Posted in Fiction, Publishing, Writing

My New Short Story was Just Published in a Literary Journal!

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I’ve been seriously writing fiction for 10 years now, and I rarely have an experience like this one.

Since I started sending out my work at the end of 2010, I’ve mostly received rejections. I’ve gotten so very used to rejection.

In the past five years I’ve written fifteen short stories, and about half of those have since been accepted to literary magazines or paperback anthologies.

But even the stories that were accepted took a long, long time. Sometimes years. This past spring I had a story of mine, “I’ll See You in the Morning,” finally accepted to a literary magazine after four years on submission and probably twenty drafts total!

And then also this year I had my short story “Character Driven,” which I wrote at the end of 2016, finally accepted for publication, which was made me so happy. I love that story.

That second piece was on submission for about two years before it was accepted. Two years doesn’t even seem like a long time to me anymore. Two years seems almost average.

So it was a total shock to me this past summer when I wrote the first draft of a new short story called “Walter,” revised it a few times, sent it out to five places… and was accepted to one of those dream magazines in mere weeks. From first draft to acceptance was ten weeks, a goddamn miracle!

The story was inspired by a real-life event that happened to me in Portland, Oregon, in March 2019. Sometimes it’s better to come up with a story from scratch rather than piece together a work of fiction based on something that actually happened to you, the writer. But in this case, everything worked out.


And the nice surprises kept on coming!

When I received the initial e-mail that said “Walter” had been accepted to Bosque, I was overjoyed. Ecstatic. I was floating on air for days.

When you get rejected as much as I do, an acceptance of any kind is a truly momentous occasion. In early August I was informed that my story would be published in November, and I figured I wouldn’t have any e-mail interaction with this person until November, maybe late October.

An initial surprise: Mere days after receiving my acceptance letter, I received a follow-up letter from Bosque’s editor informing me I had been chosen as the literary journal’s pick for Fiction Discovery of the Year!

I had to read that e-mail twice, believe me. I didn’t believe it at first. What a lovely surprise this was!

A second surprise? The editor reached out a week later about copyedits. I figured whatever changes she wanted would take me an hour, maybe two. If I was lucky, maybe just thirty minutes.

You know what the editor wanted changed? One word. She questioned one word in the entire story. I agreed with her that the word was unnecessary, so I cut it from the manuscript, and then sent the story back.

That was it. I was done. After spending an entire year with a literary agent who made me revise my book ten arduous times, to be asked to change a single word of my manuscript was definitely a lovely surprise, one I did not expect.

A third surprise? Yes, there was a third one! In mid-September I received another e-mail from the editor telling me I would be paid for my story because of being designated as the Fiction Discovery of the Year. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was a lovely gesture, and I was thrilled to receive a check in the mail a few weeks later, wow!


Were there any more surprises? Yep, the best one of all was this very week!

It’s one of the great surprises you can have as a writer — when the literary journal actually shows up in your mailbox.

It’s happened to me five or six times before in the last few years. And every single time it arrives not expected but as a total surprise because you always forget it’s coming.

I hadn’t thought of Bosque and “Walter” for a month or so. It wasn’t on my radar. I just returned home for a trip and checked my mail to find a package from Bosque, and I gasped! Here it was, hooray!

And oh my God, what a beauty this journal is. I say that every time I see my work in print (well, almost always), but after a decade of writing fiction and getting some of my work published, this is by far the most gorgeous literary journal yet. Here are some pictures below…

This was such a fantastic way to end my first decade of writing fiction. Such a perfect motivation to keep me going strong for many more decades to come.


Although I think of myself as a novel writer, not a short story writer, the success I had with “Walter” inspired me to return to the short form.

Starting in 2017 I promised myself to write at least one new short story a year, and I’ve stuck to that. I wrote a story in 2017 called “39 Pies” that has gone through twelve drafts and has been rejected at least forty times. In 2018 I wrote a long magical realism story called “Gretel” that has been getting extremely kind rejection notices, which is promising. That one’s gone through about ten drafts and I’m confident it will find a home one of these days.

