an entire novel that’s rich with character and appeal, and that has a clear beginning, middle and ending in which the character grows, facing obstacles along the way, isn’t an easy task. Once this is done, congratulations are in order.

Then it’s time to immerse yourself in the selling market by doing a lot of research.  Go to the new release section of bookstores armed with paper and pen, find books that are like yours, and take note of who wrote them and which publishing houses published them.  Then go home and do a Google search to find the name of the agent and/or editor for those particular books.  Sometimes, you won’t even have to Google; you’ll get lucky and flip to the Acknowledgements page of the book to find that the author has thanked their beloved agent and hardworking editor.

Start to keep a list of these names.  The editors and agents are the people that you should be targeting for your work.  Write an intelligent and presentable one-page query letter that summarizes your book and gives a brief introduction of who you are.

Sound easy?  It isn’t.  It takes patience and a thick skin.  Some people get lucky and get requests for full or partial manuscripts right away.  For most of us, it’s a much longer process – one that requires a sense of humor, a lot of waiting, and hopefully a cheering squad of writer-friends.

I’d recommend sending out batches of query letters, five at a time.  Once a rejection comes back, send out another, keeping a log of names, dates, and responses.  But, again, always do your homework.  Make informed decisions as to whom you’re sending your query.  Know who that person is, what books are on his or her list, who his or her clients are, and what he or she is looking for (if anything at all).

Once you start to get responses you’ll find there are different levels of rejection letters, from the standard form letter to the more personalized ones.  I’ve gotten fortune-cookie sized rejection letters that simply say “No, thank you”, as well as personalized letters that explain why my work wasn’t a good fit at the time.

Try not to take any of it personally.  Sometimes you’ll get a rejection purely because the market is trending in another direction or because a particular editor already has a novel like yours on his or her list.  Just keep working and learning.  When I was trying to sell Blue is for Nightmares I was continuing to write my next manuscript, Bleed, which became my fourth book published.

Personally, my initial path to publication was a rough one.  I approached editors and agents at the same time, trying to target those who worked with writers like me (namely, writers who wrote in the Young Adult supernatural/paranormal genre).  It took me a long time to sell my first novel.  I have a folder filled with rejection letters – over a hundred. My favorite one is from an editor who said: “While this is an interesting project, I do not feel it is strong enough to compete in today’s competitive Young Adult market.”  That same Young Adult novel, Blue is for Nightmares, has sold over 200,000 copies, been translated into numerous languages and has appeared on many different award lists, not to mention it’s been optioned for a TV series.

So, in addition to doing your homework, my next bit of advice is to persevere.  There are many talented writers who give up after 5, 10 or even 50 rejection letters.  Be open to learning and to getting better at your craft.  If more than one person criticizes the same point in your work – i.e. your main character whines too much – chances are you need to look at that point again.  Lastly, consider joining a writers’ group.  There’s nothing better than being in a group of like-minded writers who can help inspire and cheer you on, and who can provide constructive feedback that can help to strengthen your work.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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Deadly Little SecretDeadly Little Lessons (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels (Hardcover))Blue is for NightmaresProject 17     VibesSaraswati's WayTracks

Writing Teen Novels
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