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The Young Adult Fiction Industry, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Working in Young Adult fiction sometimes feels like I’ve been let into a secret awesome club. It really is a community, a warm and welcoming little village of YA, comprised of authors, editors, agents, teachers, librarians, bloggers and readers. It’s a small world and everyone knows and loves everyone else. It’s such a great place and I don’t think any industry has quite what we have here in the YA world.

Positivity is the word that really springs to mind when I think of YA. Since I started writing it, I’ve become friends with other authors, and with editors, people from other publishing houses and divisions, bloggers who talk about my books and fans who send me emails. There’s no real divide, no “I’m an author, and you’re a (fill in the blank),” everyone is equal and friendly and we all have something in common – books.

The people who read Young Adult fiction are some of the most passionate people you will ever meet. Teens that read YA have SO much competition for their attention – television, video games, school (why did I make school third?), friends, family, jobs, chores. They make time to read. It’s something they seek out and pursue. Librarians and teachers love our industry because we get kids reading. There’s so much talk and debate, so much passion and deep enjoyment.

The one complaint I see pop up is about the opposite of positivity – the idea that somehow YA authors aren’t writing simple positive values-ridden books, that we write swears, and sex, and violence, and corrupt children and teens. I’d argue even the worst of these books are doing a positive thing by getting teens to read, by showing them they aren’t alone in their feelings, opening communication, promoting or even prompting discussion, and being a realistic window into the world.

Being a teen is difficult, it’s a lengthy process of challenging and changing everything you know about the world, closing a very long chapter of your life and opening a new one. These are weighty subjects. These aren’t just books to read and forget on an airplane ride, these books and characters bond with readers in ways few other books do. I see it in the emails I get, sometimes they’re a nice simple “thank you,” or “I really connected with that story”. Other times I get very heartfelt confessionals. These books matter.

That’s why I love writing YA, and why working in this industry is constantly surprising, moving, and magical. Because it’s not just an industry, it’s a living, breathing community. We all connect.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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Writing Sociopathic Characters, by April Henry

When you write mysteries and thrillers, chances are that you will someday write about a person who is a sociopath. In my upcoming book, The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, one of the characters is a sociopath.

Even though I had written about them, it took me years to figure out that someone I knew was a sociopath. People will often hear sociopath or psychopath – the two terms are basically interchangeable – and think you must be talking about a serial killer. But no. Only a few are. Most are people you might work with, live next door to or be related to. For the most part, they are people who leave a trail of broken hearts, empty wallets and frustrated expectations in their wake.

In some ways, I’m like a sociopath. I was born with no real sense of direction. I can be facing the setting sun and still have no idea where west is. I routinely get lost. It can take years for me to grasp how one street relates to another.

Sociopaths are like that. Only instead of being born without a sense of direction, they seem to be born with an inability to value other people as real, vulnerable human beings.

Robert Hare, PhD, is a pioneer in criminal psychology, specifically the study of sociopaths. He’s come up with some traits common to most sociopaths.

Sociopathic traits

Sociopaths have superficial charm. They are smooth and engaging. That’s because they are not in the least shy or self-conscious. The woman I know comes across well – at first. She easily struck up conversations with strangers.

Sociopaths have a grandiose sense of self-worth. They’re opinionated and cocky. They are so sure of their self worth that at first you might be too. The woman I know was thinking she should become a TV broadcaster – despite lacking any training or experience in this highly competitive field.

Sociopaths have a need for stimulation. They get bored, they take chances, they like thrills. They have a hard time finishing what they start. They are impulsive. The woman I know sometimes hooked up with near strangers.

Sociopaths lie, con and manipulate. It ranges from being sly to being outright dishonest.

The woman I know is an excellent liar. Caught in a lie, she simply layers on two or three more.

Sociopaths don’t feel any guilt. The only feelings they have about their victims are disdain. They have a lack of feeling in general – cold and tactless. I once saw the woman I know laugh because she had made a stranger believe one of her lies to the point the stranger cried with pity for her imaginary fate.

Sociopaths have a parasitic lifestyle. They are good at getting others to pay. The woman I know hasn’t had a job for years.

Sociopaths have difficulties controlling their behavior. They are annoyed, impatient, aggressive, hasty, and often angry. The woman I know ended up in jail for attacking someone.

Sociopaths have no realistic long-term goals. Or their goals are unrealistic – like become a rock star or a famous actor. Or, like the woman I know, to become a TV reporter.

Sociopaths are irresponsible. They may not pay bills, show up late, or do a sloppy job.

They also won’t accept responsibility for their own actions. According to the woman I know, nothing was ever her fault.

Sociopaths you have known

Sociopaths cause so many problems, but, at least right now, we have no way of curing them. Put them in the general prison population or in a mental hospital, and they’ll find ways to manipulate the other inmates.

