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Handling Novel Writing Deadlines, by Paul Volponi

Chances are that when you land your first book deal, you’ll be sitting on a completed manuscript. You’ll be given a general publication date which will usually be aligned with an industry marker. Common release shedules are Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter – followed by the year. For example, Summer 2015. That designation will now trigger some deadlines for you to meet as a writer. That’s right: deadlines.

I know, you were probably thinking – Hooray, I’ve finished this novel and it will be published. Well, not so fast. Here’s how these deadlines generally run: After a gap of several weeks, your editor will return a marked-up manuscript. Nowadays, it’s mostly done electronically, to save paper and the cost of mailing. At this point, the editor will point out any potential flaws in the work, including scenes or lines which may be crystal clear to you but not to potential readers. Grooming the work in conjunction with your editor’s notes may be done several times. Hence, several soft deadlines, though each succeeding one may get a little firmer as you progress and edge closer to the publication date. During the editing of my novel Black and White, which features two narrators (best friends Marcus and Eddie) in alternating chapters, we made several passes through the manuscript making sure each voice was clearly distinguishable from the other. Eventually, there will be a hard deadline for a manuscript that is completed in its content.

No, you’re not done yet.

Next the manuscript will go to copy-editing. After a few more weeks, the copy editor will present you with possibly 100 inquiries: spelling, meaning, accurate connections to worldly events, detail consistency and other things you would never have imagined. This will provide you with another deadline (usually a short one) to resolve all of these inquiries.

In my teen novel Rikers High the copy editor had a tough time with authentic jail slang. That slowed the process down a bit and was fairly frustrating.

Writers can feel a lot of pressure to meet these deadlines. I’ve been through this process 11 times with three different publishers, from the world’s biggest to a small one-man operation. It can either move ahead easily or be very daunting, depending on the work, the publisher and what’s going on in your life at the time. I was able to make every deadline for my first 10 novels, including having to face a change of editor mid-stream on my 8th work. It wasn’t until my most recent time through the process that a particular deadline couldn’t be met (here I faced a change of editor and a new person coming in to run the publishing company). So the book was pushed back approximately six months. Having that happen is never a good feeling, especially when you’re busy planning and writing the next novel.

How can you deal with these deadlines? Stay loose, calm and focused. Plan your goals week-by-week, instead of day-by-day, to avoid any low feelings. I also encourage fledgling writers to meet their own personal deadlines while compiling a potential manuscript – deadlines such as, I’ll finish this new chapter in 10 days. I believe the practise really helps. Remember, this is your novel. No one is more qualified to get it successfully nailed down than you.

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

Paul Volponi’s bio page

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Black and WhiteRikers HighHurricane SongRooftop     Keeping CornerWinter TownCleopatra Confesses

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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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United States (and beyond)

    

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Australia (and beyond)

Rikers HighResponseThe Final FourRooftop     Hold Me Closer, NecromancerThe Night She DisappearedAugust

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Finding A Good Literary Agent For Your Novels, by Paul Volponi

Fledgling Young Adult novelists come up to me all the time and ask, “Hey, I’ve written something great. Can you hook me up with your agent?” I’ve even had a very nice librarian ask me that question, on behalf of her sister-in-law, as she was walking me to the podium to give a talk in her library.

I’m never really annoyed at this stuff. I understand that writers are looking for a way in, and think that I can help them. But there are some huge negatives in leaning on a friend or another writer to get you an agent.

What if my agent doesn’t like your work, but it’s good? What if my agent doesn’t like that particular genre (for making sales)? What if my agent is too busy and doesn’t give it the appropriate time? What if my agent doesn’t even return your email?

In my opinion, providing a single agent name as a contact is clearly a disservice to a beginning writer. Instead, I try to teach new writers techniques to canvass multiple agents. When I was in need of an agent I went to resources such as Writer’s Market and found maybe a dozen agents who represented the kind of manuscript I’d written. I emailed all of them, waiting to see who would respond in a reasonable time, or who would even reply at all. I did that over and over again, until I found an agent with whom I shared some common ground. Of course, we all know that a writer can send out 100 queries and get just a single reply, leading us to want to sign with that one agent.

I’ve had three agents in my writing career. The first two dumped me. I’m sure they found me too annoying in wanting to succeed and always keeping the pressure on them. Neither could sell my first two novels, Black and White (which eventually won a slew of IRA and ALA awards) and Rikers High (a Top 10 ALA winner inspiring non-readers to read, and even achieved a New York Times review).

Then I found the right agent through an email (she was just another name in a book to me) and then a follow up phone call. She read Black and White and said, “I’m sending it out to eight major houses tomorrow. A few of them will probably want it very badly.” She was right. Within a month, I was a professional writer with a two-book deal from Viking/Penguin.

So my best advice is to keep searching yourself for that agent. Understand how to do it. Refine your own personal techniques. It will make you more self-sufficient and ultimately more powerful as a writer. It can be a long haul until you find an agent who works as hard as you do in promoting your ideas. But it is certainly worth the journey.

