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Working With An Editor On A Teen Novel, by Diane Lee Wilson

Having a manuscript accepted for publication is a heady feeling. You’ve arrived! You’re soon to be a published author. The sky’s the limit now! Look out, world.

Congratulations are definitely in order. Simply completing a manuscript is an accomplishment, but to have your work rise from the thousands of submissions and be recognized as worthy of professional publication is truly something to be proud of. Now, don’t let your success go to your head. There’s a lot of work yet to do and a good deal of it is humbling.

Publishing a book is a business. It’s a partnership between you and the publishing house. Don’t be arrogant and assume that your manuscript is the best thing to ever cross an editor’s desk. It’s not. So be prepared to work with your editor to make it better. After happily signing all of the contracts and mentally spending your first advance check, you’ll receive your precious manuscript back in the mail – with handwritten criticism all over it! Here’s where you remind yourself that your editor is working in your best interests; he or she knows the teen market and knows what sort of writing sells. That’s what you want, right? To market – and sell – your best possible work? So read through the comments carefully and as objectively as possible. I recommend arguing the points that you really feel strongly about, but don’t pick fights over little things that don’t really impact your overall story. Your editor prefers a different word here or suggests deleting a sentence or two there? Fine. Trust them to do their job.

One thing I’ve learned is that words are not sacred and that no reader ever misses what isn’t there. When I receive the final galley of a novel for proofreading prior to going to print, I’m always impressed with how smooth the story seems. There is no sign of what has been argued about; nothing appears to be missing or altered. It’s an improved version of what I submitted.

Sometimes the suggested changes are far more than a word here and a sentence there. When I sold my first manuscript, I naively thought I was finished. I did not expect to receive so many criticisms and suggested changes. I was so overwhelmed, in fact, by the scope of what my editor was requesting that I got teary and said to myself, “I can’t do this.” But after reading through the comments again and gearing up for the additional work, I rewrote several chapters, deleted one entire chapter, added some more backstory and altered the ending slightly to account for a character that had disappeared. The revised manuscript, I have to admit, was better. It was tighter, faster-paced and more satisfying.

Each subsequent manuscript has had its own challenges and eventual transformation. In Black Storm Comin’ I was cautioned to delete language that would be deemed offensive by schools and school librarians. I had merely been writing dialogue that seemed typical for tough Western characters but, keeping in mind that I wanted to sell books to schools, I softened the language where suggested.

I’ve often had to change the opening chapter in my novels. I like mysterious and murky beginnings that are often pulled from events in the middle of the story, and I did that in my most recent novel, Tracks. But my editor reminded me once again that these can be too difficult for young teen readers to grasp and that if I want to sell books I had to make the story accessible.

On occasion I’ve stood up for elements of my original manuscript. If I feel very strongly that a character would indeed act as I’ve described or if I very much want to tell the story as a flashback, then I argue my case. I’ve found my editors (I’ve had two wonderful ones) to be very agreeable to my position when I argue it. The key is give and take; I adopt nearly all of their suggestions, holding firm on only a few points.

Ultimately, your editor wants you to have a successful novel and is advising you how to achieve that. I recommend heeding their advice. Publishing, again, is a business. You’re the artist but you need experienced people such as editors, illustrators and marketers to help you earn money from your art.

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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'     The Night She DisappearedTarzan: The Greystoke LegacyHold Me Closer, Necromancer

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Handling Disappointment To Be A Resilient Writer, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

If you want to be a writer, you have to be tough. The road to publication is full of soul crushing disappointment. Before you find an agent willing to take you on, you might have to endure rejection from several dozen. If you are lucky enough to land a representative, then you might be treated to an onslaught of rejection from dozens of editors before you find the right one. Once you get over the euphoria of your first publication, you might get slammed with a few bad reviews, or worse, you might not get reviewed at all. Then there are the blogs, and the reader reviews, which can get so mean spirited you’ll want to shut off your wi-fi forever.

For a writer, there are endless opportunities to have your tender heart crushed under the wheels of fortune’s dump truck. So how to cope? I’ve been in the business long enough that I’ve developed a few strategies that get me through the tough spots, and I freely share them with you:

Talk to your bestie. I have a wonderful husband who is very good at talking me off the ledge. I’ve also got a best friend who thinks my writing is top notch. Find the people in your life who believe in you and talk about your feelings. A lot of writers keep things bottled up, but that’s just going to make you difficult to live with. Talking it out with a supportive friend can really help you get over a hurt.

