I worry about getting the YA voice right in my books, but I don’t have any teens in my life. Other than stalking them at the mall, how can I get a better feel for how real teens talk and act so my book feels authentic?
Teenless in Toronto
Assuming you already read widely and deeply in the YA genre and watch films of the same nature, my next suggestion would be to cultivate relationships with some real-life teens. Those can be in the virtual world, in the form of subscribing to teen blogs and following teens on Twitter and Instagram. And they can also be in the real world, such as joining a YA book club at your local library or bookstore. If you introduce yourself as a YA writer who is passionate about teen literature and wishes to know more about what teens like to read, you will likely be welcome into these circles.
Additionally, there is nothing wrong with observing teens in the wild, and malls are great places to do it. Simply plant yourself in the middle of a food court, make yourself look occupied with a book or device, and you will come away with tons of juicy gossip along with some insights on the cadence of teen voices and preferred topics of conversation.
While you want your YA voice to sound authentic, you don’t want to try so hard that it sounds forced, so remember that it’s a balancing act. Keep in mind too that slang is an ever-changing animal and should be handled carefully so that it doesn’t “date” your story.
A few years ago it was vampires and wizards, now it’s terminal illnesses and war games. As a YA writer who hopes to get published traditionally, how can I keep up with ever-changing trends in the publishing business?
Bamboozled in Birmingham
The short answer to your question is that you can’t. Because being published the traditional route often takes 3-5 years from the time you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to the time your book hits the shelves, it’s nearly impossible to predict what will be popular with editors and readers. Like a shooting comet as viewed from Earth, trends enter the biz in a blaze of glory and burn out quickly.
While it’s good as a professional author to be aware of what’s selling, I would encourage you to write the story of your heart. You have very little control over what editors are acquiring in terms of theme and concept, but you do have a lot of control over the quality of your book and its ability to connect with readers.
That said there are several places online, such as Wattpad where you can share fan fiction and short stories that are more in keeping with trends. This could be a way to build your audience, get feedback or simply share stories about themes that you too are passionate about.
Just be sure to look at the service agreement of any website where you’re posting to make sure their terms are in line with your goals for publishing those creative works.
Laura Lascarso 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.