Young Adult

I’m back home and eager to continue my series of blog posts about genre.  It seems natural to jump back in with one of the hottest genres around, Young Adult or YA.

Wild, impulsive behavior, hormones bouncing off the walls, soaring emotions, dark secrets: this is the stuff of young adult novels. It is the fiction of firsts. First crush, date, kiss, job, failing grade, drink, smoke, sexual experience, rejection, the list goes on. Think of one of your milestone firsts and chances are it happened while you were a young adult.

It may be helpful to define the term, “young adult.” In terms of the genre, a young adult is an adolescent, a teenager, typically of high school age, between 14- and 18-years-old. There’s some breathing room on either end, but a protagonist younger than thirteen would be considered Middle Grade and one older than nineteen would be a New Adult.

Voice is particularly important in YA fiction. As you read, you should be hearing the voice of a teen telling her story. A novel written as a memoir, i.e., an older person telling the story of his teen years, is not YA because the voice is that of an adult reliving his youth.

The YA protagonist should also have a keen eye for adult hypocrisy.  Teens are often censured by grownups that talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk, and they are fully aware of this. A sense of alienation from and aversion to the adult world is crucial to the YA voice.

Many subgenres fall under the wide YA umbrella, including historical, romance, literary, dystopia, fantasy and horror. Examples, in order of genre, include “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing,” “Anna and the French Kiss,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Divergent,” “Tithe,” and “The Forest of Hands and Teeth.”

Few subjects are taboo in YA and some books deal with difficult, sensitive topics, such as drug use, promiscuity, suicide, cutting and bullying. “Speak” tells the story of rape victim who calls the police during a blow out party. Unable to say what really happened, she is shunned and becomes a social pariah. In “Living Dead Girl,” a kidnap victim tells the horrific story of her life as a pedophile’s plaything. It’s not all heavy weather in YA and there are plenty of books based around adventure and romance, but even these can brush on hard topics that are of concern to teens.

YA novels are written for and marketed to teenagers. The phenomenon of the YA genre is that many of the readers are adults. According to a 2012 article in Publishers Weekly, adults bought 55% of YA books. Not surprising, since parents must be buying books for their kids. However, of that number, 78% purchased the books for themselves. YA books such as “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” became blockbuster hits because of their crossover appeal.

Has YA run its course as a hot genre? Apparently not. In sessions at the San Francisco Writers Conference, I learned that sales are still brisk and new books are constantly being acquired. To paraphrase one editor, there is a consistent, yet changing readership as children grow into teens and seek out YA novels.

Interested in learning more? Here are some great websites to check out.

  • Young Adult Books Central is a great place to find the latest books and reader reviews.
  • Adult YA readers may enjoy Forever Young Adult, “a site for YA readers who are a little less Y and a bit more A.”
  • Teen readers should check out Teen Ink, an online magazine and teen community.

Below you’ll find a few free-for-now Kindle books to give you a taste for the genre.

Brightest Kind of Darkness by P.T. Michelle
Nara Collins is an average sixteen-year-old, with one exception: every night she dreams the events of the following day. Due to an incident in her past, Nara avoids using her special gift to change fate…until she dreams a future she can’t ignore. After Nara prevents a bombing at Blue Ridge High, her ability to see the future starts to fade, while people at school are suddenly being injured at an unusually high rate. Grappling with her diminishing powers and the need to prevent another disaster, Nara meets Ethan Harris, a mysterious loner who seems to understand her better than anyone. Ethan and Nara forge an irresistible connection, but as their relationship heats up, so do her questions about his dark past.

  The Sword and The Prophet by Missy LaRae
Fifteen year old twins Lily and Tyler are on a mission. Escape from their abusive mother, hop a train to Charleston, South Carolina, and don’t get caught. They’ve been kept in virtual seclusion their entire lives, and in one night make a break for it and succeed. However, something isn’t right with their new Aunt and Uncle, and they realize they’ve escaped one nightmare and stumbled into something even far more sinister and deadly.

  Adventures In Funeral Crashing by Milda Harris
Sixteen year old Kait Lenox has a reputation as the weird girl in her high school, mostly because of her ex-best friend turned mean popular girl, Ariel, but maybe it has a little to do with the fact that Kait has a hobby crashing funerals. At one of these, Kait is outted by the most popular guy in school, Ethan Ripley. Yet, instead of humiliating her for all the world to see, he asks for her help, and Kait finds herself entangled in a murder mystery. Not only is the thrill of the mystery exciting, but more importantly Ethan knows her name! A little sleuthing is well worth that!

