Monday, November 12, 2012

Be Not Afraid

Sunday was a spectacular day in many ways.
  1. North Carolina had another gorgeous autumn day. (Have I ever mentioned how much I love my adopted state?)
  2. 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.)
  3. I attended my first author's event.
I'm about to make a confession, and it's a statement that my introverted little soul never thought I would say: I loved my first author's event! Two hours flew past (at least for me.) After I gave a reading of the first chapter of Whisper Falls, the discussion started. And the questions flowed. We talked books, the craft of writing, historical research, the publishing business, social media...

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?
A:
  • 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?
A:
  • 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?
A:
  • 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?
A:
  • 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?
A:
  • 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?
A:
  • The Cover [the girls said in unison]
  • [laughter]
  • [silence]

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.
A:
  • 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?
A:
  • Twitter, for conversations
  • Pinterest
  • Tumblr, a little
  • But Facebook? Not so much.  FB seems to be fading away.

Q: How do you find out about books?
A:
  • Word of mouth is the best way.  We get recommendations from our friends and our moms.
  • goodreads.com
  • booklists from teachers3
  • teenink.com
  • magazines
  • 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!

40 comments:

  1. This is awesome, Elizabeth--and seriously, Spencer Hill Press is here to fill their needs!

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  2. This was wonderful! Very informative and interesting. What a great idea to go straight to the readers for this info. Thanks for sharing. :-)

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  3. Great post-thanks for sharing this!

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  4. Thanks to your interview subjects, Elizabeth! Very helpful!!

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  5. Their answers were so great that this interview really wrote itself. And Lisa is right, Spencer Hill is well on its way to being known for the quality of its books.

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    1. Good to know. Extremely helpful.
      As an experienced writer, and freelance journalist, but a new fledling with Inspirtional Y.A.Romance Fiction author, RWA member I yet need all the info I can accumulate.
      So, is Spencer Hill Press a traditional Publ.House, or do they incorporate eBooks, as well?
      Thanks for your sharing, Elizabeth. I'll check out the book clubs. And what of your titles may I find for my research reading? Thanks.
      Diane Martinez, nom de plume'DeAnne Marie DuMaine
      nursediane1609@gmail.com
      www.facebook.com/theinkpenleplume

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    2. If you're a member of RWA, there are several online chapters that may be helpful to you. I'm a member of YA-RWA; see http://yarwa.com/ for info on how to join. There are chapters for inspiration works, historical, etc. RWA maintains a list of special interest chapters on their website.

      Spencer Hill Press (SHP)is likely categorized as a "small press." It is not one of the Big 6 New York publishers. However they do publish in print (hard-cover and trade paperback) and e-book. They have traditional distribution, and their books do appear on shelves at B&N and indie bookstores. SHP has 3 imprints: YA paranormal, YA contemporary, and Adult paranormal. See spencerhillpress.com .

      My debut novel releases Nov 2013, so you can't read it yet. If you're curious about the books SHP releases, they have a comprehensive list on their website.

      Great questions! Thanks for asking and good luck.

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  6. Very informative, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing your interview.

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  7. Elizabeth, this is fascinating! We did a panel of YA readers at conference and to take it a layer deeper on covers, they preferred blue and purple in the color scheme. Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. That's great information too.

      I showed the girls an image of my cover that includes the back (which has a really gorgeous scene of a forest, moss-covered rocks, and the waterfall.) And they had a lot of positive feedback for it too. I'm really impressed with how mature their tastes are.

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  8. Thanks for this great info! And glad you enjoyed your first time!

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  9. I am not a writer, but what great insight. I had to share it on FB (not going anywhere for me. LOL)for all of my author, and aspiring author friends.

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  10. This is great, thank you for sharing!

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  11. I've had the same experience with my teen writing group. They are brilliant and amazing and so on top of what's real in YA lit. Love that! thanks for the insightful tips!

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  12. Some great women and some great answers. Thank you all! Xox ~Alethea

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  13. Thanks for the great interview and answers. :D

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  14. What a fantastic interview! Confirmed many things about the market and teens that I had only suspected. I have a fifteen year old boy of my own and he has expressed many of these same opinions. Very insightful post.

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  15. Excellent. Sharing with my YA writing friends.

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  16. Elizabeth,
    I enjoyed your post. Where would you suggest learning more about mother daughter book clubs? I'm interested. Thanks!

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    1. Fortunately for me, I attend church with one of the mother/daughter pairs in this particular group.

      If I were looking for other ways to connect with teen book clubs, I would approach local libraries about meeting with any they sponsored. Homeschooling groups might also be a good place to ask.

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  17. This is great, Elizabeth! Congratulations on your first author event!

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  18. Hi everyone,
    Thank you for all the lovely support. I'm glad that so many YA writers have been able to get here. This is exactly that kind of feedback we need from teens.

