All The Way YA

Am I Too Privileged To Write Diverse Books?

Hi! I’m Joy. I’m a white, cisgender, straight, college-educated, Christian, physiologically and neurologically typical woman of suburban, middle-class background. I write young adult and children’s fiction. And I’m part of a problem.

The young reading audience in the United States is more diverse than ever. As of 2014, almost half of children in the US were not white, but in 2015 only 10 percent of children’s book authors and 14 percent of children’s book characters were non-white.

I write young adult and children’s fiction. And I’m part of a problem.

And it’s not just racial diversity that’s lacking in our books. Diversity can be invisible—like sexual orientation, gender identity, or socioeconomic background—or difficult to classify, like physical or intellectual disabilities.

But why do we need diversity in children’s books?

My older son is three years old. He has hazel eyes, a great Cookie Monster impression, a love of picture books, and Down syndrome.

How many children’s books do you think feature a character with Down syndrome?

Scratch that. How many children’s books that aren’t about Down syndrome do you think feature a character with Down syndrome?

(Spoiler alert: not many.)

My older son is three years old. He has hazel eyes, a great Cookie Monster impression, a love of picture books, and Down syndrome.

Education scholar Rudine Sims Bishop coined the metaphor of mirrors and windows to explain the need for diversity in children’s literature: “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read… they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”

Furthermore, according to Bishop, children from “dominant social groups” need diverse books to serve as “windows” to the varied backgrounds and perspectives of our world.

My younger son, who is four months old, does not have Down syndrome. He’ll have mirrors in every book he reads. But as they grow, both my sons should be able to find mirrors in books.

Books are a central part of our family life. What kind of message am I sending to my children about their equality in society if any “Down syndrome books” on our shelves are few, far between, and only focus on having Down syndrome?

My younger son, who is four months old, does not have Down syndrome. He’ll have mirrors in every book he reads. But as they grow, both my sons should be able to find mirrors in books.

All children deserve relatable, well-written characters that represent mirrors of themselves, as well as windows into perspectives they might not otherwise see. Kids should be able to find books that show them the ways in which they are different as well as the same.

After all, books are supposed to make us smarter, right? Shouldn’t they also make us more empathetic and compassionate? Shouldn’t stories open our eyes to new ways of seeing the world? And if not in childhood, when?

Well, I’m checking “majority” boxes for pretty much the whole diversity column. And following the mantra “write what you know,” the protagonist in my debut novel is a mirror of my fifteen-year-old self.

So how can I write diverse stories for young adults and children, without getting bogged down in cringe-worthy quagmires of political correctness and awkwardly “inclusive” language?

In other words, am I just too privileged to write diverse children’s literature?

No. And here’s why:

Privilege in itself isn’t the problem. Lack of awareness of privilege is. And as a majority-everything writer, I have a responsibility to remain aware of how my background and demographics pervade my writing. I don’t need to scour and scrub my privilege out of everything I write for the sake of being “diverse,” but I do need to remember that I want to write for every kid—and I want every kid to be able to connect positively with my work.

Privilege in itself isn’t the problem. Lack of awareness of privilege is.

To accomplish that, I’m reading more books about and by people who are different from me. And when I write, I’m consciously widening my focus from how my characters look, talk, and behave to richer questions: where they come from, who they love, if and how they pray, how they see the world, and how the world sees them. Here are some other things I’m keeping in mind:

  • Recognizing when I’m writing “mirrors” of myself and considering ways to open new “windows” instead
  • Writing without assuming I understand experiences that I haven’t lived through
  • Approaching unfamiliar ground with humility, knowing that mistakes mean I’m growing as a writer (and as a human)
  • Developing characters that are purposeful and complex
  • Focusing not on checking diversity “boxes,” but on broadening my own perception of who belongs in my stories and how

In short, I’m continually learning to treat characters (and readers) the way I’d want to be treated: like every part of who I am matters.

As a person of privilege, I’m part of an existing problem. But if, as a writer, I keep opening windows, I can also be part of the solution.

Joy GivensJoy Givens is the author of the young adult novel Ugly Stick and its companion collection April’s Roots, and she’s the co-author of The New SAT Handbook. Joy prefers to write middle grade and YA novels, leaning towards the fantastical and fabulous.