  Perfectly Dateless by Kristin Billerbeck
Daisy Crispin has 196 days to find the right date for the prom. There’s only one problem–her parents won’t let her date or even talk to a guy on the phone. Oh, and she’s totally invisible at school, has to wear lame homemade clothes, and has no social skills. Okay, so maybe there’s more than one problem. Can she talk her parents into letting her go to the prom? Or will they succeed at their obvious attempt to completely ruin her life?

Disclaimers and Disclosures

I found these books via Amazon’s Kindle eBooks store. Resources for free Kindle and other format eBooks are listed in my sidebar.

These freebies are limited time offers, so there is no guarantee any of these books will still be free when you click on the links. Grab them sooner rather than later.

Writers’ Conference Resources

I’ve come to the end of my San Francisco working holiday. I stayed an extra week in the city, cat sitting the magnificent Spot.

Sun Spot

Spot has found her sweet spot in the sun.

I spent some time wandering around my favorite neighborhoods, walking through Golden Gate Park, and being inspired by the city of my heart. My Crossroads series is set in San Francisco and I took the opportunity to visit some of the locations I’m writing about. In particular, the Three Gems sculpture, located in the de Young Museum sculpture garden, which appears in both “Fake” and the following novel, “The Wayward Way.”

I also emailed requested materials to the agents I met through the conference. As I got back into the writing groove, both fiction and blogging, I thought about the lessons I learned at the conference. It’s hard to put it all into words, since so much of it was internalized. I went to the San Francisco Writers Conference website and happened to notice that the presenters’ handouts are still available as downloads. You won’t want to miss these valuable resources.

San Francisco Writers Conference Presenters’ Handouts

Of course, the handouts are only a taste of the sessions. If possible, I highly recommend attending this or another writers’ conference. Along with lessons learned at the industry and craft sessions, you’ll also have the opportunity to meet fellow authors and interact with agents and editors. I found a partial list of 2013 conferences and festivals in the U.S.

2013 Writing Conferences and Festivals

Doing a web search using your home state or preferred genre will probably yield more. For example, the Romance Writers of America has a huge annual conference, while its local chapters host smaller events throughout the year.

RWA Annual Conference

RWA Local Chapter Events

Can’t afford to go to a conference? Consider volunteering. Many conference offer discounts or even free admission to volunteers.

Can’t leave town? Too busy to leave the house? Don’t let that stand in your way! There are online conferences and workshops as well. One I can recommend is the San Francisco Writers University, which offers free and paid online courses.

San Francisco Writers University

Writing is an art, a craft and a business. Attending conferences and workshops can help you improve all aspects of your writing life.

Speed Dating with Agents

How I Pitched My Novel in Three Minutes

The most exciting, yet angst-filled moments for me at the San Francisco Writers Conference came during Speed Dating with Agents.

No, not that kind of dating, though that would have been interesting. Speed Dating with Agents is a pitch session in the speed dating format. Literary agents are set up at different tables. Writers take turns sitting down with the agents of their choice for three-minute pitch sessions. At this conference, there were four consecutive time slots for pitching, each one 51 minutes in length. That meant a writer had 51 minutes to reach each agent, which included waiting behind other writers who had queued up to see a particular agent.

So, no pressure, right?

Yeah, right. However, there are steps to take some of the pressure off and help you appear more professional. And it is to your advantage to be professional. Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. Here are the steps I took to prepare for the pitch.

Find out which agents will be attending the pitch session. They should be listed on the conference website or brochure. Find out which ones are interested in acquiring books similar to what you’ve written. Pitch to them. If you have a novel, do not pitch to someone looking for non-fiction and visa-versa. Agents will often state what they don’t want. Someone looking for women’s fiction may not be interested in paranormal romance and will probably say so.

Perfect your hook. A hook is your novel in a nutshell. Easily grasped high concepts work here. For example, my hook is “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.”

Know your novel length and genre. Don’t guess. Know exactly what you are going to tell the agent.

Know your audience. Who will this book be marketed to? I was asked several times and I had an answer: Readers who like stories with cross cultural fantasy and emotionally driven characters.

Have your novel synopsis ready. Don’t ramble. If you can keep it down to a paragraph, you’ve hit the sweet spot. I know it’s really hard to do. The best advice I’ve heard is to look at back cover blurbs of novels similar to yours. Those are usually about a paragraph long and condense the story nicely. I have my synopsis memorized, but I still had a copy on my phone displayed before me as I spoke. This is perfectly acceptable, as are index cards. Here is my synopsis:

After his parents are murdered, 15-year-old Paul Lau runs away. He winds up in Haight Ashbury, hiding among the ragged street kids who beg for spange. As he learns to survive, he runs into and afoul of other members of the Crossroads, an underworld society of warriors, wanderers, beggars and assassins. He makes an ally when he meets Rhian Nolan, an Irish gypsy trapped in a lie. She’s honest with him, but he’s fake with her. No one can know his true identity, not until he’s ready for revenge.