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  19. Lovely post. You're reporting a lot of what I heard from librarians at the YALSA conference earlier this month, including the surprising news that so many teens were seeking book recommendations from their parents. Cover is still king, although word of mouth is a big determiner in what teens read. And many teens are asking for books with that extra level of conflict and characters with big-time flaws.

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    1. The feedback is so consistent. I hope authors and publishers are hearing this and paying attention.

      And you're right about recommendations from their parents. When the girls said that, I asked for clarification. "Your moms? Really?" And yes, adults they respect (parents and teachers) have great influence even in high school.

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  20. Thanks for sharing this valuable information. It is similar to what I've heard from YA readers in many states. It's the reason I call some of my books "middle grade" and some "teen." YA covers too much territory. Your audience confirms that. Thank you. Deanna K. Klingel

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  21. Fabulous post, Elizabeth. It's true, teens aren't using FB or blogs. They're chatting with friends in the most fun and convenient ways available. Thank you for the comment about librarians having trouble finding good quality writing. I also appreciate and agree with the comment about having too little diversity in genres and plot in YA. There's nothing better than hearing what teens have to say.

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    1. I liked your post so much, Elizabeth, that I wrote a post on my Teacherwriter.net blog directing people to this interview. :-)

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    2. Thank you! Let's hope that enough publishing professionals (authors, publishers, and agents) get the message and deliver what these readers are hungering for!

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  22. Wow! FB isn't so cool anymore. Was wondering when that would happen, now that everyone's grandparents are on it. Thanks for posting these insights. So, obsess over craft, not social media. Love it!

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    1. I was quite happy to hear that FB is fading away (at least in this group's minds). I've never seen the point in having an author-presence on FB. I like it for keeping up with my family/friends around the world, but I prefer my blog or my website for professional interactions.

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  23. Wow, they just contradicted half of the things I keep hearing from agents and judges. And they agree with the teenaged Beta readers I've been talking to. They DO want diction and complex sentence structure. They DON'T want to be talked down to. And they want variety. Hallelujah!

    Hope for the next generation, indeed. Now, if only the publishing industry would catch up. >.>

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    1. Amen. As I mentioned in the blog, the girls had one of their English teachers there. She asked me a lot of questions about my book---and whether I had intentionally written with thoughts about good grammar, vocabulary, etc. I admitted that I had heard from contest judges, etc. that my diction was too advanced for most teens and I needed to tone it down. How nice to know that real readers feel otherwise.

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  24. Amazing. I, like you, believe we have an incredibly smart, authentic generation coming up. Thanks for reassuring me that my/our readers are looking for authenticity in our books just as much as we are!!

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  25. Great post . . . my debut novel coming out in January deals with "who am I and why am I here" so that's good:-) And it's under paranormal romance, but it's really only about 10% paranormal and 90% contemporary love story, so I don't think it's cliche. Thanks for the insight.

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    1. With regards to paranormal romance, I think they are mostly tired of paranormal *creatures*, such as werewolves, vampires, faeries, mermaids, etc. They like supernatural elements but not anything that feels like a regurgitation of TWILIGHT with different creatures.

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    2. Elizabeth, I neglected to say thanks as this information tells me I'm on the mark w/this one...which flows from higher guidance for which I'd prayed.
      I stopped work on other projects to write, and this title was *given - In Her Mind's Eye - Seeking a Proverb 31 Man, (as told by her Alter Ego). As I said in my first post, which I'm not seeing here but it may have a cascade delay, this is my initial Inspirational Y.A. Romance Fiction. Only it's about college students who are Freshman and Sophmores. It may be of interest to H.S. Seniors going into college. It is indeed not the same ole', same ole'.
      And what of your titles do I look for, Elizabeth?
      Diane M. aka DeAnne Marie DuMaine
      Fan Page - www.facebook.com/theinkpenleplume

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    3. Hi Diane,
      The inspirational market typically has a smaller distribution than mainstream. But it is a strong and growing market. Rachelle Gardner is an agent (with an excellent blog) who acquires for books destined to ship through CBA, which distributes books with an overt Christian worldview. I'm not sure if she represents YA--but her agency might. If you check out her blog, there will be info from other inspirational YA authors.

      Just a heads-up on the YA designation, the YA age-group typically includes 13-18. There is a new designation for college-age readers called New Adult. I suspect that might be how your book would be shelved.

      (The first book in my trilogy releases one year from today!)

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  26. Elizabeth,

    What a fantastic interview. You've reinforced some of my thoughts how teens view some of the social media outlets
    and I'm both impressed and encouraged by the quality of books they are looking for. I love that they are caught by a good cover since I think my editor went to bat for a fabulous cover for my first book just released.
    It sounds like you'll have a ready-made audince for your release next year. Way to go! KC Fox (Maggi on YARWA)

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  27. I work with a teen focus group, and they tell me the same thing!

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