Born and raised with four siblings in Columbus, Ohio, Joy now resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her fantastic husband, their two remarkable sons, and an impossibly lovable dog. In addition to her writing, Joy is the owner and lead tutor of Givens Academic and Preparatory Tutoring, a company serving the greater Pittsburgh area. She also enjoys singing and listening to most genres of music, cooking for family and friends, and curling up with a good book and good coffee.



My #PitchWars Experience / @Jamie_Beth_S



I’m trying to find representation and/or a publisher for my first novel.

You can read about my early steps on this journey here, but to bring you up to speed, by January of 2016 (six years into this manuscript and over a year into querying) I had decided to revise Novel Number One (again) in anticipation of #PitchWars, a major on-line pitch competition in the summer.

I had been hearing whispers (if Twitter can whisper) about #PitchWars for nearly a year. The contest is intense, and unlike some contests, the goal isn’t necessarily to find an agent (though that would be a bonus!), but rather to find a community made up of mentors and peers (and mentors who will become peers and vice versa).

#PitchWars is interesting because it’s sort of a microcosm of the publishing world itself. This is not a contest where you blindly send off your submissions and hope for the best or Tweet a pitch with a hashtag and wait for the universe to come calling. In #PitchWars you research potential mentors via several methods (mini-interviews, live video chats, wishlist posts, hashtags) the same way you would research potential agents and editors (though I’d say #PitchWars tries to make it a bit more entertaining!). If a mentor selects you, you work with them on your revisions for two months in preparation for an agent round.

The lead-up to the competition can feel a little chaotic, and as a first-time hopeful I often felt like everyone else already knew each other and/or I was missing out on some essential secret. I don’t like being “new” at anything and can never feel comfortable anywhere until I’ve figured out the lay of the land. Investigating new situations isn’t as exciting for me as it is for some. In fact, it’s totally anxiety provoking. But for the most part, the way a teenager might walk into a new school cafeteria with her head held high and fake it until she makes it, I did my research, got involved, came to enjoy it, and found my people.

I did not, however, get into #PitchWars.

I submitted to eight mentors (which includes two pairs of mentors), got requests from two mentors, and received feedback from all but one of the people I subbed to. As I’ve come to expect in the publishing world, the responses were subjective and not uniform. A few mentors said they didn’t connect with the pages or that the stakes weren’t high enough. Another said that she liked what she read, but as she could only pick one mentee she wanted to go with someone who had a stronger “hook” that would really stand out in the agent round. She said she thought I’d fair better on the query circuit than I would on the contest circuit.

I was doing my best to make peace with my disappointment and learn what I could from the feedback I received when I got a completely unexpected confidence booster. A pair of mentors emailed to say they didn’t select me as their mentee because they didn’t think I needed their help. They said it was time to query, and they didn’t feel right making me wait two months to get at it! In the lead-up to #PitchWars you hear about this kind of email, you hope to get this kind of email, but you never expect to get one!

A big public thank you to


for making #PitchWars a really useful (and mostly enjoyable!) experience. I recommend it to anyone looking to expand his or her writing community, and I hope to to participate again in 2017 with a whole new manuscript.

And now back to the query trenches…

Writing for children can’t be that hard. Right? Wrong. @zbsdaddy


I loved the holidays as a kid, but even more so, I loved the holiday characters that came along with the special day. My favorite was the Easter Bunny. That rabbit had it the toughest in my mind. I mean, Santa Claus did amazing things, but let’s face it. He had a magical sled pulled by magical reindeer to help get the job done.

And it wasn’t like he delivered to every child; he had his naughty and nice list after all. All that poor rabbit had were two, small feet and the burden of carrying around many eggs on his tiny back. Oh, the horror. I imagined over and over again the Easter Bunny barely hopping his way through the day, blisters on his paws, sweating profusely, and a becoming increasing dehydrated and tired.

I was convinced he had to have help. A family of rabbits ready to take over when exhaustion set in. In my mind, that was the only way it could get done. There wasn’t so much a single Easter Bunny as there was a family of bunnies whose sole job it was to deliver eggs. But what if one member of the family couldn’t do it? What if he or she was born with a bad paw or couldn’t hop as fast or carry as many eggs as the others? There had to be one such rabbit. Every family had their less fortunate member, the so called “black sheep”. This family couldn’t be different.