Since ‘Walter’ was accepted so quickly, I decided to write a second short story in 2019, and so recently I completed my last new work of fiction of the decade, a story called “F” that’s written in the second person. I just started sending it out, and so far, only rejections. But hey, who knows what might come of this one in the new year?

Because of the success of “Walter” I have decided to aim for two new short stories a year. And to take risks every single time. I write middle grade and young adult novels, so it’s been fun to write adult fiction in my short stories. To write the kind of story I would probably never attempt at novel length.

To keep growing as an artist by thinking outside the box and coming up with something no one would ever expect of me.

So if you’re interested in writing short stories, now is a better time than ever to take a risk in more ways than one! Let my journey serve as an example of what can happen when you persevere, when you try and try no matter how much you fail, no matter how many rejections roll in year after year.

If you stick with something long enough, and if you give it your all every time, it’s absolutely true: you will get better, and you’ll eventually start to hear that lovely word yes even if you’re used to that ugly word no.

Let’s all see where our imaginations can take us in the months to come. Here’s to risk-taking and memorable short story writing in 2020 and beyond!

Posted in Publishing, Writing

Why You Need to Learn How to Write Compelling Loglines

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In her 2012 craft book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, author Mary Kole says,

A logline pitch is what most agents and editors compose to get attention for our projects. It’s a distillation of your book into a short, digestible, and, ideally, electrifying idea.


If you want to become a successful writer, it’s vital you learn how to write loglines.

This is most especially the case if you write screenplays or novels, although figuring out a logline for your latest short story can be helpful, too.

A logline can seem annoying to you at first. You might think, I just put six months into this script or novel. I just gave it everything I have, and now I have to find a way to pitch the thing in one to two sentences???

Yep, you do.

In fact the earlier you figure out your dynamic, electrifying pitch the better. The worst thing you can do is spend a year or longer on your latest novel, and then discover there’s no clear way to pitch the thing in a concise way to the people who matter — literary agents and editors.

I’m struggling with this a bit right now actually with my MFA thesis novel. It has two POV characters who only slightly intersect with each other until the very end of the narrative. Trying to figure out how to pitch this particular project has given me many a headache, especially since I’ve been working on it for two and a half years.

There’s a lot that you’re asked of as a writer, I know. Not only do you need to revise your novel or screenplay to the point where it’s ready to be queried, but you also have to often write a 1–2 page synopsis, which is a tedious process but necessary for most agents and editors.

And then, of course, there’s the logline. That brief sentence or two that can make a world of difference in your writing career.


So what exactly is a logline?

Mary Kole features a clear definition in her book:

The logline is a sentence that delivers all the necessary information about a project. The genre, the protagonist, the set-up, the problem or the hindrance to said goal.

You should in two sentences or less be able to quickly tell another person what your book or script is about in a way that makes that person want to read it. And you should be able to in as few words as possible get across your genre, who your main character is, the main set-up and conflict, and what the problem is for that character in reaching his or her goal.

Here are three samples of loglines from Kole’s book…

A kid with legendary bad luck must survive a juvenile detention camp’s secret agenda and unearth the truth about his family curse. (Holes by Louis Sachar)

A boy grieving for his crush receives a box of tapes sent just before her suicide that implicates thirteen people in her death — and he’s one of them. (Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher)

A popular girl has the opportunity to relive her last day over and over against to see if she can change her ways and alter her destiny. (Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver)

Notice had none of these three examples necessarily gives away the genre of the book, so if the genre sort of comes through in your pitch of the story, you likely don’t need to explicitly state it.

Just get to the story, the main character, the dilemma. Do what you need to do to ensure that your latest writing project is attractive to your potential readers!


No matter what part of the writing process you’re in, try to boil your project down to a logline.

You don’t have to be finished. You don’t even have to have started the novel or screenplay yet! I’ve heard famous authors say you should come up with the logline before you write a single word. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but some people stand by it.

