As Stephen Colbert said to hit-maker John Green, a Young Adult book is a “regular novel that people actually read.” The popularity of Young Adult literature seems here to stay. I recently attended a writing conference in Los Angeles where any sessions on YA drew standing-room only crowds. Here are few tips on making the journey to becoming a published YA author:
1) The writing life: Write every day, or at least five times a week. Set yourself a goal of 300-500 words a day. This is akin to a diet regime or training for a race. One hundred words might be too little to feel you’re making progress and 1,000 words can seem overwhelming. But, over months, 500 words a night quickly becomes a draft of a Young Adult manuscript. I wrote my YA novel, SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN, while maintaining a full-time job and raising two full-time kids. Writing can be like brushing your teeth—something you do out of habit. You may find you don’t want to miss a day. I recently sat at my computer at 2 a.m. on a Saturday. (Glamorous!) Writers need to write.
2) Query time: First, be sure your manuscript is ready to query. This may be your one chance to impress a particular agent. The tricky part is—you may not recognize whether your draft is ready. This is where you either take a step back before querying and reassess the manuscript, or seek help from trusted advisors. The YA genre is sophisticated and extremely competitive. Be prepared to revisit, revise, and adjust your expectations of what constitutes success. (Hint: it probably won’t be of the overnight variety.)
3) Query tips: Study how to write a query. Queries should show your writing style, but be precise and to-the-point. Research some good ones by reviewing successful examples at places like Query Shark and Writer’s Digest. Find databases of agents at Absolute Write, Query Tracker, Poets & Writers, and Lit Rejections.
4) The road to rejection: Look for patterns in rejections and try to learn from the comments, especially if an editor or agent has taken the time to detail their concerns and highlight strengths. I ended up resubmitting my novel to my now-agent. She kindly agreed to see my new draft—and that led to an offer of representation. I am beyond fortunate to have a stellar agent in New York, but first I had to accept that my manuscript was not perfect and do the work.
5) Stay professional: Never, ever, write back to a rejecting editor or agent and inform them they are wrong, or argue with their criticisms, or say they will regret their decision. They won’t! Agents receive literally thousands of pitches. They are not going stay awake cursing themselves for passing on your project. We all get emotional when our writing is not universally adored—but do not reply or retort. When I landed my publication deal, a couple of YA agents who had seen my work wrote to congratulate me because they remembered my pitch. Don’t be remembered for the wrong reasons!
6) Experience real life: Juggling writing and jobs and children and loved ones takes time, sacrifice, and, sadly, many missed series on Netflix, but don’t totally neglect the rest of your life to make it happen. Not only do real-life experiences and relationships inform and inspire your art, these will be there for you on days when the writing world is difficult or frustrating or just plain hurts your feelings.
7) Keep on writing: Don’t stop writing, even when you become consumed with querying, or proofing and revising. Brainstorming a hundred words a day or jotting down scraps of dialogue in your notebook keeps you in touch with your creative spark even when you are super stressed and busy (aka: usual life). That spark will help buffer you from future disappointments and criticism.
8) Always keep moving forward: Consider it a good day if you are adding to your word count, making good connections with other writers and people in publishing, bolstering your social media presence, and simply becoming a better writer with stronger sentences. The world of YA is fast-paced and dynamic, but the publishing process can feel slow. I started writing SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN in 2012, the book sold in 2014, and it was published in March of 2016. You need to play the long game and try to enjoy your wins, big or small, as you go.
Jenny Manzer is an author and editor in Victoria, British Columbia. Her debut YA-crossover novel SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN about a lonely teen who comes to believe that Kurt Cobain might be her real father, is out now from Delacorte Press, Random House. You can watch the book trailer here. Follow Jenny on Twitter.
Photo credit: Helene Cyr