Read writers’ memoirs. It always helps to know that you’re not the only one. Every writer knows rejection, and a really honest memoir will talk about it. I remember reading Graham Greene’s A Sort of Autobiography, feeling comforted to know that he chose not to publish his first three books. Knowing that a brilliant writer like him has unpublished works makes me feel better about the dogs I’ve got hidden away. Another excellent memoir is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet, in which she describes pacing her office in tears after receiving her umpteen millionth rejection for A Wrinkle in Time. What writer wouldn’t feel better after reading that?

Read some negative reader reviews for a writer you truly admire. In my opinion, Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series deserves every bit of success it has seen. Not everyone agrees with me. If I ever need to feel cheered up about a really mean review of one of my books, I’ll check out the one star reader reviews for The Hunger Games, or another great book I’ve loved. Most of the time, really cruel reviews are written by silly people, but I’m only able to see that silliness when the review is about someone else’s book. It always helps me feel a lot better knowing the person who didn’t like my book might be just as silly.

Remember disappointment and rejection are part of the job. Every writer, from Charles Dickens to Charlaine Harris, has been rejected. Sometimes it’s about your work. If you’re sending your stuff out before it’s ready, the rejection is your fault and you need to take responsibility and fix it. But sometimes you just haven’t found the right agent or editor, and you need to keep trying. Either way, move on to the next book or representative or publishing house, and don’t feel too sorry for yourself because just like the brain surgeon sometimes loses a patient, sometimes your work will fail to impress. At least for writers, no lives are lost when we fall short.

Above all, keep writing. If you’re working on the next book, and you’re excited about it, a disappointment about your last book might not sting so badly. As far as my own writing goes, I think each of my books is better than the last, and that always makes me feel hopeful.

You can try your hardest and you still might fail, but you will definitely fail if you give up. You might as well give yourself a chance. In my experience, learning to get over the disappointment that goes along with being a writer is a greater determinant of success than talent. I’ve seen plenty of very gifted people give up when they shouldn’t have, and I can only imagine their regret. So keep your chin up! Keep writing!

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

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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Novel Titles And Covers, by Carolyn Meyer

You’ve written a terrific book for teen readers. The idea is wonderful, you’ve done your homework and your facts are in order. The characters are fully developed, the plot is tight, the voice is original, the descriptions vivid, and the dialogue revealing and realistic.

So what else is there to do before your book goes out into the world?

The title and the cover are designed to hook all readers, but especially teens. You can’t do much about the cover, but it’s important to get the title right. Sometimes it needs tweaking.

Cleopatra Confesses was initially called Cleopatra’s Spell. Victoria Rebels was Victoria Rules for about ten minutes before I discarded that idea.

Mary, Bloody Mary came to me before I wrote the first sentence, having no idea it would be the beginning of a series. I wanted to call the next book, about Elizabeth, My Sister, My Enemy, but marketing wanted her name in the title. It became Beware, Princess Elizabeth. Doomed Queen Anne and Patience, Princess Catherine followed, although neither pleased me as much as the first one. When I began work on a book about Mozart’s sister, I called it Playing with Mozart. Marketing changed that to In Mozart’s Shadow: His Sister’s Story. I’m still not sure why.

Everyone agreed on The Bad Queen, and when we decided to add a provocative subtitle, Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette, we used that idea to add chapter heads based on those rules. Great title, but not all readers have liked those chapter heads.

It made sense to title my next book in the series The Wild Queen with another provocative subtitle: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots. Teens like it. Some older readers grumble that the title promises a racier story than the one I’ve delivered.

When I wrote the story of Shakespeare, with his sweetheart, Anne Hathaway, as the narrator, the title arrived with the idea for the book: Loving Will Shakespeare. There was a debate about shortening it to Loving Will, but I argued against it and won.

I’m happy with The True Adventures of Charley Darwin, but I’m puzzled to hear it called a “fictional autobiography”. Does that mean that every historical novel with a first-person narrator is a “fictional autobiography”? The label has not been applied to the Young Royals, in which Catherine, Mary, Elizabeth and Anne Boleyn all tell their own stories.