Yes, at a certain point you’re going to need to come up with a way to pitch your project in a couple of sentences. Sure, in a query letter for a novel or screenplay you can write a little bit more than two sentences. You can usually get away with six to eight sentences or so when you’re discussing the story.

But figuring out your logline sooner than later will absolutely help you in the long run. It will help you understand what makes your project stand out, what makes it unique. Discovering the perfect logline early on will get you even more excited to keep working on your project and ultimately complete it!

And it will also help you find that all-important audience when that logline attracts the readers you want. Like beta readers, sure, but also agents and editors. The people who have the power to make a major difference.

So go for it! Come up with incredible loglines time and time again, and there’s no telling how much success you’ll have throughout your writing career.

Posted in Publishing, Writing

Why You Need to Take a Chance on Writing a Commercial Book

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You should write the book that compels you first and foremost, no matter its sales potential.

If the book you want to write might not be commercial enough, might not be the easiest sell in the world, but you want to do it anyway? Then by all means, write it.

I’ve had a couple of books like this in the past. A novel about two boys who meet on the first day of first grade and proceed to fall in love over the course of twelve years, that was one. I’ve tried to sell it on and off for four years now, with no success.

For the most part I’ve been lucky in that what compels me for the most part in my novels is commercial stories. Stories of romance and horror and suspense. Stories that will hopefully grip any reader who comes in contact with it.

Because here’s the deal. If you want to be a novel writer, at the end of the day, you need to at least grasp the concept of commercial novels, of sales hooks. You need to write books that lots and lots of people will want to read!

In her 2012 book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, author Mary Kole defines a commercial novel as the following…

A commercial book is one that has blockbuster potential, whether it’s because of a trendy genre, an engaging world, an unforgettable character, or a great “meets” comparison. For example, a commercial premise could be “Lord of the Flies meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and gets a lot of editor attention (if done well). Commercial books are larger than life and have higher stakes than most literary books.

I grew up loving commercial books, loving commercial movies, and I’ve always been drawn to larger-than-life stories that have high stakes.


And you know what? So do many readers, especially younger ones.

They want a story that keep them hooked from beginning to end. One that offers endless surprises. One that makes it impossible for each and every one of them to put the book down!

That’s the kind of book you want to write, whether it features non-stop action or features no action of any kind. It doesn’t really matter the genre ultimately. What kind of story can you tell that has big stakes, not small stakes. What kind of story can you tell that will transport the reader to a different place?

And what kind of story can you tell that has a great sales hook to a potential agent, editor, librarian, reader? What will make people want to read it?

Kole defines a sales hook as the following…

[It’s a] selling point. Is this book in a particularly hot genre? Does it feature romantic elements or a strong friendship story? Does it tackle a hot-button issue in a new way? Is it about an especially timely topic? Is there something to the storytelling that makes it stand out? A selling point isn’t a gimmick, but it’s a unique benefit that’s easy to get excited about and pitch.

Having a sales hook is important because it will actually get the important people who can make a difference in your professional life as a writer to get excited about your latest manuscript.

I write books for children. I want to get my books in front of children. But the only way I will ever get there is to write a book that will excite my agent, excite editors, excite librarians. And a really helpful way to do all of that is to write a book that has a commercial component, that has a hook of some kind.


Remember that you don’t ever want to write a book just to write something commercial.

All those gatekeepers I mentioned before will see right through that. You have to be passionate about your stories and characters, you have to care about the world you’ve created.

To write something just to sell it, just to make money, without any deep feeling or care for the story as a whole, will lead you down a lonely road that ends in disappointment.

At the end of the day you need to write the story you’re fascinated by, that you simply have to write no matter what. And even if it’s not the most commercial story in the universe, still at least keep in mind those elements that make up a commercial story in the months and years to come.

Because it’s super important, always, to consider your potential readers, as Kole talks about in her book…

[Your readers] want stories that surprise them, thrill them, and lift them out of the everyday with a once-in-a-lifetime plot that’s a big departure from their normal existence. What’s something they can’t experience in reality? What’s something realistic but unlikely to ever happen to them? What are some universal “What-if” questions all humans tend to indulge in and that you can drill into? This is the beginning of high-concept thinking.