With that final thought, I had my first story. I was twelve.

It took me two days to write a story about a rabbit named Jumpers (I know, not the most original name) and how he was born with one foot shorter than the other. His family, which I’d conveniently named The Cottontails, kept ignoring him every year. Until they all got sick.

The head of the family, Peter, didn’t want his nephew Jumpers to take over, for fear he would fail. But in the end, Jumpers prevailed. Not only did all the eggs get delivered, but Jumpers became the best Easter Bunny ever.

I had my first story. I was twelve.

Every time I get down on myself and my writing pursuits, I pull out that manuscript. It still brings a smile to my face, but that story also brought hardship along with it. By age 18, I knew I wanted to be a career-writer, but all the stories I came up with were stories about kids doing kid stuff and facing kid problems.

I was an adult; surely I should advance to writing for adults? I needed to craft a good murder mystery or suspense novel. That was what all my friends and family were telling me. If I wanted to be a writer, then I needed to write what others read. Period. End of story.

So I did. I forced myself to start writing for adults. For two years, that was all I did. I wrote a total of four novels in that timeframe, and to be honest, they were pretty easy to write. I had the stories in my head. I just wrote what I thought. ‘Just do it’ was my motto (sorry Nike). I gave each to friends and family and got glowing results back. I sent them out to agents and got rejection after rejection. I couldn’t understand how something that everyone seemed to like, kept getting turned down. It was the system for sure. It couldn’t be the writing. It was amazing in my eyes. I went to critique groups and conference all designed to help me crack into the business all to no avail. I was frustrated beyond belief.

If I wanted to be a writer, then I needed to write what others read. Period. End of story.

Then came one week–post 9/11. I had just finished my latest creation and was proud of the words on the page. I gave it to a member of my then critique group to read. This person was lucky enough, or perhaps unlucky, to have read some of my books that I wrote for kids.

He liked the new project, but made a startling comment. “You need to write for kids all the time.”

We argued back and forth for months about this. I was determined to not listen; he was determined to make me. My argument: writing for kids is easy. Garbage in, garbage out. They will read anything. Adults are picky; they know what is good and what isn’t. You have to craft a good story to make them keep reading. Good characterization is a must.

I finally gave in to his argument and attended another writing group that he belonged to. This group, although not officially part of SCBWI, did have childrens’ writers in their fold. There was a child there. His name was Andrew. He was eight and was the son of one of the members. What I remember most, besides all the gas he farted out that night, was how he listened so closely do everything each member read and even gave comments.

He liked the new project, but made a startling comment. “You need to write for kids all the time.”

During a break I sat with him and told him about my stories. In particular, read my Easter Bunny story. I was sure he would love it. He didn’t. In fact, he went on for twenty minutes telling me everything he didn’t like about it. It was at that moment that I realized maybe I had it wrong. I went home that night and reworked that story taking every comment he said to heart.

The next meeting, I gave him the new manuscript ready for him to sing my praises. He didn’t. Far from it in fact. It took me six rewrites to finally get a story he liked. He. Was. Tough.

But once I did, it was well-worth the effort. He told his friends, and those friends told other friends. Before long, my little Easter book had a cult following. In the end, Andrew changed my thinking. I’m forever grateful. I learned that night, that while adults do care about the things I mentioned above, children care just as much, if not more. You simply can’t give them garbage to read.

Plot flow, characterization, action, dialogue, it all matters. They are smart readers from a very early age. From picture books to YA and all the subsections within each, they all must be written and tailored to a specific audience.

Children have a wealth of reading material to choose from these days. It is a wonderful time to be a child. But we writers have a great deal of pressure on our hands. We have to write books they will want to read. Granted some children are less fickle than others, but the one thing they all have in common is that the material they absorb will shape their individual minds.

I learned that night, that while adults do care about the things I mentioned above, children care just as much, if not more. You simply can’t give them garbage to read.

Yes, it can be a burden if we let it, but I prefer to think of it now as a gift. They are allowing us to enter their worlds if only for a few moments. Therefore, we need to craft stories that will touch the far corners of those minds and inspire them to reach for the stars.

