I have recently completed the manuscript for my middle grade novel, so I found myself quite absorbed in the young adult world, even days after finishing my draft. Today’s interview is with young adult novelist and good friend, Nancy Belgue, who shares her seven secrets for YA success.
1. Cultivate your voice. Voice is really key with YA readers. I find writing in first person helpful. However you do it, try to find a unique voice. Quirky, humourous, alienated, thoughtful, rebellious - the voice will carry the story.
2. Channel your inner teen. For those of you close to your teenage years, this will be easy. For those who are a little further down the road, it will be a challenge to get back into the head of your younger self. But despite changing times, teen themes do remain familiar. Social pressures, parental authority, alienation, family/sibling drama...
3. Consider your conflict. Conflict makes everything work. Your character must strive for something so it's compelling to make the stakes huge (see The Hunger Games). Of course you don't have to write dystopian fiction, fantasy or sci fi (although teens really respond to genres like these) to create great conflict. It can be done on a smaller scale (see Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson).
4. Think about contests. There are a number of contests - including one in the US for a first YA novel sponsored by Delacorte Press. If you win you get published! If you even come close – i.e. a finalist, you'll have something fantastic to put in your query letter. Check out the Canadian Writers' Market for contest info.
5. Read widely in the genre. The library is your best friend. Go and check out some of the most popular YA fiction as well as recent award winners. Get to know your local librarian. They can tell you what gets checked out over and over again and why.
6. Read Quill and Quire. Keep up to date on the industry news. I found my agent by reading an article about Susan Juby in Q&Q. She mentioned her agent, and when my first YA placed in the quarter finals in the Delacorte contest, I queried that very agent - got representation, and sold the ms in a bidding war to HarperCollins.
7. Join writer organizations. CANSCAIP for the Toronto area writers is excellent for workshops, networking, mentoring etc.
Just a few more basics: write every day, keep a clippings file for ideas that are relevant, find a writer's group, write in heat, edit coldly, let your story steep (i.e. finish it, then let it sit for six weeks before reading it over).
Nancy Belgue is the author of young adult novels, Soames On The Range (HarperCollins Canada 2007), Casey Little: Yo-Yo Queen (Orca 2005), Summer On The Run (Orca 2005) and The Scream of the Hawk (Orca 2003). Her newest novel, Colette and the Silver Samovar, has already been receiving great reviews. CM Magazine calls it “an interesting novel which addresses complex issues.”