Your readers want a story they’ve never experienced before. Something that will keep them mesmerized from the first page to the last.

Give them that story, no matter what story it may be, no matter what genre it might be in.

Take a chance on writing a commercial book one of these days… and then see what happens!

Posted in Fiction, Publishing, Writing

Wow, My Short Story is Being Published in a Paperback Journal!

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It usually doesn’t work out this way.

Usually I write a new short story, and I brace myself for two years or longer before it sells.

I have two stories I wrote in 2016 that still haven’t sold. Two stories that have been rejected more than fifty times each.

I have a story called ‘Character Driven’ I first wrote as a screenplay way back in 2005 before I eventually turned it into a short story in 2017 and received dozens of rejections over the course of eighteen months before it finally sold to a paperback anthology.

I’ve even had stories that took four years to sell, like my piece of creative non-fiction ‘A Window to Dreams’ which I wrote in 2012 and then sold to a literary magazine in 2016.

And like my story ‘I’ll See You in the Morning,’ one of my favorites I’ve ever written, which I wrote the first draft of in May of 2015. I revised this story more than a dozen times and I collected probably seventy to eighty rejections on it before it finally sold to an online literary magazine earlier this year.

Let’s just say I’ve had my share of difficulty with trying to sell my short stories. I don’t write too many of them — one or two a year — and so each one means a great deal to me.

Earlier this year I wrote my newest short story, ‘Walter.’

This was my first story I’d written after receiving my MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Reno, in 2018, and the process of it was kind of great.

For the first time in years, I was writing a story I knew wasn’t going to be workshopped. That I was writing more for me than anybody else.

I had an encounter with a homeless man last March in Portland, Oregon, where I was attending the AWP Writers Conference, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the encounter when I was traveling home to Reno. I thought those ten seconds or so held the nugget for a new story.

Wouldn’t you know it, in mid-April of this year I sent the latest draft of my middle grade horror novel off to my literary agent, and I suddenly found myself with two to three weeks with no creative project to work on.

These periods don’t happen to me too often, actually. Usually I’m writing the first draft of one novel and then revising the fifth draft of a second novel and then maybe tinkering away on the twelfth draft of a third novel. I usually jump from one project to the next all throughout the year, with little time to dedicate to a new short story.

But suddenly I saw myself with three weeks to work on something new, and the encounter with the homeless man was still lingering in my mind.

So I wrote the story. And I wrote it really fast.

I wrote the first draft in five days. I started it on a Monday morning. I finished it on a Friday morning. I wrote 800 words a day, and the first draft was 4,000 words exactly. The original title was ‘Spare Any Change?’

The following week I changed the title to ‘Walter’ and I cut about 300 words and added about 200 new words.

The third week I cut another 300 words, got the manuscript to a place I felt really good about it, and then I let the story rest for a month.

At the end of May, I read through the story one more time, tweaked a few final things, then sent the story off to ten literary magazines.

I hoped I might hear back from a few of them throughout the summer. I heard back from half of them. All rejections. But that was okay. I’m used to rejections.

In June I sent it to two more magazines, and at the end of July I came across a literary magazine called Bosque Journal that took literary stories under 5,000 words and ONLY accepted submissions between July 1 and July 31! So I sent it off quickly. The editors at Bosque rejected a story I wrote last year, so I didn’t have high hopes.

On Tuesday afternoon, I received an e-mail.

I’ve been hard at work on other projects. I haven’t even been thinking about ‘Walter’ much lately.

I heard the ding sound from my phone telling me I had a new e-mail. I clicked on my inbox. And saw the following word.

ACCEPTANCE.

That really is a great word, isn’t it? Especially when you’re a writer. Acceptance. Not rejection. For once in my lifetime, it’s not rejection.

I figured I’d was going to be sending ‘Walter’ to literary magazines well into 2020 and beyond. And I was okay with that, honestly. It’s my philosophy that you should send out a short story 100 times before you give up, after all.