In order for a person to be change, they must want to be changed. Dr. Hare and others say that sociopaths seldom, if ever, want to be fixed.

Think about people you have come across at work, at school, in your neighborhood, even at church. Chances are that there might be someone who embodies a large number of these traits.

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’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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Who Buys (And Who Reads) Teen Novels, by Elizabeth Wein

The headline of an article published on September 13, 2012 in the Los Angeles Times announces, Most Young Adult Book Buyers Are Not Young Adults.

My kneejerk reaction to this was, ‘WELL, DUH.’

When I was a teen I never had any money.  I got all my books out of the public library and the school library.  Every now and then I would love a book so much that after I’d read it about, oh, five times, I’d beg my grownup caretakers (my grandparents) to buy it for me.  Occasionally a new book would be released in a series or by a favourite author which I desperately wanted as soon as it came out, and then I’d have to ask for it for Christmas or my birthday or something.  Or, if I really couldn’t wait, I’d buy it and not go out for lunch for three weeks.

My teenage daughter is caught in the same bind, except that I have more money to spend on books than my grandparents did, and my daughter doesn’t have to wait for her birthday or go without lunch.

If you read beyond the headline of the LA Times article, you’ll see that the statistics say 55% of buyers of books aimed at 12 to 17 year olds are 18 years or older.  Of these, 78% claim to be buying the books for themselves.  Let’s twist these statistics another way.  Out of 100 sample shoppers buying YA books, 45 are between 12 and 17.  Another 12 are buying books for their children or grandchildren.  45 plus 12 makes 57… So in fact most young adult books bought in retail ARE actually bought for young adults.  Maybe ‘most young adult book buyers are not young adults,’ but it looks like most young adult book readers are.

The thing that astonishes me is that 45% of people buying books aimed at 12 to 17 year olds are 12 to 17 year olds.  Nearly half of all printed YA books purchased in retail stores are bought by this disenfranchised segment of the market?  That seems like good news to me.

The other good news here is that adults are reading teen books, too.

Patricia McCormick, in a New York Times blog post defending the power of young adult literature, points out why adults might be interested in reading books aimed at teens.

McCormick comments that YA fiction is innovative and risky, and points to some of the more exciting literature to come out in the past ten years – in addition to the obvious (such as the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games series).

As a reader who never stopped reading books aimed at teens, even after I stopped being a teen, I kind of wonder what all the fuss is about.  As a writer who is constantly badgered with the question, ‘But why are your books young adult?’, I am proud and honoured to be part of this risky business, where the pay is lower, the stakes are higher, the audience is fickle and the bar for excellence is constantly being raised.

***Write with New York Times bestselling novelist Elizabeth Wein in Hobart, Australia in November 2014

Elizabeth Wein’s author website: www.elizabethwein.com

Elizabeth Wein’s bio page

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Writing A Good First Sentence For A Teen Novel, by Diane Lee Wilson

Composing the first sentence of your novel can elicit screams of agony. It can be a difficult task because so much depends upon those few words. Will a prospective teen reader, already distracted by a myriad of electronic devices and entertainments, glance at this sentence, yawn and set your book down? How do you manage to entice such a fickle reader along to a second sentence and then a third?

As a practical matter, I have always liked starting my novels in the middle of a highly charged scene, ideally with one short sentence that hints at intrigue: “On the morning of September 16, 1860, my pa shot me.” “The little thumbnail moon gave no light at all; a friend to the thief.” “Better that you’d never been born.” Homicide, thievery, banishment – all themes that hint at an exciting tale.

In venturing to the local library, I found strong openings of varying lengths in many critically acclaimed teen novels. Robert Cormier’s classic, The Chocolate War begins simply, “They murdered him.” Laura McNeal introduces a mysterious character in the very first words of her lyrical Dark Water: “You wouldn’t have noticed me before the fire unless you saw that my eyes, like a pair of socks chosen in the dark, don’t match.” Then there’s Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which starkly states, “Here is a small fact: You are going to die.” (Okay, those aren’t the exact first words but they’re in bold type and centered on the page so that’s where your eyes go.)

With a first sentence as strong as any one of these, a prospective reader (and innately curious human) simply cannot resist continuing to the second sentence and then a third. Now he or she is like a fish following the bait. So you keep writing, keep tossing out interesting tidbits, not yet revealing the whole story. Remember that most teens have short attention spans – at least until they’re hooked! – so you’ve got to move things along briskly. Think of this challenge as crafting one sentence that leads to the next sentence that leads to the next sentence that leads to the next paragraph.

