Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Hayley Long’s Dos and Don’ts

Hayley was a speaker at our first membership event which took place in Norwich last Sunday and she has kindly given us the notes from her short talk about the Dos and Don’ts of writing for teenagers. So here is some wonderful advice from the author of the Lottie Biggs novels and What’s Up With Jody Barton.

‘If you're writing for children or teenagers-

1.  Do be prepared to write to a very tight specification.

Children / teens / big publishers want more of the same.  You'll find that big publishers may even demand it.  So it can feel as though you're writing through the eye of a needle.  But, unfortunately, writing exactly what you want and being published don't always go hand in hand!

A one-off novel may become a series because that's what your publisher wants.

Having said that: Don't underestimate how tricky this can be. Phrases like 'formulaic' and 'churning stuff out' suggest there is a magic easy formula for making money.  If there is, more people would be 'churning' these books out, surely?  As I said, you can follow a formula to write a pop song but it doesn't mean you'll have a good song at the end of it.  Or you'll be able to keep on doing it. 

Writing 'formulaic' fiction is as much of a challenge as anything else.  I think.

2. Do be prepared to receive very direct feedback from your readers.

This is an internet age and many teens have about 850 'friends' on Facebook. They will see you as just another one of them and they will hunt you out and send you a direct email giving you very frank opinions about your books.  This can be lovely!  Young people are very generous with phrases like 'favourite writer' and 'best book I've ever read.'  However, it can also be... NOT lovely ;-)

Teens will also discuss your book at length on blog sites.  Don't be tempted to get involved and NEVER defend your book on the internet.  Just stay quiet and stay away.  

3.  Don't be shy!

If you write for children or teens, you will be expected to go into schools.  This may involve a workshop with four gifted pupils or it may involve talking to 400 in a hall.  You just have to get on with it.  But you'll learn quickly and you'll know if you're boring because your audience will look at their phones / start putting mascara on / stick their hand up and tell you.  On the other hand, you'll know if they love you because they'll buy EVERY book you've ever written / ask you to sign their arm / slap their own thighs because they're laughing so hard at what you're reading.  This is nice.

One last thing I'll add is that the world of kids' / teen fiction is a very friendly one. The writers I've met have all been very down to earth, supportive of each other and lovely.  You end up seeing the same faces at different events throughout the year.  It's a nice crowd to be a part of.’

Thanks Hayley!

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