The cover is the most important tool for attracting a reader’s eye. In the course of writing more than fifty published books, I’ve learned that I have very little input. Usually the finished design arrives with a note, “Don’t you love this jacket?” and often I do. But sometimes I do not.

I love the jackets for Cleopatra Confesses, both the original and the paperback, and Victoria Rebels is gorgeous. I got to choose Mary’s gown for The Wild Queen. I love the look in the eye of Marie-Antoinette as she peers over her lacy blue fan, but the fan is Victorian, not 18th century. The fan remains and her look beguiles.

At the time of writing this I anxiously wait to see what the art department will do with Beauty’s Daughter, about the daughter of that famous seductress, Helen of Troy. I’ve just learned that marketing doesn’t much like the title. By the time you read this, it may have changed completely.

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

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

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Why I Write Young Adult Novels, by Beth Revis

Eventually, someone always asks me, “Why do you write YA? When are you going to write an adult novel?”

I try not to snort too loudly in their direction.

The thing is, it’s not like it’s an accident that I write Young Adult novels and it’s not like I’m just going to quit. YA is not the training wheels of adult literature.

In fact, if I may get on my soapbox for a moment, it’s my opinion that what makes YA a genre actually has little to do with the main character’s age. It is, in fact, the least important aspect of the genre. What makes a YA novel YA is: a fast-paced plot, dynamic characters and a character who is discovering his or her place in the world (this is where the age of the character tends to come into play).

These are the things I love in the books I read. I want a page-turner. I want excitement. The key here is a character who changes and, for the first time, sees his or her place in society.

An author friend of mine, Alan Gratz, defined the difference between YA and middle grade novels as this: in a middle grade novel, the main character still sees the world as it directly relates to him or her. The novel will focus on the main character’s family, for example, or perhaps the community – but the focus is pretty tight within those constrains. A YA novel, on the other hand, may start in a close location, but the main character must realize who he or she is in the world. This can be as simple as first love, or as complex as saving society (alternatively, it can also be as simple as saving society and as complex as first love).

In all honesty, I constantly question myself in my world. Is what I am doing important? Can I make a difference? Should I just give up? In all honesty, I hope I never quit questioning myself. I don’t have all the answers. I’m still trying to find my place in the world.

That is why I write YA – and why I will probably only ever write YA.

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

Beth Revis’s bio page

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Using Varied Narrative Styles And Formats In A Novel, by Paul Volponi

Choosing a type of narration is always interesting for a novelist. I usually have my characters tell their story in the first-person. I feel it brings intimacy to a novel. After all, the main character will be able to describe every sensation himself or herself in a very personal, and hopefully moving, way. I think you need a certain comfort level with your story to attempt this. For fledgling teen novel writers, a first-person narration may provide a better shot at publication. Why? Consider this: We are used to telling our own stories to people in conversation. We’ve had a lot of practice at it over the course of our lives. So maybe we are the most naturally polished at first-person narration.

In Rikers High, I have Martin Stokes, a.k.a. Forty (named after his bed number) narrate in the first-person so he can describe the fear and anger of a teen stuck in a school inside the world’s largest jail. When I wrote Black and White, however, the story of two best friends who commit a crime together and experience different legal outcomes, I needed two people to feel things first-hand. So I decided on two first-person narrators telling their story in alternating chapters. Several years later, I wrote The Final Four, which centers on the lives of four basketball players in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. There, four first-person narrators would have been too much, so I needed to establish a new third-person voice for myself. Also, by this time, I had slowly started to experiment with other types of narrative devices, including the interjection of newspaper articles within my novels, along with dialogue scenes written in play format. In relation to this, I decided to write The Final Four as if the reader was not only riding shotgun over our players’ shoulders, but also hearing the game on radio, getting TV updates, seeing player interviews, and reading that day’s newspaper preview articles about a game that was taking place in the moment.

My advice? Don’t be afraid to create your own mixed bag of narration. Don’t ever feel boxed-in. Use your judgment as to whether your narration, no matter which style you choose, might be enhanced by mixing styles of narration. This might provide the reader with a fresh perspective and interesting breaks before going back to the novel’s main format.

