When Wanda Ernstberger contacted me her short story "The Next Shakespeare," I was dubious: I'm not a particular fan of YA short fiction, as you may remember. "The Next Shakespeare," though, was a pleasant surprise, and I think it would be perfect for the crowd just transitioning from middle grade to YA. You can find it for sale on Barnes & Noble and on Amazon, but I don't think I need to tell you how I feel about Amazon, either.
As part of her promotion efforts, Wanda was also kind enough to write a guest post on writing for today's teens. Take it away, Wanda!
*Writing for Today’s Savvy Teens
J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer proved young people like to read, so it’s no secret YA is today’s hot genre. But, how does a writer break into this lucrative market?
First of all, forget they are a “market.” They’re teens. Today’s teens are mature, articulate and have powerful radars to detect whatever is “phoney,” so don’t reach for their wallets, reach for their hearts. Here are some tips for connecting with today’s savvy teen readers:
1. Be authentic
The characters have to be real. Their relationships, worries and hobbies have to reflect who they are, and their problems have to be believable. To gain these insights, observe how teens interact with their friends, siblings and adults. Listen to them on the street, on the bus, at the mall (but don’t be a stalker. Making your audience run away won’t do anything your career. Or your reputation).
2. Don’t follow trends
What’s hot today might not be popular tomorrow. Sadly, it takes less time for an elephant to give birth than for a book to be released. If you write whatever is trendy today, the audience might have moved on by the time your book is out. In the same vein, (no vampire pun intended), use slang sparingly. Slang changes every few months and nothing dates a book more than using language no one has spoken for five years. Gee whiz!
3. Don’t talk down to them
Teens are young, they’re not stupid. Don't assume they all curse, use drugs, swear, or have sex on the brain all the time. Don’t think they’ll love a character because he dresses and acts like the latest pop star. Don’t veil a preachy agenda with cardboard cut-out characters and a just-add-water storyline. Insulting the audience does not bode well for a writing career.
4. Tell a good story
This applies to writing for all genres, but especially for the YA market. First of all, don’t bore them with useless dialogue and pages of description. Keep it moving. Next, create characters that are believable and sympathetic. Lastly, don’t worry too much about the type of story you want to write. YA readers are open to stories which range from earnest and heartbroken, to witty and hilarious. Most importantly, tell a story that comes from the heart. That’s the magic which resonates with any audience.
All in all, when writing for teens, keep in mind they are people, and as people they want to be moved, inspired and entertained. So don’t worry about how to reach that “market,” just write the best story you can, one that can only come from you. Your audience will follow.
As a savvy teen myself, I can personally attest to the value of that advice, aspiring YA writers! If you'd like to read more from Wanda Ernstberger, you can find her at her blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook.