Writing for YA or Adults, Getting Noticed and Traits of Successful Authors

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By: leahmessina, Editor

This month our Ask a New Author Authors: Ellen Meeropol, Scott Sparling and Nichole Bernier tackle the issues of writing for choosing your audience - and in this case, it is what to do when deciding if your book is for young adults or adults (or boths). They also give some expert insight into getting noticed in the publishing world and they top it off by sharing what they think are the top three (or 4) traits of successful authors--advice everyone can use!

Don't forget - Send in your writing and publishing questions at askanewauthor@bookdivas.com for Ellen, Scott and Nichole and we will give the best question a Book Divas tshirt!

Now onto our questions of the month!

1. I have an idea for a book that I would like to write. Do I need to decide before I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) if I am writing for young adults or adults? I really think my story would appeal to both audiences.

Ellen: I don’t have experience writing for the YA reader, but I understand that the content is pretty similar these days, so I would imagine that the same material could be written for either market. Since I often don’t know exactly what it is that I’m writing until I have dug deeply into the material, my approach would be to jump in, start writing, and trust the process to answer the question of audience.

Nichole: I haven’t written for young people either, at least not beyond little things to entertain my children. But I’d think the first thing you’d have to decide is whether you’d have content or a point of view that would be either less interesting or less appropriate for either audience. If you wanted to hit the sweet spot for both audiences, some of my friends who’ve done it well—Joe Wallace comes to mind with Diamond Ruby, and Iris Gomez with Try to Remember—did it by making the language and concepts neither too simple nor too complex. You wouldn’t want to talk down to a YA audience, but I’d think you also wouldn’t aim for this age group if you wanted to dabble in more mature thoughts and experiences. Though some might disagree with that.

Scott: I have a bias: I think things get interesting once they come off the rails. If choosing one or the other is what it takes to get your pen to paper, go ahead and choose one. Just be open to changing direction when the story gives you a sign. Turning an idea into a novel is a long and sometimes hard job, and it helps a lot if you don’t have to pull the whole train. So let the story make some decisions for you. It’ll be messier, and at first it might seem like it takes longer -- but it’s a way of tapping into the subconscious (or whatever you want to call it) where stories live. And that’s when pages start to fill up.

2. I am writing a book but have been thinking of ways to get more “noticed” in the publishing world in the meantime. I know you can submit short stories to be published in several literary magazines. What do you think about doing this? Is it worth doing to build up my reputation?

Ellen: Some people can write both short and long fiction well, but many of us are much better at one than the other. So trying to publish short stories as a route to being noticed as a book author may not work for everyone. Another approach is to become part of the literary community by participating in the lively ongoing conversation about writing and books. This can be accomplished by attending conferences and workshops in person or online, or by talking with other writers, publishers, bookstores, and book bloggers on Facebook, Twitter, the Speakeasy, and other literature-focused social media sites.

Nichole: Getting short fiction published can get your name out there if that’s your forte, but as Ellen says, not everyone writes in that form. Contests work to that end too; awards are good for your bio. Literary agents and editors say they pay attention to both. It’s also worth giving thought to what sort of reputation you’re trying to build. Is your book fiction or nonfiction, and is it about a topic in which you have some expertise, or a need to develop credibility? Do you have a unique voice, perspective, or sense of humor for which you’d like a wider audience? Blog posts, articles, and other commentary can be useful in gaining name recognition. Even having an entertaining voice on Facebook with a high number of followers is a platform of sorts. It’s a group of people who enjoy reading what you have to say, and your perspective.

Scott: Yes. It’s worth doing. Also extremely time-consuming and filled with rejection. I have several stories I think could be published, and I haven’t found the time/energy/motivation to send them out even after Wire to Wire was published. My friend and fellow writer Yuvi Zalkow has prepared has a system for submitting stories. He explains it all here. http://yuvizalkow.com/blog/poop/ . I think his method is brilliant and provides something as close to a guarantee as writing offers. But I can’t follow it. It’s not in my blood. If it’s in yours, go for it.

3. Can you share what you think are the three most important traits of a successful author?

Nichole: This is entirely subjective of course, but for me these come to mind. 1) Fortitude: You have to be able to persevere. Books take years to write, years to edit, years to come to fruition with your agent and publisher. In those years there will be more disappointments and demands on your time than you could have imagined heading into it (and it’s better than you didn’t). 2) Watchfulness. You have to be able to observe the world and what makes people tick, then be able to call up 3) empathy for people even in situations you would not have imagined deserving of it. You can’t write convincingly from their shoes without it.

Ellen: Your question made me think about the difference between a successful writer (one who writes strong and compelling work) and a successful author (one whose work is published and finds its readers). For the former, I agree with Nichole about the empathy and the observation skills, and I’d add the willingness to revise and revise and revise. For success in getting work published and promoting it, the most important quality is probably perseverance. A sense of humor and a healthy dose of humility probably don’t hurt as well!

Scott: Nichole and Ellen are right. Here’s a slightly different take on the same thing. 1) A belief that you’re supposed to be a writer. The belief needs to be so deep that you’re not happy when you’re not writing. (Not that you’ll necessarily be happy when you are writing. Just less unhappy.) 2) Some natural foundation to build on. Maybe you understand stories intuitively. Maybe you’re good at putting words together. Maybe you’re a more keen observer of the world and people than others. Whatever it is, it helps to start from some strength and teach yourself the things that don’t come naturally. 3). Luck. I believe circumstance plays a bigger part in our lives than we like to acknowledge. 4). A support system of any variety or type. It’s too hard to go it alone.

Okay, so I gave you one extra. I’m a writer, not a mathematician.