Maybe it’s just that I find things other people find normal to be funny for some reason (which might be a good trait for a publisher), but I found the following “cheat sheet” for writing young adult novels to be both amusing (mostly because it actually exists) and useful:
That’s right – there is a “For Dummies” book on how to write young adult novels, and most of the information in the cheat sheet actually makes sense. So instead of talking about what makes a good young adult novels this week (the cheat sheet already does that), I want to focus on why certain young adult novels will get rejected by us.
- Doing the math. Generally we price our young adult novels lower than our general fiction in other genres. For a publisher, this means getting the page count lower, which requires a lower total word counts. A book sent to us with 100,000 words that is pitched as young adult is probably not going to make it past the query letter. In my opinion, the optimal word count for young adult novels is 50,000-60,000 words.
The other thing I always do is compute the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level. Most teens reading books not assigned as required reading in school are reading for pleasure, and that reading time is competing with all of the other forms of entertainment out there (including texting their friends). Making a book too complex a read for the average teen, while it may challenge readers, is more likely to make them never finish it.
- Is it a “Twi-book”? I’ve stated this previously, but I’m not looking to publish books using what the large publishers consider to be the correct “format” for a genre – I want to be the one to discover the next “correct” format. So if I’ve read something similar to your story before, especially if it was by a well-known author, I will probably pass on the manuscript.
- Sarah’s elephant. I want to start with an admission – I’m a prude. Yes, I put that in bold so it will stand out. In our last blog, guest editor Sarah Welsh asked a question about the “elephant in the room” – how much sex is too much for a romance novel. For young adult novels, my answer is simple: in my opinion, any sex in a young adult novel is too much. This is not to say there can’t be romance. In Tony Russo’s upcoming book Darkest Hour, there is a love triangle between Briley, the girl fighter pilot, the pirate she captures who later flies as her wingman, and the son of an aristocrat who initially makes fun of Briley’s poor upbringing but later comes to respect her when she helps her training class graduate flight school. In Jenna-Lynn Duncan’s Hurricane, there is a love triangle between the heroine and the two brothers who kidnap her in an attempt to save her from killers. In Hope Gillette’s Journey Through Travelers’ Tower, while there is no overt romance between any of the characters, there is enough tension to wind a spring. Finally, in Darren Simon’s Guardian’s Nightmare, the two main teen characters are both females, and there are no romantic themes at all. It’s simply a book about a girl whose destiny is to save her world and ours. All of these books have one thing in common – they are great books that didn’t need to use sex as a prop. In short, a young adult novel with a clever and unique plot does not need to rely on sex to create an interesting story.
For young adult authors, I sometimes suggest looking at what we’ve published and currently have under contract to get an idea of what we will publish. I’m even willing to send a sample copy (the first 20%) for free to authors who are wondering if they should query us (alternatively you can use “Look Inside” on Amazon to see the eBook interiors). But authors who don’t keep the above items in mind often find they receive a rejection letter fairly quickly.