Writing Novels For Teens Versus For Adults, by April Henry
I had published five books for adults before my first teen book came out. In fact, when I wrote it I thought it was a novel for adults that just happened to have a 16-year-old main character. But my agent, who represents a lot of Young Adult writers, broke the news to me: I had written a Young Adult book.
Since then, I’ve had a foot in both worlds. Every year, I usually write one book for adults and one book for teens. So what’s differente and what’s the same?
• All POV (point of view) characters must be kids (unless a very short walk on, like
the cop in Hoot).
• Parents or teachers cannot save the day; teens must. This is why you will so often find kids who are orphans, or who have a dead mom or non-functioning parents.
• YA lit has great built-in obstacles: cliques, coming of age, finding out who you are, peer pressure, family dynamics, dealing with parents divorce, prom, homecoming, falling in love for the first time, etc.
• Many YA books are in the first person, to help the reader more readily identify with the character.
• The books usually take place over a shorter period of time, usually no longer than a year.
• Books are typically much shorter- 50,000 words is common, versus say, 80,000 to 90,000 for adults (although fantasy is often longer).
• It’s okay to have swearing or fairly graphic sex, but it might limit how many teachers will assign your book to readers in your intended age group, or the age group you can appeal to, in hardcover (when kids don’t usually buy their own books). Graphic violence may even be a harder sell.
• An “issue-oriented” book, like a book about being a teen-aged father, or a book about having a sibling with leukemia, may garner a lot of librarian support. And librarian support is key to success in the YA world.
Pretty much anything goes.
• You don’t necessarily need an agent, especially with books for younger readers.
This is more common for older writers who have developed relationships with editors.
• Editors still accept things from people they meet at conferences
• It’s tougher to get into children’s magazines, and there are fewer of them than magazines for adults.
• And in order to get a short story in a children’s anthology, you pretty much have to have published elsewhere.
• You have to have an agent for fiction.
• It’s possible to not be agented for non-fiction.
• There’s a great deal more opportunity for poems and short stories to be published in literary journals for adults.
• Your readership changes every few years as the readers grow up. They read your books only for a brief time period, say middle school, then move on to adult books. When these teens reache adulthood, they might not care about your next YA novel. That makes it very hard to develop a following. That’s one more reason why librarians are so important, because if they like your books, they will recommend them to each new wave of kids.
• At the same time, if you have a lot of books out there, kids will devour them and not care if they were published this year or five years ago.
• Kids have big emotions about everything, and their feelings about writers are no exception. They will pour out their stories to you, friend you on Facebook (and think you are really friends), hand you poems they wrote and ask what you think, and even ask you to sign their hands.
• Teens ask what adults secretly want to know “How much do you make?”
• When you write for adults, each book that is released supposedly increases your readership. If readers like your work, they will buy all your future books and your career builds on itself. A fan may stick with you for thirty years.
• Some adults will come to signings just to get your signature, because they see your book as collectible.
• Adults are cool and dispassionate.
Success of a book
• For children’s literature, there are more “professional” review options, like Hornbook or VOYA, than there are for adult books.
• Reviews trickle in for months after the book is published.
• Librarians are vital to success.
• There are many more opportunities for promotion in YA – libraries, schools, conferences, online, etc – opportunities that aren’t necessarily available to writers of adult books.
• Your publisher gives you a longer time to prove yourself via sales.
• It’s not unheard of for a picture book to be in print for 15 or more years.
• Your book might be named to one of the important library lists a year after publication (such as YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers)
• Your book might be named to a state list years later (states like Texas can result in tons of sales)
• Either of the above can mean the sale of many copies over time.
• There’s a better chance you can actually make a living.
• Reviews come in much sooner for adult books.
• You have about 6-8 weeks to show success in hardcover.
• After that, most of your books are returned for credit and the new hard covers take their place.
• Librarians aren’t as important to the cycle.
April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com
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