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Why I Write Novels For Teens, by Emma Pass

When I was a teenager, ‘teen’ as a distinct literary genre didn’t exist on the scale it does now. At my local library, you could find series like Sweet Valley High and the Point Horror books, along with the occasional ‘issue’ novel, but when you got tired of the children’s section (where these books were also shelved) you moved on to adult books without a backward glance. By the time I realized I wanted to be an author, aged 13, I was existing on a steady diet of Stephen King, Michael Crichton and various other thriller and SF writers, and the stories I wrote were full of grown up characters doing grown up things.

As I got older, I started experimenting with different types of writing. Maybe I should be a crime writer. What about poetry? How about writing literary fiction? I even, very briefly, toyed with an idea for a picture book. Nothing worked. I was trapped on one side of a thick glass wall, with the writer I wanted to be on the other side. I could see her, but I had no idea how to get there.

Then I went on a weekend course run by a well-known children’s and teen author. I’d never come across her before, so, not wanting to appear ignorant, I read some of her books before the course started. It wasn’t so long since I’d been a teenager myself, and as soon as I started to read, I was hooked. Here was a writer expressing the rollercoaster emotions of those years exactly. After the course – which was fun and inspiring – I visited the teenage section in my local library and bookshop and discovered that, in the years I’d been struggling to become a writer for adults, teen literature had quietly grown into a genre in its own right.

It was around that time that it occurred to me that perhaps I should try rewriting the literary novel I’d been struggling with – which, coincidentally, featured a teenager as the main character – as a teen novel.

The novel wasn’t any good. In fact, it was terrible. But it was the first project I’d had fun with in as long as I could remember. The first characters I really connected with. The first ‘proper’ novel I ever finished, redrafted (seven times!) and queried. By the time it was done, I knew I had found ‘my’ genre, and I knew I had, at last, broken through the glass wall.

So what do I enjoy most about writing teen novels? Firstly, it’s the characters. I remember being a teenager so clearly – what a strange time it is, when the adults around you often treat you like a child, yet you’re expected to assume adult responsibilities and deal with problems that often feel far too big for you to cope with. It’s a unique space to be in, where everything is new and challenging and intense, and for me that makes writing for and about teens utterly fascinating.

Then there’s the sheer scope. A quick glance at the teen fiction section in any bookshop or library will show you that you can write about anything. You can write about teenagers in space or teenagers on the run from sinister police forces or teenagers fighting zombies or teenagers just going about their ordinary lives, and all the challenges that brings. There are no limits. Someone once asked me, “When are you going to start writing for grownups?” My answer? Not yet. Possibly never. I’m having far too much fun!


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Writing Teen Novels

Life As A Published Novelist, by Andy Briggs

There are many misconceptions regarding what its like to be a published novelist. I know many author friends who have told a budding teenage writer about some of the pros and cons, only to see the hope extinguish in their eyes. The ups and downs should never be told as words of warning, but simply told as facts.

“How much will I earn?” is the question everybody wants to know, and the one that most authors reply with glassy eyes and jaded comments that you can’t make a living out of it. Well, that depends on how much you need to make a living out of it. There is always a positive angle.

When you sell your opus, you get an advance which could range from a single dollar to, in some rare cases, hundreds of thousands. This is paid in three stages – when you sign the contract, when you deliver the final manuscript (after all the edits) and when it is published. For the sake of example, let’s say you sell your brilliant book for $60,000. You get your cheque for $20,000 (minus agent fees and don’t forget you will have to pay tax). Then you complete the book – which could take a month, several months or even a year. Then you get your next $20,000 (minus agent fees and tax). Then you sit and wait for the publication date. That could be from 6 months to over a year away. Only then do you get your final $20,000 (minus agent fees and tax).

Then you see your book on the shelf. What a thrill!  But remember, you need to sell $60,000 worth of books before you see any more cash. By the way, I don’t mean, if your book costs $10, you’ll see money after 6,000 copies are sold. You would only get (maybe) 6% per book, so, if it sells for $10, you would get 60 cents that goes towards your $60,000 advance.

It will sell, right? The publisher will do everything they can for you, right?

Only if you’re lucky. Don’t forget your publisher has dozens of other books to promote too. They do the best they can, but it’s up to you – particularly with books for teenagers. You have to get out to the schools to promote your work, do signings at stores, attend festivals, blog, tweet, write articles for other people and do everything else you can to get your name out there. It is a long and time-consuming job (he says, writing this at 1:14am, after a full day of writing a story with a looming deadline). You will travel around the country (or internationally) and be in a permanent state of exhaustion as you try to sleep in uncomfortable hotels – and if you are in a beautiful location, your hotel is all you will have chance to see. I have been up and down the UK but I don’t really have any idea what it looks like.

If you are lucky, your publisher will tell you to do all of this and help you out. More often than not they will leave it all up to you, assuming you know what to do. The best advice you can get is from other authors (and it changes depending on who you are speaking to). I have a network of author buddies who I can seek advise from, bounce ideas off or, more often than not, moan to.

Writing is a wonderful job. It can pay enough to allow you to keep doing it full time – but never forget: it is a job, just like any other. It’s hard work.


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Writing Teen Novels


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