I felt it’d be a miracle for this new story to be accepted in less than a year. I didn’t think I was going to hear any good news this summer, that’s for sure.

So color me surprised when I learned that the story was accepted by the editors of Bosque Journal, a well-regarded paperback literary magazine, and will be published in its ninth issue this November! How cool, is that?

This brings me number of story acceptances on Submittable.com to 5.

5 acceptances, and 428 rejections. Yep, you read that right.

This great news about my latest story is further proof that if you want to be successful as a fiction writer, you can never give up. You have to keep going no matter what. You might go a whole year receiving rejection after rejection. You might think your fiction is worth absolutely nothing.

And then one day, you discover your fiction is worth something. That it’s actually worth more than you thought. You discover you have talent, that you have something to say. Someone out there loved your story… and you’re about to be a published author!

Amazing moments like this one is exactly why the writing journey is worth taking.

Because when you’re rejected most of the time, an acceptance is truly an out-of-body experience.

My little story I wrote mostly for me is now going to be released into the world later this year… and I couldn’t be more excited.

It’s like what I’ve said before. You won’t get rich writing short stories, but if you love writing fiction, if you want to have a long career, it’s worth doing anyway.

So do what I did. Write the next story, revise it a few times, send it out widely.

And then see what happens.

Posted in Books, Publishing, Writing

This is the One Thing a Reader Wants

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In her 2012 craft book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, author Mary Kole says,

Today’s publishing marketplace is tough. Not all writers who set out to publish will see their dreams come true. And even if they do publish, readers will not automatically flock to your writing without good reason. The only thing a reader wants, at the end of the day, is to care about a character and a story. That’s it, that’s all. If you let them down here, they will not return to your pages.


The one thing a reader wants is simple.

A reader wants a character and a story to care about. That’s it.

A character. And a story. To care about.

Sure, there are other factors that will keep a reader flipping through the pages all the way until the end.

Big surprises. High stakes. Constant tension. A good mix of dialogue and description.

But a compelling novel especially comes to down to that one thing: a character and story to care about, deeply and completely.

I don’t know about you, but if I don’t care about both of those elements, I struggle continuing on with a novel I’m reading.

Especially when it comes to character. I don’t even need an extraordinary story if the characters mean something to me.

I just adored every minute of the third season of Stranger Things, and something that hit me by the end of the first episode was that I love the characters on the show so much that I’d still enjoy the show if nothing extraordinary happened.

If there were no monsters. If there were no big stakes.

If all the show did was explore those characters’ lives, I would still want to be there for every minute of it.


Such is the case with the best fiction.

You want your characters to be so compelling that very little could happen in the story, and you would still go along for the ride.

So when you do have a lot happen throughout the narrative, when you throw endless surprises and twists at the reader, when there’s a major death nobody sees coming, when an ending reveals something about a character that changes your entire perspective on the book…. your reader will absolutely love you for it.

Mary Kole is right: the publishing marketplace is tough. There are lots of reasons for an editor to say no to your novel.

What you want to do is write a story and characters that nobody will want to say no to.

That no readers will ever be able to put down… even if they try!

All a reader wants at the end of the day is to care about a story and a character.

If you can master that part of novel writing, there’s no telling how much success you’ll be able to achieve.

Posted in Publishing, Writing

Learn to Think Big with Your Stories if You Want to be Published

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In her 2012 craft book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, Mary Kole says,

Many beginning writers fall into the trap of thinking too small with their stories. The resulting projects lack multidimensional characters, tension, and stakes. The whole novel goes from point A to point B with only a few bumps in an otherwise straight line. None of the characters experience deep, seismic shifts in their lives, beliefs, or identities. And I fail to care even a little bit about the story because there’s not much of one.


If your reader doesn’t care about your story, it’s over.

There’s no way around it. There’s nothing you can do about it. And it doesn’t matter that you think every sentence of your story is lovely, that your use of setting is stellar, that your POV work is ambitious.

