The Middle Grade and Young Adult markets are healthier and more robust than ever, and that means the competition is fiercer, too. That’s why Writer’s Digest has put together our first ever Middle Grade & Young Adult Online Writing Conference, held exclusively on November 12th and 13th. You can learn more about the conference below, or at the link above, and check out an exclusive excerpt from Writing Irresistible Kidlit, by Mary Kole, on Originality and New Ideas, at the bottom of this post.
This online event features SIX award-winning and best-selling authors who will teach you how to write within the Middle Grade and Young Adult genres. Spend the weekend learning techniques for honing your craft, then (if you choose) pitch your novel via a query letter to one of four literary agents currently seeking new clients in those genres. That agent will provide you with a personalized critique of your query, and maybe ask to see more!
Learn Valuable Techniques to Hone Your Craft
Our craft-focused conference schedule is designed to provide the kind of education that all middle grade and young adult writers can use to take their works to the next level. The following sessions are confirmed for the event.
- The Self-Centered Author, Or Making Fiction Personal, by John ‘Corey’ Whaley: The best way to connect readers to characters, and their stories, is to make your fiction as personal as possible. In this session, award-winning author John ‘Corey’ Whaley will discuss how he has used aspects from his own life, things both great and small, to help develop characters and narratives—while sharing tips for others to do the same!
- Efficient Creativity, by Julianna Baggott: This workshop-style seminar reaches across genres and disciplines to challenge participants to reflect on and engage with their creative processes. Drawing on research, psychology, and the ideas of some of the most innovative and creative minds of our time, we delve into the creative process. From Steve Jobs’ mock turtlenecks to contemporary research on ants to William Carlos Williams’ poems written on the backs of prescription pads, we will question what makes an idea beautiful. Participants will be encouraged to reconstruct individualized creative environments to help generate, incubate and cultivate those ideas.
- Creating a Character That Your Reader Can’t Forget, by Debbie Dadey: Debbie Dadey once made a student cry because she came to his school—he had been expecting the characters in her book, and he was bitterly disappointed that they couldn’t make it! Dadey will walk you through four basic steps in creating layered characters that will make your readers laugh, cry, and never forget your stories. And there will be time for questions at the end.
- Finding Your Own Superpower: Authenticity and the Art of Writing for Kids, by Laurel Snyder: One of the hardest things about breaking into children’s publishing is that writers hear so much about “the market.” From demi-gods to wimpy kids, writers are sometimes inclined to follow these trends, but in fact, this is one of the worst things a writer can do. Kids, even more than adults, seek authenticity. In this session, award-winning author Laurel Snyder will discuss how best to develop a distinct, authentic voice and how to sell work that feels unusual and unlikely—covering both craft and the art of selling a book, with participants encouraged to ask wide-ranging questions.
- The Principles of Plotting a YA Novel, by Cheryl B. Klein: The plot of your book is the underlying structure of its story—the specific events, and the order of those events, that create the novel’s emotional effects. But how do you know if you’re choosing the right events for your story, setting them in the right order, and achieving the effects you have in mind? Editor Cheryl Klein will guide you through the principles that underlie most YA narrative plotting—a framework on which you can build all sorts of variations—and suggest tips and exercises to craft an exciting and emotionally compelling storyline.
- Deep Play and the Bull in the Bicycle, by Blythe Woolston: Play is the brain’s favorite way of learning—and storytelling is one of our favorite ways to “play.” We’ll talk about word play, about the role of curiosity and confusion in discovery, and why raising the stakes for yourself is far more vital than “torturing” your characters. Questions invited!
Pitch Your Middle Grade or Young Adult Novel to a Literary Agent
Join us for the live event and have a chance to get written feedback on your query letter from a literary agent who works with middle grade and young adult authors. Participating agents include Mike Hoogland (Dystel & Goderich Literary Management), Tanusri Prasanna (Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency), Lauren Spieller (Triada US, Inc.), and Brent Taylor (Triada US, Inc.).
Originality and New Ideas
As you cast around for your novel idea, don’t obsess about writing the story that nobody’s ever written before. You’ll drive yourself crazy. This seems like contradictory advice on the surface, but listen up: Every story has already been done. After all, there are only a few basic yarns in the world—boy meets girl, a stranger comes to town, a hero sets out on a journey—and they have already been iterated thousands of times.
Many writers experience a terrifying moment somewhere along their path to publication. They’ve been cruising on their story idea, often past the point of no return, and are fully committed to it. Then they look at Publishers Marketplace or on the shelf at the bookstore and—horror of horrors!—there’s a book that sounds almost exactly like what they’re working on and it’s already published or close to it.
Writers don’t realize how common this is . . . and that it’s never the end of the world. What makes every story unique in today’s marketplace is execution. That’s what you bring to the table as a writer. It’s not the story itself, per se, it’s how you express it, the theme you project upon it, the characters you create, and your own unique voice.
A fresh take on a story idea will be just as valuable as starting with a great premise. So when you’re considering your next novel inspiration, make sure you’ve got both pieces of this puzzle.
I’m a proud theatre nerd, and I wrote my college thesis on the work of Stephen Sondheim. He is a legendary musical theatre composer, and my favorite of his musicals to cite to creative people is Sunday in the Park With George. Plot-wise, it’s about legendary French impressionist painter Georges Seurat. But, as with all of Sondheim’s work, it’s actually about life in general and everything in it. (What can I say? The guy’s a genius.) In the song “Move On,” a character sings:
Stop worrying if your vision is new. Let others make that decision, they usually do.
French film director Jean-Luc Godard echoes this in a famous quote:
It’s not where you take things from. It’s where you take them to.
Story originality is overrated. Your stock in trade as a writer is your vision and your ability to execute an idea as only you can. Fairy-tale retellings are a case in point. If you’re proposing an “adaptation” where you simply transpose a fairy tale into a contemporary setting and change some names, you’re not adding enough value. But if you bring a truly original twist to it—like a world where Cinderella is a cyborg in Marissa Meyer’s Cinder—you’re in business, even though you’re using one of the most well-known stories in the canon.
Mary Kole has worked as an editorial intern for Chronicle Books and a literary agent for the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and Movable Type Management. She blogs about children’s book writing and publishing at www.kidlit.com and offers freelance editorial services at www.marykole.com. Her book on writing young adult and middle-grade fiction is Writing Irresistible Kidlit (Writer’s Digest Books, 2012).