Monday, August 18, 2008

Building Buzz in YA

I was sorry to miss my part in the Buzz Girls’ Workshop at the Romance Writers of America in San Francisco, Building Buzz in YA. But seeing as how we are doing a round-up of those talks this week here on the blog (and a call for questions), I thought I’d chat a little about the section I was going to do: the Teen Audience.

I have three kids, between the ages of 15 and 20. But I was writing for the Young Adult market well before my kids were teens--in fact, I sold about 20 YA short stories between my own teen years and selling my first YA novel.

I believe it’s all about the ability to tap into your inner teen. Which, in addition to being a rule-setting, responsible parent, I can definitely do. Case in point:

Recently, a group of teens gathered in our front yard, some on the driveway basketball court, some on the sidelines. I went outside to join the action on the court. You see, thanks to many hours of shooting baskets with my brother when we were in high school, I am actually somewhat skilled at short-range shots.

So...we got into a game of HORSE, and I had more fun than a grown-up should be allowed. I actually won! Which I followed up with some super-embarrassing strutting, and joked that I was going to post specifics (names, scores) on my MySpace. (No one laughed but me.)

One of the bystanders, not exactly accustomed to me, asked my daughter, “What is your 7th grade?” And my daughter responded, with full seriousness, “We calculate her at about 9th. You see, her characters are mostly 11th and 12th, but you know how readers like to read up.” Which I am sure only confused the girl more!

When I heard about this later, I laughed out loud. And realized that yeah, on the basketball court, I had done some mental time-traveling to my teen years...made so easy for me because of all the hours I spend writing YA.

So if there is anything I’d like to share about the Teen Audience, it is this: in order to connect with the reader, you have to sound legitimate. And in order to sound legitimate, well, you have to feel it. It’s not about hanging with teens (although of course, it helps) as much as the ability to relate, to remember, and to report.

Embarrassing yourself is optional.

Any questions?


Tina Ferraro
How to Hook a Hottie - Book Sense Top Teen Pick
Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress - Finalist, National Reader’s Choice Award


Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

LOL! Gees, that girl had to be a sore loser!

I totally agree, Tina, you have to feel the connection and the experience you are writing about, otherwise it just won't read natural to the reader.

I loved this story you shared!

Anonymous said...

Hi Tina,
I can picture you in that basketball game!
And you are so right about feeling those teen experiences. It's more than just remembering. It's like living them all over again.


stephhale said...

This is such a great piece of advice, Tina. There is nothing I hate more than picking up a YA novel and having the MC's voice sound like they are about 45.

Emily Marshall said...

I think this is an excellent point. I've often heard many writers trying to "sound" teen by listening to teens talk and understanding patterns. And to be truthful I think sometimes that "research" shows itself in the book. But the ones that have the best voice to me, sound teen in natural conversation. And I think that has a ton to do with relating and remembering your teen years. Very well said!!

Me said...

Ditto, ditto, ditto. I have a friend who writes adult romance, but she's been working on a YA proposal. Being the dutiful friend, I'm helping out by reading her work.

Now, she is a brilliant adult author, but when I read the first draft of the YA it screamed: "I'm trying to sound teen!" I called her up and said, "Just write with your voice." She revised with that in mind. Oh my God! The next version absolutely floored me. Genius.

So, like Tina said, it's not about "sounding" teen, it's about being genuine. To the characters and to yourself.

TinaFerraro said...

Thanks, everyone, and it seems I'm not done talking because I have something to add! When Tera said to use your own voice, it reminded me of a book I started in about 2005. But I tried SO HARD to sound teen that I burned out in the first chapter. I remember telling people that I couldn't keep that frantic tone up, so I was staying with adult books. About a year later, I came back, only this time with my own voice. And then you couldn't stop me!

Jessica Burkhart said...

I completely agree, Tina, about keeping a ten voice in mind but always relying on your own voice. :)

Marley Gibson said...

Great points, Tina...and's all about finding your voice. LOL on the basketball game! Too cute!