There needs to be a story that readers care about. And you need to write characters they connect with. I’ve struggled a lot in my writing life throughout the years, but one thing I’ve tried hard to do well when it comes to my short stories and novels is writing compelling stories with three-dimensional characters. Stories that make you keep flipping through the pages. Characters you can relate to.

I would much rather read a novel that’s just so-so written but has an amazing story and unique characters than read a novel that’s beautifully written but has no story or characters I care about. Something needs to pull you through the narrative. Something needs to keep you coming back. I’m a slow reader and often need a week or longer to finish a novel.

I can’t tell you how many novels I’ve started reading that I enjoyed for a few chapters… but then lost interest. I’m sure the same thing has happened to you, too. Sometimes I’ll make it halfway through a novel and then still give up. And with more and more years that go by, and less and time it seems, that book really needs to keep me hooked from beginning to end.

Such is why it’s important for you not to think too small with your stories, and instead think big.


But what exactly does it mean to think big with your stories?

You might think this means you need to write a giant epic fantasy novel that takes place in a whole new world with robots and cyborgs and magical lands and apocalyptic winters and death-defying action scenes.

No. Thinking big with your story doesn’t mean the story itself needs to be big and epic. You can still tell a realistic contemporary novel about a romance. You can write a suspense thriller that takes place in one day. You can tell a simple story about friendship and growing up, you can really do whatever you want when it comes to the actual idea.

What Mary Kole is discussing in that quote is that you need to go beyond your basic story idea in order to write a truly compelling novel. It’s not enough to just come up with an idea you love and tell the story in a way that offers little in the way of obstacles and tension and surprises. It’s not enough to come up with a cast of stereotypical characters we’ve read in a hundred other books.

Sure, just getting a first draft of a novel completed is a major first step and worthy of celebration. A lot of people can’t even get that far.

But if you want to be published, you need to start thinking bigger. Imagine you’re the reader of your book. Would you want to read every page? Is there any place in the narrative you might find yourself drifting?

Kole talks about stakes in that quote. I believe having high stakes in a novel is immensely important. High stakes can be a lot of things, of course. It can be life and death for your protagonist externally or internally. It can be winning the state championship game, or getting the girl, or just surviving middle school. But the stakes need to be there somewhere, in every chapter hopefully. You can’t write a story that grips the reader without any stakes.


Stand out from the pack by thinking big, not small, with your latest story.

When it comes to your latest narrative, don’t just do the obvious. Don’t take your story from point A to point B in a way that twenty other writers would, too. Do something original. Throw obstacles at your characters. Tell your story from a POV that might not be expected. Include a twist in chapter five, not necessarily chapter twenty-five.

There’s a lot you need to do in order to be a published novelist. So many struggles you’ll face along the way, like I have. You can follow all the rules, do everything you think you need to, and still get rejected. You can write the best story you can, revise it to death over the course of two or three years, and still get rejected. You can sign with an awesome agent, have your work pitched to equally awesome editors, and still get rejected.

It’s why one of the first things you should do when you start a new project is think big, not small. Think about ways you can stand out from the pack. The idea itself doesn’t have to necessarily be super original, but the way you tell the story should be. You should tell the story in a way that no other author would.

You might not deliver on your first novel, or your latest novel, whichever number that may be. It might take you a few more. I just finished the first draft of my twentieth novel… and I’m still trying. I’m still going for it, thinking big every time.

If your dream is to become a published novelist like mine is, just keep writing, keep growing, and keep thinking big.

As long as you don’t give up, you’ll get there eventually!

Posted in Books, Publishing, Writing

Here are the Essentials of Young Adult Fiction

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In her 2012 craft book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, Mary Kole says,

Bookstores have an MG area and a YA area. They’re not sharpening their saws to build a special hybrid shelf just for your project. These guidelines will help you make an educated decision [of which market you’re writing for].


It’s important as a writer to learn the difference between middle grade and young adult.

Don’t ever think you can lump them together, as Mary Kole says.

Sure, there’s the rare instance like the Harry Potter series, where the first three books are middle grade and then the rest of the books veer more into YA territory, with Harry aging and the themes growing darker.