Have a pen and paper ready to take notes.

So, how did I do? Pretty good, I think. I targeted five agents and received requests for partials from all of them. This is how it went:

I greeted the agent. Introduced myself. Named my book, genre, gave the word count and hook. Then I moved on to the synopsis. All this took less than a minute. The agents asked a couple of questions about marketing and audience. Then they gave me their contact info and submission details. In most cases, I was done before the three minutes were up.

I probably sound more confident than I actually was. Believe me, inside, I was quivering jelly. What helped was that I had attended the 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference and went to sessions that helped me hone my pitch craft. I’ll forever be grateful to the editors and agents at the 2012 conference who patiently listened to my different versions and gave me valuable advice.

Will I get an agent out of this? I certainly hope so, but regardless, I’m glad for the opportunity to build my confidence as a professional writer.

Need more advice? No problem. I’ve listed a few resources to help you hone your pitch. One is about query letters. A good pitch fits nicely in query letter.

How to Pitch Agents at a Writers’ Conference

How to Pitch to an Agent at a Writers’ Conference

How to Write a Query Letter

If you are looking for a literary agent, AgentQuery is an excellent resource.

San Francisco Writers Conference Days 3 and 4

I’m putting these days together because I attended a number of sessions on blogging and platform building, and I wanted to discuss what I learned.

You may wonder, what is platform building? It is something that has filled many writers, published and unpublished, with frustration and confusion. Basically, your platform is your presence on the web. Ideally, it should brand and market you. A single static webpage, a blog you never update, or a Facebook page you share only with friends and family do not equal a platform. Your platform has to have solid planks: constantly updated websites and blogs, an active presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, etc., and a Facebook page dedicated to you as a writer.

You might be groaning right now. I don’t blame you. I certainly did. We can groan all we want, but resistance is futile. The editors and agents who attended the conference made it very clear they expect writers to have a platform and market their writing even before they are published.

Now, you might be hitting your head against the wall and wondering how you are supposed to write when you’re going to be using all your spare time on blogging and social networking. The good news is you don’t have to do it all at once. Your first step is to pick one and get really good at. For example, go on Goodreads and become active in the forums. Once you get that down, go onto to Twitter and tweet about the books you’ve read. On Twitter, follow the people you’ve met through Goodreads. It’s very likely they’ll follow you back. Follow authors you like. Follow agents and editors. If you have a blog, mention it on Goodreads and Twitter when you get a chance, but don’t be obnoxious about it.  Make it part of the conversation.

I know how difficult this can be. While I love my blog and reading other blogs, I have no real presence on Goodreads or Twitter. This needs to change. I’ll let you know how it goes as I figure it out.

In the meantime, I strongly suggest visiting the websites of Stephanie Chandler and Chuck Sambuchino. You’ll find a wealth of information and resources on these sites.

There was more to the conference on those two days besides platform building. I attended sessions on “Why Fantasy Beats Reality,” “Troubleshooting Your Novel,” and “Sex, Drugs and Violence in YA Fiction.” Since four-to-six sessions ran consecutively, I had to miss out on some good stuff, like “Making Your Work Rejection-Proof.” Luckily, one of the session’s presenters, C.S. Lakin, has helpful handouts posted on her website. You can find them here.

I also heard two great keynote speakers:

Guy Kawasaki is a well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Apple evangelist, and best selling author. He has no trouble securing a book deal with a Big Six publisher. However, after some technical frustrations and control issues, he decided to go the self-publishing route, which he refers to it as “artisanal publishing.” You find out more about it here.

R.L. Stine is the author of “Goosebumps,” a wildly successful series of humorous horror novels for young readers. To date, he has sold over 350 million books worldwide. “Goosebumps” was also adapted into a popular TV series. Stine spoke about his life and career. He was fortunate enough to get a job as Scholastic Books at a fairly young age. However, he didn’t publish the first “Goosebumps” book until he was 49-years-old. So, if you’re thinking it’s too late, too hard, taking too long, remember that success doesn’t have an age attached.

Click here for more information on the San Francisco Writers Conference.

San Francisco Writers Conference Day 2

Another sunny, beautiful day spent inside, but no regrets. I attended four sessions and two keynote speeches. The conference has full attendance, i.e. sold out, so the rooms were packed. All the presenters had great information to share. Here are the highlights.

Publishing in Transition: The View from the Big Apple

This session featured a panel of editors from Big Six publishing houses. Each one stated that they frequently checked the digital bestseller lists, looking for independently published authors who had good number and good reviews. Basically, the stigma of self-publishing is gone. Self-publishing is now considered an alternate track to starting your writing career. But, if you want the Big Six to take notice, you’ve got be really good.