Thomas Wright is a writer of middle grade and young adult novels. His first book Ansburry Tales: The Redeemer was published in 2013. Book two of this five-part series is scheduled for release in 2016. Other completed projects include a YA novel, Catching Tomorrow due out in 2017, and a middle grade series entitled, The Adventures of Spikehead and Fred, with book one slated for publication in 2017.  He currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wonderful family and far too many dogs.

It’s My Time and I’m Keeping It


“How do you find time to write?”

I get asked this question all the time by other writers who also happen to be Moms or Dads with young kids. They’re hoping I’ve got a magic spell that will open a portal they can escape into. Preferably, one with excellent child care. Part of them also wants me to validate their need to write. To tell them wanting to write is okay.

I’m not a therapist. I’m just a writer. One with two kids, ages 9 and 5. Someone who wrote her debut novel while her first son was one, her father was dying slowly of prostate, lung, and brain cancer, all while working well over the forty-hour mark per week, and traveling around the country. Since 2012, I’ve had 8 titles published. 9 if you count a boxed set. Two of those novels were written in 12-week spans. I also have 4 novels, 1 novella, and 1 short story that aren’t published–because I followed Creativity’s call and am now editing like an insane person.

I’m not telling you all this to brag. I’m telling you this so you’ll get it. I’ve been there. When I get asked this question, I smile. I listen to the story that invariable follows, because someone listened to me once–many someones. And then I share my story.

The Big Collaboration

When my husband and I decided to have another child, I entered into this agreement with a disclaimer. I will have another baby, only if I get my writing time. Sound like a business proposal? Maybe, but I wasn’t going to have another child if it meant I had to hate my life to do it. Everyone would suffer.

He agreed. I’m extremely lucky. I have a husband who’s always supported my writing.  Then came baby number two.

When the baby slept, I had to sleep. But what about the “writing” time? I remember rocking little Bam-Bam in his car seat while editing my first book, The Star Child, hoping my foot wouldn’t cramp up and he’d start screaming.

A New Kind Of Schedule

When Bam-Bam turned my plans upside down. Hubs and I carved out a plan that, although painful at first, would end up being the best thing I’ve done for my writing career.

  • 5:00am Get up, make copious amounts of coffee, commence writing time. Hubby has the kids with a promise of no interruptions.
  • 8:00am Shift change. I take over. Breakfast for the little dudes. Off to school or wherever.

Now, you might think I’m crazy. That’s okay. But 5-8am is a 3-hour window. I started going to bed at 10pm and getting up at 5am. I had three, guaranteed hours (solid hours) of writing time per day. That’s twenty-four hours a week. I would still sleep (7 hours), have time with the kids, and time for Hubs.

 I remember rocking little Bam-Bam in his car seat while editing my first book, The Star Child, hoping my foot wouldn’t cramp up and he’d start screaming.

I Set Weekly Goals

Once I had my schedule, I determined how many words I could write each day. I multiplied that by how many days I could write a week. I put it on a calendar and set a completion date for my WIP, editing dates  and so on.

Here’s a shot of my weekly schedule.


My writing plan for each day is on the left. I include planned word counts here. On the right, I include my writing goals for the week, but also write down any to-dos that pop up while writing to avoid distractions.

Like it? You can download your own copy here.

I Don’t Cave On My Writing Time

Shortly after, I came up with some basic rules for my own writing time:

  • Writing time is sacred. I do not use the time for chores, errands, calls to Mom, etc.
  • If any kid-free time becomes available, write. Even if you don’t feel like it at first. It’s still a break.
  • Spend at least forty-five minutes working (with the kids around) per week. Boundaries matter–Mom has a job, too.
  • If there are chores to be done, I do them with the kids and teach them to help.

Even now, as this blog post is being written, I am hiding out in my office, guarding my writing time.

How Has This Helped Me?

By holding on to my window of hours in the day, I’m keeping my passion for the craft alive. I’m also showing my kids that Mom has a life that matters to. In short, I’m keeping my identity or at least a large part of it, anyway.

Even now, as this blog post is being written, I am hiding out in my office, guarding my writing time.