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

Paul Volponi’s bio page

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On Revising A Novel Manuscript, by Kashmira Sheth

How many times do you revise? The answer varies from writer to writer. Some writers write in their head before they pick up a pen or start typing their first draft. Their stories may come out more polished than those of someone who starts writing without much forethought and sees where the characters take the story.  Even if you are a writer who plots out the entire story, puts down a summary of each chapter on 3×5 index cards and knows exactly what the last sentence of the story is going to be, you still need to revise. There is no escape from revision!

Revision offers us a chance to do more than fix typos and make the right word choices.

It does more than make sure we sharpen our imagery, add sensory details and take out extraneous material.

Revision offers us another chance to re-vision our story – to reimagine “what if”, to see how a theme has evolved and how to make its impact felt by the readers. While writing a story we probably have spent months with our characters, if not longer. We have walked and talked with them, shared the same food and felt the same sense of loss or happiness.  In order to see the story clearly, it is important that, before revising, we gain some distance from our characters. For that big re-vision of the story I find that it is crucial for me to put some time between writing and revising. Once the first draft of the story is done I give my “writer brain” a break.

After a reasonable length of time I go back to the story. I read the first few chapters and think “Wow, this is good” or maybe “This is not so great”. It is tempting to start revising right then and there, but if possible, I hold the urge. I try to read the entire story without making changes, all the while thinking of it as someone else’s novel that I am only reading. At least once, I read the story out loud. That way the clunky sentences jump out, wooden dialogues reveal their chunkiness, and beautiful sentences sing and delight.

Once that reading is done I can think of the shape of the novel. I can think about inserting an entire chapter or taking one out in order to tweak the plot. If I want to tone down a character or even take one of the minor characters out I can do it at this time. I can dig deeper into my characters’ emotional world, plunge them deeper into trouble and make them come out stronger.

For me the subsequent revisions are simpler. I use them to fine-tune paragraphs and dialogues, ponder word choices, and rewrite sentences. I use them to take care of typos and check punctuation. These minor things can be addressed late in the revising process. The important thing to remember is that it can take several tries to get the real re-vision done.

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

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

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Plot Structure In Novels, by Kate Forsyth

Whenever I teach writing, I always spend quite a lot of time talking about plot structure.

This is because I think that it is nearly always the reason why a novel fails. A book can have engaging characters; a fast-paced, action-packed plot; and a fascinating setting, but still not quite work. This is nearly always because it has a weak structure.

Think of the structure as the framework of your novel, the internal architecture. It is like a human skeleton – invisible to the eye, yet the thing that stops it collapsing into jelly. Like the skeleton, it is made up of small parts, each linked one to the other, each doing their job to keep your novel working at full strength. The structure of a novel should fall into logical divisions, usually called scenes, chapters and sections.

A scene is an incident or event in a novel in which the action takes place continuously in a single place or time. Each scene should follow on logically from each other in a cause-and-effect chain.

A chapter is a division of the novel into regular parts, usually comprising one major scene, but sometimes combining several scenes.

A section is a collection of chapters, bound together by the point of view of the primary protagonist, by the place or time in which the action is set, or thematically.

In children’s and young adult fiction, the structure is usually more simple and linear than in an adult book, but this is a rule that can be broken. For example, The Puzzle Ring begins long after the adventure has ended, foreshadowing what will come.

Chapters aren’t just arbitrary rest breaks in a book. They should be carefully planned to control pace, to advance the plot and to work with the reader’s natural reading rhythms.

I usually aim for a chapter length between 1,500-2,000 for a children’s book (aged 8+), 2,500-3,000 words for young adults (aged 12+), and 3,500-4,000 words for an adult’s book (aged 16+). However, there is no rule – a chapter can be can a single word as in Frank McCourt’s final chapter of Angela’s Ashes: ‘’Tis”

I usually maintain a single point of view in a chapter. Sometimes I will move from head to head, particularly in the final climactic scenes when numerous characters may all be working toward the final denouement.

I will usually finish a chapter either at a point of high tension, i.e. some kind of cliffhanger, or at a moment of resolution. I call the first a ‘peak’ scene and the second a ‘trough’ scene. Having peaks and troughs varies the pace and rhythm of the book, and allows moments of rest before cranking up the intensity again.

I try to make sure each point of resolution occurs after half an hour’s reading for a child, and an hour’s reading for a young adult or adult.  This is so the reader can get off their bus and go to school or work, or turn off their light and go to bed. Most people read in this way. I know I do.

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Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

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