Admittedly, there are times when I can’t think of a good opening for a novel I’m starting, so for inspiration I’ll revisit favorite books that have hooked me early on. I’ll scan the first few paragraphs and try to decipher just how the author pulled me in. Was the protagonist in immediate danger? Was there an unusual setting? Was there an urgent problem to be solved? On occasion, the unique tone of a book or the author’s voice will pull me in. I highly recommend studying those authors that have mastered the art of the “tease”.

If I continue to be stuck on my opening, however, rather than yank out my hair and switch careers, I attack the book from a different direction. I just start elsewhere in the chapter. I pick a scene that I am passionate about and that I can easily visualize, and I write it. Sometimes I get all the way to the end of the first chapter without having created a strong beginning. Sometimes I get all the way to the end of the novel. What I’ve learned though, is that a strong beginning often reveals itself only upon the book’s completion. Once you’ve spent time with your story, once you’ve come to understand and love your characters, you’ll know how to begin their story in the strongest way possible.

So, in composing the first sentence of your teen novel, keep your teen reader firmly in mind. You’ve only a brief period to hook him, so rely on novelty and human curiosity. You’ll soon find yourself writing with confidence, with readers fully engaged.

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

Diane Lee Wilson’s bio page

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Characters And Story Development For Novels, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

There are several benefits to beginning the story development process with character.  First, it helps the writer avoid the temptation of over-plotting – of creating twists and turns that could collectively make up ten novels, never mind just one.  Beginning with character also gives the story room to grow organically.

A drawback, however, is that the writer could end up with a lack of plot – a story that doesn’t really go anywhere.  This can leave the writer feeling stuck and losing steam.  The story could also end up spiralling out of control, leaving the writer with a draft that needs to be extensively gutted.  When I first drafted Blue is for Nightmares, for example, I didn’t pre-plot at all.  In the end, a lot of what I’d written was extraneous and needed to be cut.  I threw away almost 200 pages, not  because they were poorly written but because they didn’t serve the story I was telling.

What’s best is to begin with both plot and character in mind.  Here are some questions to keep in mind as you do that:

1. What does your character want?

2. What is the conflict?  In other words, what is keeping the character from getting what he wants?  Conflict can be found in an opposing character, or it can be found within your character, i.e. if your main character wants to be loved, a lack of self-esteem may be keeping him from getting loved.

3. What aspects of character are going to affect action?  For example, if your character is lonely or feels ignored at home, she might seek attention in dangerous places.

4. What about your character’s background led to conflict with his opponent?  What need is he or she fulfilling?  What made him feel as though he/she needed to take this sort of control over someone?  You may or may not be answering these questions directly in a story, but it’s important to know the answers.

5. What is the climax of the story?  In other words, what is the highest point of tension?  Why have you chosen it?

6. Does your character finally get what she wants?  Why or why not?

7. How does your character grow?  What does he learn by the end of your story?

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

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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Should You Self-Publish Your Book? by Paul Volponi

I’m probably asked over 50 times a year by writers who have met with nothing but frustration when it comes to getting published through traditional avenues, “Should I self-publish?” Well, I don’t really have the answer. Just an opinion. That opinion is, “It all depends.”

Perhaps you are a cook who does many cooking demonstrations over the course of a year in front of a live audience and you have a passion to write a cook book. Maybe your audience has already asked you for one, saying how they’d love to own something like that as a resource. However, no publisher wants to back you in such a project. In that case, not only do I think that self-publishing (actually printing the book yourself without a vanity publishing company) is the way to go, I’d highly recommend it. Why? You already have the audience. Why shouldn’t you make all the profit after printing costs, which can be surprisingly small per book? Also, I presume the book would have a long shelf-life, allowing you to sell that first print-run for years to come.

Now, let’s look at the question from a very different angle. Let’s say you write teen novels or poetry and are wondering about going the self-publishing route. I would be very much against it. For one, you probably don’t have an audience yet. No matter what an unsavory vanity publishing company promises you about promotion (usually sending out postcards for an upcoming release), they won’t find you an audience. Also, librarians and teachers around the country won’t consider buying your book because they won’t know about it. Yes, there are stories about authors who self-published, arranged their own book signings and sold copies out of the trunks of their cars to cultivate an audience. Then, those grassroots sales (along with some very good writing, I presume) got a publisher’s attention, brining them a deal for their next book. I also understand that some lottery tickets bought do win, but trying to become a success story can be a heavy load for a writer to be burdened with.

I think this is the real question for novelists and poets to ask themselves before considering self-publishing: “Why do I want to be published?” If the answer is that you want a personal record of what you have created to be bound for your friends and family, I would never argue against it. If your ultimate goal is to cultivate an audience and draw attention to your good work, then self-publishing is almost certainly not the way to go.

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

Paul Volponi’s bio page

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