Let’s go back to that writer from the beginning–the one asking the questions. “I could never do that. I’m so tired.” That writer will say. “It’s so hard.”

“Yeah,” I say. “It’s pretty damn hard. But badly do you want to write?”

Live Pitching – It’s not for the faint of heart!

“You’ll be great at it!” one writer friend said.
“Oh, that sounds horrible, but I’m sure you’ll do fine,” said another.
“I couldn’t do it, but you’ll be fantastic!” another said.

Have you figured it out yet? What is this amazing thing that none of my writer friends wanted to do but all seemed so sure I’d enjoy? (Possibly the title of this post gave it away?) It’s live pitching!

Haven’t heard of it? It’s a staple at writers’ conferences in which you and your manuscript get to speed date agents and editors, frequently at little tables in big rooms. And just like writing a query letter is a completely different skill set than writing a novel, live pitching is it’s own beast, and I do mean beast!

By mid-August 2016 I had been trying to find an agent in hopes of getting my first novel published for a year. In that time I had swapped with critique partners, revised more than once, queried more than I care to think about, entered contests with varying levels of success, paid for professional feedback and webinars, and applied to conferences. It seemed that live pitching was the final frontier but I don’t have a ton of resources (money or time) to travel to conferences. Enter Hippocamp!

Hippocamp is a conference (based in my city!) for creative non-fiction writers, a genre which I enjoy writing and reading, but which is not currently my focus. While I couldn’t spare the time or the cash to attend the whole conference, the live pitch session was a post-conference add on that I could do ala carte. For $40 bucks I booked a five-minute “date” with one of my dream agents (who I had been twitter-stalking for several months). I’m not sure who should feel cheaper about this situation, him or me, but regardless, this is how it’s done.

I started researching as soon as I booked my “date.” It involved a ton of googling and desperate messages to friends via text, twitter and email (see below for helpful links)!

When the day came, it was sort of a mixed bag. The organizers had offered the opportunity to pitch to a second agent a few days earlier, so I ended up feverishly researching another agent and pitching to two people during my first ever live pitch session. One of them liked what I had to say, but already had a similar title on his list. He offered to take a look and share with his colleagues. The other stopped me mid pitch to assign me a craft book to read and a revision exercise to do.

Clearly what my friends meant when they said I’d be great at live pitching is that I’m an extrovert who loves to talk about my book. That’s true, but the problem is, throw nerves into the mix and all bets are off. And here’s the thing about preparing for a live pitch: unless you speak to someone who has live pitched the exact agent you’re pitching, there’s no way to fully prepare. Some agents like rehearsed elevator pitches, some like to talk casually as if you’re old friends; some want to talk plot, others want to talk theme. And then there are the questions:

“Who is your work in conversation with?”
“What do you want someone to get out of this book?”
“Why did you write this book?”
“What else are you working on?”
“Tell me about your platform?”

You can prepare for all of these inevitabilities, but frankly, sitting that close to someone who could completely change your life is pretty unnerving.

After the event a writer friend asked how it went. “O.K.” I said, “With the emphasis on O.K.” He said that whenever he thinks he has nailed something it always turns out he’s wrong, so “OK” was probably the best I could hope for. That’s certainly the way it felt. I’m still waiting to hear from the agent who requested 50 pages, and I’m still working on the revision assignment for the second agent. In the meantime, I’m grateful that I’ll never be a live pitch virgin again. Back to the dating pool…

Are you thinking about live pitching?
Here’s a great post on how to prepare for a live pitch.
And here’s a great post on why live pitches are “the spawn of Satan.”
And most importantly, GOOD LUCK!



Back on the Horse

“The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.” ~ Vince Lombardi

Almost a month ago, I included this quote in the post that announced the termination of my work with my publisher.

I never thought I’d have to announce that. As a matter of fact, I thought I would be pitching them series after series of work. I thought I’d found a writing home.

There were differences, creative and otherwise, and after a while, I said the words that I knew would allow me to walk away. This isn’t a post about what went wrong. It’s about how to keep going when your dream was almost accomplished, and then slipped through your fingers.