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

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Black and WhiteRikers HighResponseThe Final Four     Code Name VerityHappyfaceIn Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's Story

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Coarse Language in Teen Novels, by Paul Volponi

Probably the first rule of being a novelist is to be truthful and honest in everything you produce. That means putting the right words into your characters’ mouths. For me, part of that truthfulness is occasionally having my characters use profanities. Now let me make this 100% clear. I never have my characters cursing to simply look cool or grab the reader’s attention. I only have them do so when the scene dictates a tense or angry mood in which real people might use these very emotional words.

Black and White, which centers on racial prejudice, has a fair number of racial slurs. So does Response, which is a about NYC hate crime, and Rooftop, which is about the shooting of an unarmed black teen by the police. The language is there because these are the real words I have heard people use in the real-life situations mirrored in these novels. The books just wouldn’t ring true if the language wasn’t correct. People committing a hate crime don’t say “please” and “thank you” when they’re beating some one over the head with an aluminum baseball bat.

Rikers High is about teens going to school while awaiting trial in the world’s largest jail. As you can imagine, the daily conversation of these teens, even in some less-than-dramatic situations, was froth with what some would deem offensive language. But that’s real. Should the writer change this reality and omit this language? If so, what would be the rational?

I have never had a publisher ask me to remove a curse word because they thought it would hurt sales. Many of my books are taught in high schools and even middle schools. It is true that I have encountered several teachers, from very conservative US states, who tell me that they are afraid some parents might complain about the language if they used my novels. But I’m very content to lose a few schools here and there, when so many reluctant readers gravitate to the novels, feeling the work relates to the lives they actually live.

Recently, I received a letter from a parent who was upset that a character of mine uttered a curse word as he was being robbed at gunpoint. The parent said that I was a bad influence on teens today because of the profanity. Sadly enough, the complaint did not reflect any concern over the fact that a gun was being pointed at someone in the scene. Most of the teens with whom I work pick up on that parent’s inconsistency almost immediately. As a writer, you will have to decide for yourself what language your characters will use during tense moments. My standing rule is: If it doesn’t feel and sound real, it probably won’t ring true to smart and street-wise teenage readers.

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

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Black and WhiteRooftopRikers HighResponse     Girl, StolenAugustThe Last of the Warrior Kings

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Choosing The Right Story For Your Teen Novel, by Paul Volponi

After having written 10 novels for young adults, I believe that the most challenging aspect of writing a YA novel is choosing the right story. Why?  You’re probably going to live with that story every day for a long while. In my case, it usually takes me anywhere from 10 months to a year to complete a novel. Then, following the initial writing process, there will probably be several more months of working with the editor representing the publishing company, making modifications on the novel. So there is little doubt that you need to choose a story that inspires you. Now, if you are writing to satisfy yourself, that’s terrific. Pick a story that speaks to you and have at it. If your goal is to be published, however, there are some things to keep in mind about story selection, especially if you have never sold a novel before.

First, be careful about picking a subject that is too esoteric. Even if your manuscript is solid, you may have a hard time getting a publisher to commit to a story about a sport such as crew (rowing). Yes, millions of people are passionate about it. But unless you completely write the eyes out of that story, publishers looking for sales might pass it by for a story on a more mainstream sport. As a personal example, even after solid successes with Black and White, Rikers High and The Final Four, I could not get a major publisher to embrace an idea for a novel based on martial arts. Also, books on historical fiction, such as the American Revolution and the Civil War, seem to have a very high bar to get over, probably because those subjects are tackled so often by writers.

Next, make sure the voice you have chosen for your novel is appropriate. If you are writing for young adults (age 13 and up), the voice should be one to which teens can relate. That may mean pulling back on your vocabulary. Remember, you’re speaking to teens, not your superbly read friends. I find that some fledgling writers fall into the trap of trying to impress people with their knowledge, instead of trying to tell a good and relatable story. Check out the voices in a handful of current novels in the genre in which you are interested. Listen to hear if you’re in a similar key. If not, have a good reason why, not because you have misjudged your audience.

The length of a manuscript can also be important. For example, if you are writing a novel for reluctant teen readers, you probably don’t want to produce a 100,000 word tome that would scare them off from reading it. On the other end of the spectrum, a shorter YA novel probably runs about 30,000 words.

On this final point, let me be very clear – you should always write about situations that inspire you. You should never be afraid to step out of the box if that’s where your creativity takes you. I have seen several terrific manuscripts from first-time novelists that break all the rules. Some of these manuscripts get glowing praise from editors. But in an odd turnaround, sometimes those same editors ultimately decline to publish, saying it’s not a good business decision for them. So, if getting published is your ultimate goal, choose a story and its corresponding elements carefully.

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

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Black and WhiteRikers HighThe Final FourRooftop     GenesisWinter TownShock Point

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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