Notes from Writing for Middle Grades and Young Adult at Westercon


Writing for Middle Grades and Young Adult
Duane Wilkins
Ted Butler
Anna Sheehan
Alma Alexander
Gibbitt Rhys-Jones
  • What are YA reading now?
    • Everything
    • Don’t go where the market is now, because the market moves
    • Plenty of fantasy
    • Not much science fiction
      • Duane: Not much science fiction is being written for those ages
    • Hunger Games
      • movie driving book sales
    • Dystopia wave: 50 in the pipeline
      • some are great, but many are just OK
  • Is Dystopia overused?
  • The adult author side-step
  • One reason YA has often been the best of the scifi field is because they won’t put up with crap. They don’t want a 500 page introduction.
  • A YA reader don’t have filters: they will either love it or hate it, but they won’t just tell you “it’s nice”.
  • How do you write for YA?
    • Alma
      • I just write a book, and the reader will find their own level.
      • Any good YA book can be read by anyone from 10 to 99.
      • But you do have to censor yourself a little bit: no sexually explicit scenes
    • Wordcount: 
      • middle grades: 40k to 75k
      • ya: 75k words
      • adult: 100k to 120k
    • Ted:
      • 16 year old age is best protagonist age
      • nancy drew: is 19 for all of the books
    • Duane: 
      • need to keep the momentum up
    • volunteered from audience: protagonist should be about 2 years older than the audience you are shooting for
    • Gibbitt:
      • the adults in the novel shouldn’t solve problems
      • the protagonist has to solve their problem
    • Anna:
      • but don’t make the adults be incompetent.
  • Q: Prose style: Do we need to use simpler language or metaphor?
    • Anna: can use any word, so long as the supporting text helps define it
  • Q: Should YA deal with big issues: bullying, existantial angst, etc?
    • Alma: there’s no reason to write a downer of a book, nor should you pick an issue and write a book around it. write your plot, and the issues will come up, and they should be addressed.
    • Duane: Rob Thomas, wrote YA books, and really got the voice right.
  • Q: Is romance too prevalent in the YA market?
    • Duane: It can’t be romance for the sake of romance. It has to be written with a real plot.
  • In a school situation, if one kid reads a book, everyone will read it. And if one kid likes it, the other kids feel pressure to like it too.
  • Q: How do you go about getting YA published?
    • With difficulty.
  • Q: Have you written anything into YA that was controversial, that got pushback from editor or publisher?
    • Anna: Yes. And I went with a different publisher so I could keep the creepier ending I wanted. You have to pick your battles.
  • Agents are invaluable. They will help with battles with the editor.
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