With four critically-acclaimed YA novels under her belt and a slew of writing credits, including freelance book-doctor, K.L. Going was the perfect person for Writer’s Digest to turn to for a comprehensive how-to book on writing for the exploding teen fiction market. In WRITING AND SELLING THE YA NOVEL, Going dissects this hot market and offers useful techniques for crafting a novel that appeals to a mercurial teen readership.
A former assistant for the Curtis Brown Literary Agency, Going has had her finger on the pulse of this demographic since she hit the library starred booklists for her debut novel FAT KID RULES THE WORLD, which garnered critical praise and a Michael L. Printz honor. Her contemporary novels explore how teens cope with the unpalatable realities of poverty and drug abuse in graceful and often funny narratives. With an edgy writer’s voice and a willingness to explore the darker edge of teen life, she has earned a long list of accolades.
We are pleased to present part one of our two-part interview with K. L. Going.
Q: Can you share with us your journey to publication? What was it about writing for teens that attracted you?
KL Going: I never thought I’d become an author, but I always loved to write and had been doing so as a hobby for years. In fact, I wrote my first novel in high school. It was a fantasy novel. I didn’t start writing for teens until much later in life when I happened upon an article in Newsweek that so intrigued me I decided to write a novel about it. The story was about a group of teens in a small midwestern town who were trying to start a gay-straight student alliance group and running into major opposition from people in their school and in their town. That novel didn’t end up getting published, but it did lead me into the young adult genre, which was a perfect fit for me. I love the emotions you can delve into and the whole process of coming-of-age is fascinating to me. After that book, I wrote Fat Kid Rules the World and that sold very quickly. I’ve been publishing books ever since.
Q: It seems as if you’ve always been drawn to the book world and worked in many segments of the industry: bookseller, assistant in at Curtis Brown Literary Agency, and now author and freelance book doctor. What were some of the things that you learned from these different experiences that helped you with writing your novels?
KL: The most important thing I learned was perspective. Writing for publication can be a very discouraging task. There are so many people competing for so few slots on a publisher’s list. And then, even when you do find a spot on a publisher’s list, you have to fight for the space on over crowded book shelves and mentions in book related journals. Working in the industry in positions other than being an author has helped me to take things less personally. I know exactly what the odds are and I’ve seen what can happen to even the best books, so I’m grateful for the good luck I’ve had, and can step back a little easier when the luck turns.
Q: In addition to writing your own novels, you currently offer a manuscript critique service. What are some of the common mistakes you see writers make? Do you recommend aspiring authors find a book doctor to help them take their work to the next level?
KL: Hiring a book doctor isn’t for everyone, and you certainly want to be careful that you hire someone legitimate, but I do think that having a knowledgeable professional look at your manuscript can help you to break through the publishing barrier. Even if you don’t succeed with that particular book, you will learn a lot from the process which you will be able to apply to your next book. I see a lot of common mistakes in manuscripts and some of them are so easily fixed, like lack of professional presentation, or words that repeat themselves throughout the text.
Other times the problems aren’t as easily solved… one of the most common larger problems I encounter is when writers lose track of their narrator and start giving more and more weight to minor characters and subplots. It’s so important to stay focused on your main character and the story they’re trying to tell and not to let yourself get distracted.
Q: What is your own writing process? Do you plot the story out in advance, or do you take the plunge and let it evolve?
KL: I have always been one to take the plunge and let the story evolve naturally. I like surprises, and I love seeing what the characters lead me into on their own — what actions spring naturally from their personalities. However, I’d like to try plotting out my next book a little bit more and see how that goes. It would probably save me tons of revision later on!
Q: In WRITING AND SELLING THE YA NOVEL, you delve into the guts of writing for the teen market. You organize your book between craft tips and a clear-eyed view of the publishing industry. What should authors be mindful of when writing for the teen market?
KL: One of my main points about writing for the YA market is that you shouldn’t see limitations, but possibilities. Teens are such an open audience, and the world of YA literature has evolved in the past years, so the age of thinking about teen novels as needing to be limited or didactic is definitely over. Think about your character, your plot, and all the details that will bring your story to life. Think about authenticity and heart.
Come back next week when K.L. talks about some of the changes in the YA marketplace and how to market to this tech-savvy readership.