My first thought, when I accepted reality, was ‘why does it always have to be another battle?’. I’ve battled a lot in my life. Battling with the mental illnesses of myself and others. Battling with abuse. Battling with people who refuse to believe they’ve done anything wrong. Battling with people who refuse to accept my truth as a version of their reality. Battling to protect my son. Battling through physical illnesses. Battling, battling, battling.

Nobody said it would be easy, did they?

My second thought was an effort to stop the endless parade of self-pity. My second thought was, ‘what now?’

What now, indeed.

I turned to my manuscript and started reading. For the most part, after an unending amount of rewrites, I liked what I had in front of me. There were some things I would change. Some things I wished to return to their previous state. But my manuscript was better for the experience, so I took a deep breath and tried to look at the bright side. Maybe I could make headway now, where it was once impossible.

The truth is, I love my characters. I need to tell their story, and I want to live in their world. I’m connected to this. They feel like old friends. So, maybe I was too attached? Maybe I couldn’t see my work clearly?

I sent a few chapters off to some writing contacts who could help me adequately judge where the story was going, to make sure I wasn’t seeing my own work through rose-colored glasses. I wasn’t. They were enjoying it, asking me for more chapters. I felt better.

When you’ve looked at the story as many times as I have looked at this one, when you’ve been given as many opinions about it as I have, you start to question your sanity. You think you’ve nailed something time and time again, but you’re then told that you haven’t, and eventually, you lose the ability to tell the difference between what is well written and what is a mess.

I’m learning to trust myself again. Learning to look at my work and go with my gut. But I can’t just stop. It’s not who am I. Because all of that battling I mentioned earlier? I complained about all of it. But I battled. And I won. I’m still here. The universe has been trying to buck me for awhile but it has failed. And as long as I’m here, I’m going to keep doing what I love.

I’m going to keep writing.

So, I’m reading through the book again, just to make sure it’s the vision I want to portray. And then I’ve got someone I trust who is going to edit it. And then I will throw my book back out into the pool and try, Try, TRY to get another set of eyes that loves it like I do, that shares my vision. Because, that’s where I struck out before.

I don’t expect much. I’m fully accepting of the idea that I may end up choosing to self-publish it, in order to keep my vision alive. Or maybe my book will wind up in a better place than I ever imagined.

One thing is for sure. I have never given up on anything, and I won’t give up on this.

Justine Manzano PicJustine Manzano is a multi-genre writer living in Bronx, NY with her husband, son, and a cacophony of cats. She maintains a semi-monthly blog at and a twitter account@justine_manzano, where she discusses her adventures in juggling motherhood, writing, and the very serious businesses of fangirling and multiple forms of geekery. Her first novel, a YA Fantasy titled The Order of the Key, is currently searching for a caring home.

Back To School! Yay, I can write again! Yikes, what was I working on?


The last days of summer are are winding down. The beach toys are being put away, the late bedtimes being re-adjusted, the new school supplies being labelled…

And as a writer you’re counting down the days to when you can have your mornings back, to when you can make a cup of coffee and dig in to your work-in-progress (WIP) that has been collecting dust all summer, right? I know I am!

Summers are great, but when you have a family, it’s nearly impossible to find the time to write. But sometimes, those first days back in a quiet house, it can be hard to pick things up where you left off.

Really hard.

And that’s frustrating. My head is filled with playtimes and BBQs and sunsets and that new book I want to read, but not which character was doing what in my WIP. And certainly not why they were doing what… And that’s true after every break, even if I never stop thinking about writing, even if I’ve tried to work on the rare morning I was up early or I read a book on writing craft while at the beach.

But over the years, I’ve found a few things that help me get back into my writing rhythm.

1. Don’t worry.

Okay, this can be valid all year round – but here I’m trying to tell myself, ‘don’t worry, you will be able to write again even if if right now it doesn’t feel that way’.

Sometimes September feels daunting. Writing feels daunting. Getting back into the rhythm feels daunting. And that’s when I need to slow down and remind myself I was writing in June, so there’s no reason I can’t do it again on the other side of summer in September.

2. Don’t feel guilty.

It’s so easy to feel bad, especially when other writing friends are saying ‘oh, yeah, we had a great time at our beach house and I wrote almost 50k of a new MG novel!’. But it doesn’t help. Just as with last week’s post on jealousy by Joshua, you have to let it go. Remind yourself of all the fun times you had teaching your goddaughter to ride, or hanging out with friends, or travelling to the other side of the world. You had a full summer, it was great!

