Skip to main content

Secrets to Success in YA

R.L. Stine, bestselling author the iconic Goosebumps and Fear Street series, says that with every novel young readers pick up, they are looking to answer one specific question. by Jessica Strawser, reporting from ThrillerFest 2010 (New York City)

I’m not sure I can think of anyone better to speak to what YA readers want than R.L. Stine, bestselling author the iconic Goosebumps and Fear Street series, among others—about 130 YA novels in all.

He says that with every novel young readers pick up, they are looking to answer one question: What kind of teenager will I be? In other words, they want to see themselves in your story, in your protagonist’s shoes.

With that in mind, here are the master’s four essential ingredients for any successful, saleable novel for the YA audience:

1. An interesting, believable, credible protagonist they can relate to.
2. A story told from the point of view of that protagonist, and that protagonist only—no head hopping. The closer you stay to the character, the more readers will be able to connect with him or her.
3. A growing threat to that character until it appears there’s no way out.
4. Lots of twists and turns—YA novels love shocks and surprises.

For examples of novels that do all of these things well, here are Stine’s three picks for aspiring YA writers:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Numbers by Rachel Ward
Dark Life by Kat Falls

Want to get your YA Novel published? Make sure you're on the right path by considering:
Writing and Selling the YA Novel

Image placeholder title

Become a WD VIP and Save 10%:
Get a 1-year pass to WritersMarket.com, a 1-year subscription to Writer's Digest magazine and 10% off all WritersDigestShop.com orders! Click here to join.

Also check out these items from the Writer's Digest's collection:
Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Beginnings, Middles & Ends

Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Scene & Structure

Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Description
Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Characters & Viewpoint

Writer's Digest No More Rejections
Writer's Digest Weekly Planner

Writer's Digest How to Land a Literary Agent (On-Demand Webinar)
Writer's Digest Magazine One-Year Subscription
Writer's Digest 10 Years of Writer's Digest on CD: 2000-2009

The Head and the Heart: 5-Minute Memoir

The Head and the Heart: 5-Minute Memoir

In this article from the March/April 2022 issue of Writer's Digest, Lauryne Wright writes about rejection, rumination, and staying true to the creative voice inside ourselves.

Sophie Irwin: On Connecting With Readers

Sophie Irwin: On Connecting With Readers

Author Sophie Irwin discusses her pipe-dream-turned-reality of writing her historical fiction rom-com, A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting.

Getting Started Writing a Beach Book

Getting Started Writing a Beach Book

Sun, sand, and surf are only a fraction of what a beachside setting can bring to your stories. Here, bestselling author Amy Clipston helps us get started writing a beach book.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Old Technology

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Old Technology

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have your characters use old technology to accomplish a goal.

10 Questions to Ask Yourself for an Airtight Plot

10 Questions to Ask Yourself for an Airtight Plot

No matter the genre of book you’re writing, certain questions authors ask themselves can help them strengthen their plots and, by extension, strengthen their stories, Here, authors Boyd Morrison and Beth Morrison share 10 questions to ask yourself for an airtight plot.

A Master Class in Failure (To Find Writing Success)

A Master Class in Failure (To Find Writing Success)

Failure is often a step in finding success but navigating the treacherous terrain of rejection can be burdensome. Here, international bestselling author Marcia DeSanctis shares a master class in coming back from failure.

Telling My Story: How to Work Through Painful Feelings While Writing a Memoir

Telling My Story: How to Work Through Painful Feelings While Writing a Memoir

When revisiting your past means unearthing painful memories, it’s important to find solitude somewhere. Here, author Laura L. Engel discusses how to work through painful feelings while writing a memoir.

Podcasting Tips | Brendan O'Meara

The Writer’s Guide to Being a Great Podcast Guest

More writers than ever are appearing on or even hosting podcasts related to their writing. Host of the "Creative Nonfiction Podcast" Brendan O'Meara shares how to make it an enjoyable and successful experience.

T.M. Blanchet: On Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back

T.M. Blanchet: On Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back

Author T.M. Blanchet discusses the unforeseen element of surprise in publishing her debut YA fantasy, Herrick’s End.