Hot Plots: Persuading Your Readers to Turn the Page

Authors Robert Dugoni and Mandy Hubbard discussed the finer points of page turners. Two important words to remember: So what? So what if my character fails? Why would it be so bad? For example, so what if Dorothy had to stay in Oz and never return to Kansas? Would that be so bad? Yes. Why? Because the Wizard has shown Dorothy a vision of Auntie Em dying. Guilt stricken, Dorothy becomes all the more determined to return home.

Writing Dialogue That Brings Your Characters to Life

A panel on writing convincing dialogue. My favorite moment wasn’t so much about dialogue. One of the panelists was formerly a journalist. Once, she wrote a story about alternative families. She said that at each household she visited, the first thing she asked was to see the fridge. The contents of a refrigerator can tell you a lot about a person or a family. She suggested looking in our characters refrigerators. I think that’s brilliant.

Luncheon Keynote Speaker Anne Perry

Yes, the Anne Perry. She was fascinating. I could have listened to her all afternoon. She told lots of stories about her writing and her life. My favorite moment, though, came earlier, during the Hot Plots session, when she did the equivalent of a literary photo bomb. When Hot Plots opened the floor for Q&A, a woman in the back made a statement, something like, “You only need to know as much about a character as is important to the plot at that moment in the story.” I remember thinking, “Wow. She stated that so perfectly.” That woman was, of course, Anne Perry.

Feeding Your Daily Writing Habit: 4 Steps to Higher Productivity

The presenter, Ellen Sussman, actually had 10 steps. The two most relevant for me were “block the Internet” and “save editing for later.” This is especially true for your first draft. Just write, don’t let anything interrupt you, especially your internal editor.

Afternoon Keynote Speaker Bella Andre

Bella Andre is a contemporary romance writer. Her traditionally published novels were respectably midlist. When she decided to self-publish, her writing career skyrocketed and she has sold 1.5 million ebooks. She told us the story of her success. Main point is that to successfully self-publish, your book has to be awesome. Put out a polished product, not just something you slapped together.

Great first full day. By evening, I was exhausted, but happy and looking forward to Day 3.

Click here for more information on the San Francisco Writers Conference.

San Francisco Writers Conference Day 1

I left Denver in subfreezing temperatures, with falling snow and a delayed flight while the plane was de-iced. I arrived in San Francisco to blue skies and 70-degree weather. Needless to say, I was overdressed, sweltering in my heavy winter coat.

Not that I was surprised. I know that February can bring some truly lovely weather to San Francisco. It can also bring cold and rain, so it’s important to pack for both kinds of weather. It’s all about layers and the first layer I shed was that coat!

There were two class sessions being offered attendees that afternoon. Unfortunately, my plane arrived right before the first session began at 2 p.m. It might be just as well because I would have had a difficult time choosing between Bob Dugoni’s “How to Write Your First Bestseller” and Katharine Sands’ “Convincing Agents and Editors to See Your Work with a Dynamite Pitch.” Still, I would have liked to attend one of them, so phooey.

I arrived at the conference at about 3 p.m. and still had to register. Then I had to choose between “First Page-A-Thon” and “Making Your Work Rejection-Proof: Tips & Techniques from Freelance Editors. “ Dang! They don’t make it easy at this conference with so much good stuff going on.

In the end, I decided to go with the “First Page-A-Thon.” What is that? To quote the conference schedule:

Bring the first page of your novel without identification. A panel of agents and editors will give you feedback on it.

Unfortunately, I arrived too late to have my first page added to the queue. However, it was really interesting hearing the feedback on the pages that were read. The agents and editors focused on what worked and what didn’t, and if they would want to keep reading or not. They gave suggestions on how to fix problems, the most common being needless repetition and starting the story in the wrong place. Overall, it was an entertaining and informative class.

Looking forward to a full day of classes on Friday!

Click here for more information on the San Francisco Writers Conference.

San Francisco Writers Conference

Tomorrow through Sunday, I’ll be attending the San Francisco Writers Conference. I attended last year and found it to be an excellent conference with lots of great classes, and plenty of opportunities to network with industry professionals and fellow writers. Afterward, I rewrote “Fake” and feel that I have a better book through what I learned.

This year, I’m planning to share my experience through this blog. I’ll let you know what classes I attend and give some highlights of what I learn.

Since my manuscript is still under consideration at Harper Voyager, I’ll be pitching only to agents. For those of you who don’t know, never pitch your book to a publishing house editor if you’ve already submitted it elsewhere.

In the meantime, I’ve got to ready my conference wardrobe (stylish office casual,) print a few writing samples and memorize my pitch. I know. I should have it memorized by now. I do, but I get nervous. That’s why I have a copy on my phone. Sometimes it’s just easier to read it.  I do have my elevator pitch down, though:

Think “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” meets “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.”

Wish me luck!