3. Read your WIP.

Sit down and breath deeply. Preferably in front of your computer.

With your WIP open.

And read.

Nothing else. No pen in hand, no critical hat on. Just reading. Get re-acquainted with your characters, your ideas, your story world.

4. Make a writing date.

Meet a writer-friend at a cafe. After a quick chat over coffee or tea or a smoothie, and you have both pulled out your laptops or notebooks or whatever you use to write/brainstorm, you’ll find the ideas begin to flow. And if they don’t, you still have to stay there looking at your blank page or your WIP because you can’t get up and do the laundry and your buddy is writing and you don’t want to bother them by talking. And eventually, ideas come back. Maybe it’s tweaking a scene here, or a whole new world to explore there, but somehow, after being forced to do nothing else, I will usually slow down enough that I can be creative again.

It doesn’t always have to be a session where I produce a lot. Sometimes even just the beginning of an idea is all it takes, and then ideas and creativity flow again and spill over into the next day.

And if you don’t have a writer buddy who can join you that week? Pick a cafe that isn’t too busy and go on your own. Sometimes just getting out of the house can help get you to focus again. Or maybe it’s not wanting to feel like an idiot sitting alone doing nothing. Either way, I’ve often found a morning at a cafe will kickstart me back up again.

And sometimes, I go back the next day. Because I write well there. Not because I like the special-flavored latte they happen to be serving.

Wishing you all a happy, creative, Back-to-School season!

The Green-Eyed Writer

In Shakespeare’s Othello, the villain Iago speaks the following famous lines:

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.

Nice phrase for jealousy, “the green-eyed monster.” I’m jealous I didn’t come up with it myself.

And that’s what I want to talk about today: jealousy. It affects all writers (or at least, it affects all the writers I’m personally acquainted with, including me). We know it’s not a good thing; we know we should simply celebrate other writers’ successes, without wishing they were our own.

But writers are human. And humans get jealous. And this blog is about open and frank discussion of the writing life, so I think it’s important to acknowledge the role jealousy plays in that life.

I was stunned when I was told recently that several writers whom I know personally were jealous of me. The source of their jealousy was apparently that I have a new book out right now, as well as another book coming out next year. According to my source, these writers wondered why I was the one getting the book deals and they weren’t.

But you know, I didn’t have long to feel superior to my benighted peers. Because a few weeks later, I attended a talk with several writers I consider friends, and two of them announced that they’re currently on the New York Times bestseller list.

And man, was I ever jealous.

Why couldn’t I be the one on the list? Weren’t my books good enough? For that matter, why wasn’t I the one invited to give the talk instead of them? While I was genuinely happy for my friends, I found at the same time that I wanted what they had.

If I ever do make the list, I’ll probably feel jealous of those who’ve been on it longer.

Jealousy isn’t all bad. It’s one of the things that makes us strive to succeed. But it also has the capacity to destroy friendships, to twist our perception of ourselves and others, to stifle creativity and foment mimicry, and ultimately, as Shakespeare recognized, to swallow joy. It might be natural—organisms are hard-wired to compete with others of their own kind—but it can’t be allowed to take over.

So here’s my advice for controlling the green-eyed monster.

First, acknowledge that feelings of jealousy are normal. Don’t add to the negativity by telling yourself you’re the worst moral degenerate who’s ever lived. Allow yourself to be imperfect, like the rest of us.

Second, celebrate what you have achieved. Maybe you’ve finished a manuscript. Or gotten a nibble from an agent. Or been asked to sit on a panel. Whatever it might be, it’s worth celebrating. Your achievements are not less than anyone else’s; they’re just different than.

Third, when your writer-friends achieve successes of their own, go out of your way to congratulate them. Spread the word about their accomplishments. Enthusiastically review their books. Offer heartfelt toasts at their launch parties. They deserve it, just as you do.

None of these strategies is foolproof. Deep down, you might not be able to avoid the pangs of jealousy. But you can avoid letting those feelings eat you up inside.

Which reminds me: I’m off to tweet about my friends who’ve made the bestseller list. The last time I checked my eyes in the mirror, they were still mostly brown.




