YA Issues to address in Teen Fiction

Today’s YA issues may be more varied than you think…

Writing YA fictionWhat makes a story appeal to teens? Not surprisingly, they want novels that are relevant to their age group and the problems they face. A teenager today may share some basic desires and problems with a teenager in 1939, but you’ll find there are quite a lot of differences too. Do you know what Teens consider the biggest YA issues today?

I’ve compiled this list of YA Issues by asking a few English classes filled with 16yr. olds. I was amazed at their enthusiasm to contribute to the discussion.

YA ISSUES

  1. Sexuality. This is a biggie. Teens find this age-bracket very confusing, with the need to identify their own sexuality and the worry of what is considered right or wrong by their peers. Some are embarking on their first sexual relationships (whether we want them to or not) and others are terrified about what will be expected from them (this is not just the girls). The students told me they do not like novels that ignore this issue completely.
  2. Relationships and friendships. Social peers are the most valued relationships at this age. Being left out, or worse, pushed out of a social group is extremely painful.
  3. Social power. There are hierarchies within groups for the teen bracket. Those are defined by your social power – how much influence you have over your peers. This can be influenced by sporting achievements, attractiveness and even how outspoken you are on Facebook.
  4. Social responsibility. It’s heart-warming to know kids rate this issue highly. Many teens see it as their responsibility to look out for their mates. This can also mean standing up for the underdog or even standing up against your peers (and risking your social power).
  5. Bullying – When I was a kid you risked being punched (or worse – spat at) but now the most common risk is via Facebook slandering. I still haven’t figured out why kids care so much about what some kid says about them on Facebook, but they do. Must have something to do with that social power hierarchy. One of the issues raised in my writing workshop was the fact that kids are online early in the morning, late at night and via their mobiles during the day (even during class time – grrr). This suggests there is no ‘off’ time – that people can reach you, and therefore bully you 24/7.
  6. Risk taking. Drugs, alcohol and misadventure are all playing a part in a lot of teens’ lives. Unfortunately they believe that we as adults do not know what we are talking about and feel they are completely safe because they have their mates with them. Planking was a new topic that became an obviously dangerous pastime for students recently.
  7. Belief system. Teens are coming into an age where they stop taking information provided by adults as being automatically right and start making their own decisions about their belief system. This might manifest in some teens as an interest in or a rebellion against religion, or it might just be their ideas on social justice.
  8. Freedom. Many teens feel they should be able to go out and explore life, live it the way they want, but due to financial and parental restrictions, they can not. This is quite frustrating (but after suggesting risk-taking as a part of their life, I can understand the parental restrictions!).
  9. Anger. This manifests in many teens, most likely due to hormonal changes as well as a desire for freedom, but still feeling restrictions from family. In the extreme we have boys and girls lashing out with physical violence or self-harm (such as cutting).
  10. Multiculturalism. This is a two-sided issue. It’s important to teens to have a feeling of assimilation, so this would be heightened for any teen feeling their culture does not fit in with the local teens ideas of what is acceptable. It is also an issue for teens to accept new cultures into their community. This is an issue we are dealing with in class now as prejudice is one of the themes we are exploring.
  11. Fear. Many teens admitted they feel there are outside threats to their existence. Although teens have an unhealthy feeling of invincibility when it comes to their own reckless actions of risk-taking, they do believe the hyped-media coverage of threats to the community/wider world. Some of these threats the kids felt they could be exposed to are: Terrorists attacking their neighbourhood, an Ebola breakout (at school), pedophiles driving around in a white van, and finally, our country being hit with nuclear weapons.
  12. Acceptance by adults. Teens don’t want to admit it, but they care deeply what you, the adult, think of them. Most assume the adults in their lives see them as incapable, incompetent and unintelligent. When they are left feeling inadequate, they rebel by acting like they don’t care anyway. Many will brag about being in ‘the dumb class’ or being ‘the worst class you’ve ever had’, but as soon as they receive genuine praise, their faces light up and they can’t do enough to please you. If they do not feel their parents/carers are proud of them, they will seek this reaction from other adults such as friend’s parents, teachers, sports coaches, employers, etc. Interestingly, domestic violence was discussed, but the idea of being rejected by a parent rated higher than fear of being hit.

Sadly, being seen to have poor grammar when you mix up ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ didn’t even factor.

All these issues can easily be used as themes for your next YA novel. Remember to write your protagonist strong, teens like to imagine they can overcome these issues.

How to market your book at expos

Cosplay fun to market your book

A very adorable cosplayer at Oz ComicCon

Australia has been enjoying an increase in pop-culture expos over recent years, and these can be a great place to market your book.

Cosplay. I first heard this term a few years ago when my sister said she was going to ‘cosplay’ to a place called ‘Supanova’. I figured this was some weird cult thing… ’cause you know, it’s my sister. Instead, I saw pictures of her dressed up as ‘dark Willow’ from Buffy the Vampire Slayer tv series — and she even got to meet James Marsters from the show!

Now my teen girls love attending these events in their favourite costumes (mostly Doctor Who outfits). This year we attended our first Oz ComicCon as stallholders. It was loads of fun, and my favourite event by far.

But these events are not just fun, they’re also a perfect way to meet readers, writers and other industry professionals. You can sell and market your book to a specific crowd. Oz ComicCon was a real family event, and this meant there were lots and lots of potential readers for me. I signed over a hundred books.

