Writing YA with Janci Patterson: An Interview

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I invited back Janci Patterson, a hybrid author based out of Utah, to discuss writing in the Young Adult market. Most of what she’s published has been for that demographic, and she is well-qualified to speak on the subject.

She broke into the traditional publishing scene in 2012 with her first book, Chasing the Skip, and has since produced several self-published works. When she’s not writing, she is the business manager for her husband’s company. She has written fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary, young adult novels.

Janci was also selected to be a guest speaker for Brandon Sanderson’s writing course at Brigham Young University. Many of you probably recognize Brandon Sanderson as the NYT bestseller who finished the popular Wheel of Time series.

 

Ryan: Welcome, Janci. It’s nice to speak with you again.

Janci:  Thank you! Happy to be here.

Ryan: I believe you’ve written for other age groups, but what initially made you favor Young Adult over Adult or Middle Grade?

Janci: I’ve always loved to read YA. And since I started writing because I wanted to, I wrote what I loved. It’s really as simple as that.  But one of the reasons I love YA is that teenagers are so fun to write about. They’re dealing with adult issues for the first time, so they can make observations and struggle in ways that are harder to do with adults.

Ryan: It seems that YA books are frequently represented in movies these days. Do you think the trend will continue to stay that way for long?

Janci: I think Hollywood will keep making YA books into movies as long as people keep going to see them. So if you want more to exist, buy tickets!

Ryan: Why do you think YA books and movies are so popular?

Janci: Because they’re good books! More specifically, the YA genre tends to be fast paced. Teens won’t let you bore them, and it takes discipline to get right down to the story and to keep it moving all the time. Let’s face it, adults don’t like to be bored, either.

Also, the YA genre tends to have a generally optimistic tone (even as it goes to some very dark places), and I think that gives it a wide appeal.

Ryan: What would you say to someone who thinks they have to write in a certain genre/market just because it is popular at that time?

Janci:  You can’t chase the market. The harsh truth is that the odds are whatever you’re working on is going to take years and years to sell, if it sells at all. Make yourself happy first–you are going to have to spend more hours with your work than anyone else, ever.

Ryan: What are some things to avoid when writing YA?

Janci: One thing I struggled with was having characters that were too whiny. Part of an author’s job is to put characters into hard situations–tough spots where, in reality, most of us would probably have a good whine ourselves. That, combined with their young age, makes whining realistic…but not very enjoyable to read.

I finally realized that a character who is in a whine-worthy situation, but refuses to succumb, is infinitely more sympathetic than a character who is in the exact same situation and whines about it.

So now I have a no-whining policy, though inevitably I have to cut a bunch of whining out of my second and third drafts anyway, because it’s just so easy to let it creep in when something hard has happened and my character has not yet decided what to do about it. Makes me extra glad that no one publishes my early drafts.

Ryan: What’s the best advice for aspiring writers who want to get into the YA market?

Janci:  Oh, I could go on forever. I’m going to break it down to what I think are the common behaviors of successful writers. These are really the same for any market.

1)     This is the most important: write. Do it as often as you can.  If you can do 100 words a day, great. If you can do a thousand words a day, better. But write as much as you can, and write what matters to you.

2)      Read. If you want to break into YA, read YA. (If you don’t want to read YA, seriously, why do you want to write it?) Especially read everything in the subgenre you want to be writing in–everything that is similar to your work.

3)      Be critical of what you read, especially the good stuff. When you read something that really works, study it and try to figure out how the author accomplished what they did. This will teach you so much more than tearing apart things you don’t like.

4)      Find critical readers for your own words. I have a writing group that meets weekly, and I have for the last ten years. You don’t have to do that, but find readers! Look for people who love your work but also can tell you all the ways where you’re falling short. Listen to what they say.

5)      Revise. Revision, as it turns out, is a skill that is separate from the skills involved in drafting. It took me a lot longer to learn them, but they are learned like anything else, by practicing.

6)      Then submit. Your work will never be published if you don’t submit it.  Send it to the best markets (and the best agents) first. Best is defined by your own personal standards. If you were already the writer you ultimately want to be, who would you send to?  Send to them.

7)      Make friends with your peers. When people talk about networking, this is what they mean. The giants in the industry literally do not have time for you–you’re better off getting to know people on your same level. If you do, in ten years you will be amazed how many of your good friends turn out to be invaluable business contacts. In the meantime, you’ll get to know awesome people and you can all keep each other sane.

8)      Last of all, cut yourself a break. Writing is hard.  Revising is hard.  Breaking in is ultimately harder. Career management is even harder than that. So if you can, let go of your desire to know when it’s going to happen, to control all the outcomes, and to need to reach some imagined level of success before you can be happy. Seriously, breathe. It’s going to be okay, even if everything doesn’t fall into place the way you wish that it would.

Ryan: Great advice, Janci. What YA project are you working on now (or most recent)? And where can we find your books?

Janci:  I just launched my third YA novel release–Giftchild! Here’s the one liner: when sixteen-year-old Penny’s mom loses yet another baby, she’s sure that the only way to give her mother a child is to get pregnant herself.

Ryan: Again, thank you for joining us, and we look forward to your next project. Readers, if you’re interested in checking out more of Janci’s stuff, visit her website or her Twitter feed.

Janci:  Thank you!

 

Be sure to stop by the Writer’s Toolbox for free, useful tools that no author should go without. Image courtesy of Tim Samoff via Flickr, Creative Commons.

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11 thoughts on “Writing YA with Janci Patterson: An Interview”

  1. Nice tips you gave us Janci! Thanks for sharing!
    I don’t know if I can ask questions here but I have two:
    1. Why did you decide to self publish if you already managed to publish traditionally? Is it different? Better?
    2. What would you suggest to people who want to write in a different language?
    Thanks!

    Like

  2. Thank you for the great advice Jaci! I am working on my first YA Fantasy novel and appreciate your thoughts on writing for this group. I am a high school english teacher (by day) and find teenagers both an enjoyable and crazy age group! I normally write adult Historical fiction novels so I am very encouraged to see how you have crossed over into some other genres.
    Lastly, Ryan, thank you for doing this interview. I am about to do my first interview on my blog (Historical Fiction Addicts, kellyreimer.wordpress.com) and wonder what saged advice you would give to me?

    Like

    1. Regarding giving interviews? I try to ask open ended questions that gives the interviewee an opportunity to go in different directions of thought.

      I try to do some research ahead of time on their works to ask more poignant questions.

      Lastly, I try to blend in the more “normal” questions that everyone wants to know, as well as a few “grabbag” ones.

      Like

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