I’ve written a fantasy novel where the protagonist and supporting characters are in their teens. Some people have told me it’s adult and some have told me it’s YA. I’ve looked for a solid definition online, but haven’t really found one. What makes a book YA?


Dear FantasyWriter82,

This is a hotly debated topic among people in the biz and in particular, writers, who tend to rebel against the need to box their work into a neatly branded package. I’ve read the commentary out there about what makes a book YA, and rather than give you a concrete definition, I’ll offer my viewpoint on what I believe are the conventions most YA books have in common:

  • Stories written for and marketed at teenagers;
  • Tight narrative that spans a shortish time period (1 day to 1 year);
  • Teen protagonist who determines their own destiny through the choices they make (the teen is active rather than passive);
  • Character arc where some growth is involved, whether it’s “coming of age” or otherwise;
  • Limited sex and swearing (there are books who break this rule, but in YA there are several gatekeepers—teachers, librarians, parents—which often dictate what content is permissible.)

I feel compelled, also, to list some things that make YA awesome, if not uniquely YA:

  • Any and all genres welcome (romance, horror, dystopia, etc.);
  • Fast pacing with real conflict and stakes;
  • Narrative styles that take risks;
  • Stories that feel immediate and authentic;
  • Books that push boundaries—societal, thematic, literary and otherwise.

With regard to your own novel, the main question to ask yourself is, did you write it with a YA reader in mind? That might help you determine whether or not your book is indeed, YA.

Good luck!


(Readers, do you have your own conventions or rules you live by when writing YA? Share them in your comments below!)


I’ve written my first book and I’m looking for an agent to represent me. Do you have any advice on how I go about it?


Dear Agentless,

In a word, RESEARCH. Nowadays, most agencies have a website with their staff listed online. In most lit agent bio’s there is a section on what types of projects they are looking for and whether or not they are “open” to queries.

Most agencies/agents also have a standard query procedure explained on their website for what to include in your query, including details like subject line so that your query doesn’t go to spam. Some agents want a query letter only, some want your letter plus pages, and some want the whole manuscript. It’s IMPERATIVE that you read these guidelines and follow them to the letter.

Additionally, just as when embarking on a relationship in real life, it helps to research the agent you are querying to find out what deals they’ve brokered in the past and who they represent. is an excellent resource for that.

Finally, and perhaps I should have started with this, make sure you have a standout query letter, which includes:

  • Title of your project
  • Word count and genre
  • Your name
  • A short and compelling pitch/synopsis of what your story is about
  • Similar works, if applicable
  • If relevant, professional background that qualifies you as the writer–keep it brief!

Have a few writer friends look over your query letter and give you feedback before sending. Make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors and DOUBLE CHECK that you’ve addressed the literary agent by the correct name.

Once your responses start coming in, log them in a spreadsheet so you can keep track of whom you’ve queried and what their response was. There are also a variety of online tools available, including, that can help with this process. Most replies fall into one of four categories:

  • Flat-out rejections (usually by form email)
  • Rejections with feedback
  • Requests for more pages
  • Request for a call to talk about representation

For those agents who reject your project but give constructive feedback, take careful notes and if the overall tone of their email is positive, ask them if they’d be open to you querying them again after you’ve revised.

Above all else, always be polite and professional because the publishing world is a very small world indeed. Remember, it is not you as a person or even you as a writer being rejected, it is a very specific project that does not appeal to a very specific agent, many times for reasons that are out of your control.

Rejections are a sign that you’re putting yourself out there, which is half the battle.

Good luck!


Laura LascarsoHeadshotWebFinal is the author of two YA novels, COUNTING BACKWARDS (2012) and RACING HEARTS (2015). If you have a burning YA question you’d like answered, tweet it to @lauralascarso with #DearLaura or include it in the comments below.

Taking A Vacation!


Hello, loyal readers!

With June at an end and July kicking in, we’ve decided to do something that most of you are doing right now. Take a vacation.


Don’t worry! We’ll be back again in Autumn with new content.

If you are a YA writer and would like to become a contributor to this site, send us your ideas using the form below.

In the meantime, stay cool–and happy writing!

Hannah, Kacey, Steph

All The Way YA