Want to market your book at an event? Here’s my tips:

  1. friends at comic conChoose the event to suit your book. Who is your customer and which shows would they attend? Romance novels based on weddings, would do well at a wedding expo, the visitors are mostly female and obviously interested in weddings and most likely romantics. Oz ComicCon was a great choice for me because of the zombie aspect of my book and there were lots of children.
  2. Stock up. I always seem to order my stock right before the event. Don’t do this! Get in early and make sure you’ve got enough stock, you don’t want to run out and lose readers after paying for your stall.
  3. Have freebies. I take magnets to give away and promote the book. I get these printed through Vistaprint very cheaply, and each one includes my website address, or a QR code. I give them away freely. I am careful not to make the image look solely like an advertisement, because people (especially kids) would be less likely to even want them. You could also try bookmarks.
    market your book
  4. Follow up sales. I also have postcards printed up (Vistaprint), which promote the book, include a blurb and all necessary contact details to make it easy for someone to order books after the show.
  5. Signage. Get something bright that incorporates the colours of your covers. Pick a nice big one, most stands are about two metres wide.

    The Doctor has two Claras - awkward!

    The Doctor has two Claras – awkward!

  6. Price wisely. Choose the right price point. There are a lot of books available, but most people would think $10 is a bargain for a children’s book. Make sure the price is clear from a distance, put it on a sign. Customers can be nervous about approaching if they don’t know the price.
  7. Dress it up. A plain fold-out table looks unprofessional. Place fabric down to match the theme or colours of your book covers. When in doubt, black or white work fine. I use green fur and purple tulle.
  8. Bring back-up. Although my kids spend most of their time off exploring, it is good to have someone to mind the stand for bathroom breaks and fetch me a cuppa every now and then.
  9. Chat don’t sell. When people come up to my stand I chat about the costumes and celebrities at the show. I don’t jump into a sales pitch for the book. Just make them feel welcome to come and have a sticky-beak. Most people will then choose to turn the conversation to your book by asking questions.
  10. Display the book. Don’t leave all the books lying flat on the table. I have some books sitting upright on top of stacks of books, so they’re easy to spot at a distance (these are my own copies that I feel comfortable bending). The other copies are stacked and fanned out at the front of the table, so no matter where a person stands, they’ll be right in front of a copy.
  11. Get to know the other stand-holders. It’s such a supportive environment. I sold a few books to other people with stands at the show, and even did a couple of book swaps with authors. It’s also a great way to network.
  12. Oz Comic-Con

    Bruce Wayne’s parents

    Build an email list. This is something I didn’t do, but will include next time. By having an email sign-up sheet at your stand, you can build a list of future customers and let them know when you have a new book out. Anthony Puttee from Book Cover Cafe has all the best advice on how to create and use an email sign-up sheet: Building your email list at live events

  13. Get in the spirit. You don’t have to dress up, but it’s a lot of fun and the guests enjoying seeing the costumes. So, have fun with it!
Emma Caulfield and Nicholas Brendon from Buffy, posing with the girls.

Emma Caulfield and Nicholas Brendon from Buffy, posing with the girls.

Cosplay is not just for events — recently, the teachers at my school came dressed as superheroes to help amuse stressful yr12 students sitting exams. I’m there as Captain Hammer…

teachers dressed as superheroes

The Business of Writing – becoming an independent author/publisher

The 2014 Gold Coast Writers Festival was a great event for both emerging writers and industry professionals, and I was honoured to be invited to present on the business of writing.the business of writing

Writing is a craft, one that grows from inspiration and is developed with technique and skills. Creative-minded people such as authors are sometimes not comfortable with the business side of publishing. Commercialising your art does not mean compromising your artistic integrity.  But even if you intend to go through the traditional publishing path, you’ll still need to handle of lot of the business of writing yourself.

During my presentation I took attendees through the steps of setting up their author/publisher business in Australia. There are a few websites to visit, links to access and forms to fill in during the process for obtaining an ABN (Australian Business Number), securing a business name and registering as an official publishing business. To make this simpler to remember and follow, I’ve created a booklet, The Business of Writing providing all the necessary links and information to get you started. You’ll find the PDF booklet available at the end of this post.

The Gold Coat Writers Festival

Gold Coat Writers FestivalAs part of the ‘Authors in Schools’ initiative of the Gold Coast Festival, fourteen professional authors visited various schools around the Gold Coast, holding writing workshops with the students. I worked with Merrimac State High School students in a fun and productive writing session. During our workshop, I showed the students how to warm up their creative muscles, plan an entire plot for a short story in under five minutes, and write from unusual prompts.

I think the main tip I provided which had a huge impact was to start a short story right at the problem. authors in schools programDon’t lead up to it, just get there. And wow. The students provided some amazing examples of great openings for a story.

The next day I presented at the Gold Coast Writers Festival, alongside some very talented authors and highly respected professionals in the world of writing and publishing. In my session, we not only explored the steps to setting up your publishing business, but workshopped some marketing ideas using a volunteer from the audience as an example. It was so much fun and I could have talked all day (and I probably would have if my time didn’t run out!).

The Business of Writing

Download your free PDF booklet by clicking on the image below. This booklet contains all the steps I took to set up my publishing business: Hot Doggy Digital Press. As I stipulated in my workshop, there are other avenues you could take when setting up your business or publishing your works. I’m just sharing the things that have worked well for me.

The Business of Writing