- North Carolina had another gorgeous autumn day. (Have I ever mentioned how much I love my adopted state?)
- It was Veterans Day. People told me thank you for my service to the nation (and I, in turn, thanked those who gave the far-greater sacrifice of service during wartime.)
- I attended my first author's event.
I learned so much from this wonderful group of young women and their moms. (For the YA writers reading this post, get thee to a book club. You will get way more than you give.) I asked the group if I could interview them, and they graciously consented. Read on and I promise that you too will benefit from their collective wisdom1.
Q: What do you like least about the current YA fiction market?
- There is too much sameness. Bookstores have entire sections of Paranormal Romance. We're seeing too many Twilight knock-offs.
- The storylines just seem too young. A lot of today's books are better suited to the middle grade age group than high school readers.
Q: What makes a YA book appealing to you? What would you wish to see more of?
- When writing a character, allow him/her to be:
- more real
- both good and bad
- multi-dimensional and flawed
We want stories with:
- more complex plots
- higher quality, especially in execution
- better writing in general (style, voice, sentence structure, literary devices, vocabulary, etc)
Q: How much slang is okay? How much cursing?
- Only use slang in dialog. Leave it out when we're inside the character's head.
- With cursing, it really doesn't matter. It's fine either way. But—if you do use curse words—don't let them be gratuitous. It has to flow naturally from the characters' personalities and the situations they find themselves in2.
- FYI... we spell out everything in our texts now. We might be a little easy on the capitalization, but everything else is usually correct.
Q: What topics can authors address in YA fiction?
- Avoid anything too cliched. We've seen plenty of books on typical teen issues.
- Give us more about relationships. Romantic relationships are still fine, but there are other kinds too. We have relationships with our parents, friends, siblings, grandparents, and teachers. Explore those.
- It would be great to have more characters who struggle to find their purpose in life. Why am I here? Where should I go next and how do I get there? Write books about the process of self-discovery.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring YA authors?
- Don't try to follow a pattern too much. Don't copy what's already on the market. If you do, you're missing the point. You have your own good qualities, your own voice, your own unique way of executing a story. That's the book we want to read.
- Don't cater to the least common denominator. Don't dumb down the book. We like well-written stories. We like good sentence structure and vocabulary. We want complexity.
- Let the characters be real. Let them make mistakes and suffer the consequences.
- Don't be predictable. We don't want to see the plot twists a mile away. But don't just insert yourself into the story and make things happen either. Surprise us in the right way.
Q: What makes you want to pick up a book in a bookstore?
- The Cover [the girls said in unison]
Q: Anything else besides the cover?
A: Back blurbs, although not everyone reads them. Some readers don't want to have too big of a hint in advance.
Q: Tell me more about what you like in cover art.
- It has to be cool.
- It needs a great font.
- We like photographs better than artwork, but it has to be good quality photography.
Q: What types of social media do you use most?
- Twitter, for conversations
- Tumblr, a little
- But Facebook? Not so much. FB seems to be fading away.
Q: How do you find out about books?
- Word of mouth is the best way. We get recommendations from our friends and our moms.
- booklists from teachers3
- Once we like an author, we'll research more books by that author on amazon.com or the author's website.
Wow. Are you not blown away by their wisdom? I'm so glad I asked them for this interview. The girls4, like their answers, were smart, profound, fun, and inspiring. I enjoyed this visit so much that I'll just have to beg, borrow, and steal my way into other such opportunities.
America, you have nothing to fear. The next generation is amazing!
1 The answers to interview questions include actual quotes from the book club members. The teens answered more than the mothers, but Moms are represented in there too.
2 The adults agreed with the teens on this issue, which is good since my characters (especially the hero) curse. I think it is organic to his personality, though.
3 There was a Language Arts teacher at the book club meeting. She told me that her booklists tend to contain classics. She said that it's hard to find well-written books in the current market that she can recommend. That, YA authors, is a sobering statement. Just sayin...
4Thanks to Ellie, Claire, Laura, Melanie, and Michelle for inviting me!