Visiting YA authors share writing tips with students


Westerfield (1 of 1)

Calling out to all aspiring authors: two published young adult authors have mastered the formula to get published and sell to the masses. On Sept. 29, Adam Selzer, author of I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked it, and Simone Elkeles, author of the Perfect Chemistry series, visited the DGN library and shared their experience on the road to success. Here’s what they found:

Watch your language
In any written work dialogue is a big deal; it’s no secret that teenagers, as they always have, swear, so when writing a YA novel, you need some profanity. As an author you have to find a balance between your ideal lingo and the publisher’s.
“Originally, [my publisher] told me to tone it down a little bit seeing that the book is going to sell more to the parents than the actual children. So we went back and forth. I said ‘Okay, I’ll take the s-word out here if I can change butt to the a-word over here.’ Dancing around the swear words is really 80 percent of my job,” Selzer said.
The amount of f-words and s-words has a lot to do with determining audience for a book. Selzer’s books are marketed many at ten year olds and up as well as their parents are a stark contrast to Elkeles’, which are pandered to children 14 and up, due to mature content including sex, drugs, violence, and of course, profanity.

Judge the book by its cover
When it comes to the cover of a book, Barnes and Noble has the final say. No questions. No exceptions.
Most of Elkeles books are targeted at an audience of both boys and girls, especially those with rough upbringings. She does book talks across the nation at juvenile detention facilities, hoping that the relatable characters in her book help give these teens a sense of hope and the message that there’s a way out.
“[My publisher] gave me these really girly covers with like pink pastels, cotton candy, hearts and everything, and I said, ‘Please do not do that to my books.” This is not a cutesy romance. This is like gangs, hard-core stuff. They said Barnes and Noble likes the cover and marketing likes the cover. I can’t go to juvie with these hearts and cotton candy covers,” Elkeles said.

Don’t bother writing a title
“You only get so much control over what your actual title is. [The publishers] can decide all by themselves if they want to name it something ridiculous,” Selzer said.
Much of the final stages of publishing a book are the back and forth pleading and begging for that “working title”.
“I wrote a book under the title ‘Debbie Does Detention’, and the publisher said ‘No we’re going to call this The Epic Completely True Blue Almost Holy Quest of Debbie.’   That’s the worst title I’ve ever heard; it doesn’t even abbreviate to anything. There’s not even a word in there that you can google and it will actually come up as a book,” Selzer said.

Get to work and write
When asked about what the formula was for a successful YA book, Selzer got down to the basics.
“Ultimately, I’d say get a book written, get a fun book written, get a book that other people might want to read written. Get up every morning and get to work. Keep at it, keep working at it: that’s the number one thing,” Selzer said.
Of course, no author can really dial in to a book without a little enjoyment. Elkeles says her formula is simple.
“I was a bored, stay-at-home mom, and I didn’t want to go back to work, and I fell in love with reading as an adult. I don’t think about the reader when I’m writing. I write for myself and to entertain myself,” Elkeles said.

Rachel Krusenoski | Editor-in-Chief
[email protected]