Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writing and Selling the YA novel (review)

Have I told you lately how I love you? :) I know I'm a sap, but thank you for all the well-wishes. I'm going to work tomorrow, because I'm at that point where I'd be missing work more due to wanting to veg under the kotatsu (heated table) than actual illness. Although my ear is still in a diving contest. Hope it wins.

Anyhoosy, I read 2 YA craft books recently. The first wasn't a good fit for me. ( I hope I don't freak when agents tell me that, because I get it. Totally.) The second was WRITING & SELLING THE YA NOVEL by K.L. Going, author of FAT KID RULES THE WORLD.

1. The Layout

I'm a total sucker for quirks- once they aren't overdone. Going set the novel out as a school day, with the reader moving from class to class. Some of the links worked a littler better (YA History in History class) than others, but I liked it overall. And of course, there was homework at the end of each class. You know how teachers would tell you that even ungraded homework was for your betterment or some BS like that- yes, I'm a teacher and I've said that- it actually felt like these things would be helpful.

Also I have the attention span of a gnat. Or a teen :) So, I was happy with the physical layout, which involved sections in different typesets and wasn't just a straight read. I have trouble reading non-fiction in just straight text.

2. The possibilities

I'm not a fan of people who insist their way is the only way, unless it irrefutably is.And absolutes in writing don't exist for me. This was one of the things that rubbed me wrong in the first YA craft book. It's not a problem Going has. She points out several possibilities, but she doesn't ignore the repercussions. For example, yes, you can include sex in your MS, but there will be people who aren't happy about it.

3. Teen feedback

One of the biggest problems for older writers of YA who don't have kids or teach, is that they are out of contact with teens. And watching Gossip Girl is not going to help. I mean, I've been out of my teens for 8 years, I can't say that that's not how teens are in NYC today, but I spent the whole weekend watching Dawson's Creek. The characters and I are the same age. I was 16 in '98 and I didn't use the dialog they did. Maybe that's how they talked in Massachussets but I doubt it.

It's hard to figure out what's authentic without access to teens. But Going sent out a survey to teens across the US and Canada asking things like:

Who was a memorable character and why?
Do you prefer fantasy of contemporary worlds?
What makes a teen voice sound fake?
What is your biggest pet peeve in teen novels?

The results were sometimes expected, sometimes a complete shock, but always interesting.

4. Idea- character- plot

This is a personal preference and Going did not say you have to do it this way. It's just the way she organised her book, and, I gather, the method she uses. Some of the craft books I've read insist on Plot, then Character, which I've never done. It was good to see someone else who did it the same way.

5. Examples

She used lots of examples to highlight what she meant. I felt like there were too many from her own books, but that's a personal preference, because I'd never teach using my own book. Other people she cited however included Orson Scott Card, Virginia Euwer Wolff, E.R Frank, An Na, etc.

And she also wrote examples specifically to show her point. In the chapter on POV for example, she rewrote the same concept in 5 versions.

6. Resources

Some of us have been out of the YA realm for quite a while. I'm 28, and it feels like a million years for me. And there are those who are older. We're not sure what's good YA, other than the ones at the box office. And while I like Twilight, I have no desire to base my entire YA career on it.

Going cites acclaimed and bestsellin YA throughout the book, and she also gives a list of YA "through the ages" so you can read what was YA in earlier times.

7. Da bizz

There are very extensive sections dealing with the business: queries, blogging, critique groups, approaching libraries. And while she advises against it, there's even a section on contracts and terms and things to watch out for, for those who think they want to navigate those [Query]shark-infested waters without an agent.

8. Overall

I feel like I learned a lot from this book. I definitely intend to read some of the books she cites in the history section and in general. And the business and plotting sections will serve as reference material.

Oh, and I suppose it's about time I chose a winner-type person for ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. So off to and


that's er

Natalie Aguirre!!!

Natalie email me at muchlanguage (at) gmail (dot) com with a name and mailing address. Congrats!


Don't forget to swing by tomorrow for our first agent interview! The lovely Kathleen Ortiz will be gracing our presence tomorrow!

PS, Blogger likes me again, so I can pre-schedule posts. This can only end well :)


E.J. Wesley said...

Great review, Claire. Get to feeling better!

Margo Kelly said...

I totally agree with teen feedback being necessary!! I will have to check out this book. Thanks.

Marsha Sigman said...

You know I love you! Glad you are feeling better, and that book sounds really good.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Cool! I'm so excited I won. I'll e-mail you.