But in pretty much all cases, MG and YA are separate things. Yes, they’re both kidlit. Yes, many literary agents will represent authors who write both MG and YA, and many editors will be on the lookout to buy both MG and YA. And many authors write both successfully!

But when it comes to your novel, it should never be a little of both. It should be either MG or YA. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. It honestly wasn’t until I picked up Mary Kole’s book in 2014 that I finally began to understand the major and minor differences between MG and YA.

Let’s take a look at the essentials of young adult fiction!

Young Adult Essentials

Here are some rules you should try at all times to stick to when writing YA books…

  • Your main character or characters should be fifteen to seventeen years old. Sixteen is typically ideal.

Of the twenty books I’ve written, fourteen of them are young adult. This is the market I love to write for the most. I’ve written all kinds of YA. Realistic YA, fantasy YA, horror YA, thriller YA, LGBTQ YA. I’ve tried so many different kinds of stories for the young adult market.

And one thing I have found over the years that has brought me the most success is writing main characters that are sixteen years old. This age seems to be the sweet spot. Seventeen works, too. And fifteen as well, although I’ve never actually written a YA to date about a fifteen year old.

Keep in mind that most YA readers are younger than the age of your protagonist. Like eleven, twelve, thirteen. These readers want to read up, so sixteen or seventeen is typically ideal for your character’s age.

One thing I’d recommend? Try not to write about an eighteen year old. A literary agent once told me to my face, “I can’t sell YA with an eighteen-year-old protagonist.” I was told this five years ago. Maybe things have changed.

But if you can, try to make your protagonist sixteen unless there’s a really strong and specific reason why the character needs to be older or younger.

  • The length of your young adult novel can go as short as 50,000 words, but unless you’re writing fantasy, try not to go over 90,000 words.

I’ve tried all sorts of lengths in my YA books. The longest one I ever queried was 82,000 words. The shortest one was 58,000 words. I didn’t have success with either one.

You want to know the lengths of the YA novels I did have success querying? Between 65,000 and 70,000 words. That seems to be the sweet spot for YA word counts because it’s long enough to tell a complete story but not too long to overwhelm any of the agents who might request your book. 75,000 is fine, too, of course. 80,000 probably won’t raise any eyebrows.

But I’d think long and hard about querying a novel that was longer than 90,000 words unless you have a really good reason for it. If you’re writing hard science fiction or fantasy, then maybe. But as soon as you hit 100,000 words and up, you’re going to have lots of agents click over to the next query letter in a heartbeat, remember that.

  • You can go edgier in your subject matter in YA than you can in MG.

Honestly this is a big reason why I often choose to write books for the YA market than the MG market. I don’t like to feel restricted about what I can and cannot do in my storytelling, and what’s so exciting about YA is that you can basically write any story you want, without restrictions, without too many rules or guidelines.

The truth is that librarians and parents are much stricter toward what MG books kids might read, but there’s not as harsh a strictness for YA books kids might read. In YA, for the most part, almost anything goes.

A few more rules to keep in mind…

  • Teens have a sensitive, built-in BS-o-meter, so for the YA market especially, authenticity is super important.
  • Realistic, contemporary stories do really well in YA.
  • There are fewer opportunities to target boy audiences in YA than there are in MG. You’re taking a gamble if you target your YA to a solely male audience.
  • Conflicts in YA tend to be bigger and all-consuming and are resolved in a more bittersweet note than MG.

Pay close attention to that first one. It’s critical that you bring authenticity and reality to your YA novels. Even if you’re no longer a teenager and aren’t around a lot of teenagers, you need to find that authenticity through any means necessary!

At the end of the day, feel free to do what you want in your YA writing.

Follow that story you love, that compels you. It’s important to take chances in YA and offer something new and exciting we’ve never seen before.

At the same time, be sure to keep at least most of these rules in the back of your mind, especially as you begin the process of writing your latest novel.

Once you’ve master the essentials of young adult fiction, there’s no telling the kind of incredible stories you’ll be able to create!