Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Writing for Young Adults: Questions & Answers with Agent/Author Regina Brooks

Two weeks ago, we featured an excerpt from Regina Brooks, agent and founder at Serendipity Literary. She is also the author of a book entitled Writing Great Books for Young Adults. As an agent who specializes in young adult fiction, Brooks has valuable advice which I believe is valid for both those who write for that market and those for write for ALL markets. 

Q: How did you get your start as an agent? Is the young adult market a specialty of yours?

Yes the young adult area is one of my specialty areas along with memoir, health nonfiction pop

culture, science, and fiction .

I started agenting 15 years ago after having worked in senior positions at John Wiley& Sons, and

McGraw-Hill. I loved working on technical and engineering books given that my background

as an aerospace engineer but I really loved working on light fin things as well like children’s and

young adult books.

Q: What are the biggest mistakes you see in young adult manuscripts?

Here are the top five mistakes I see in manuscript after manuscript:

1. PASSIVE CHARACTERS. Passive characters let events happen to them instead of shaping their own

stories. They react more than they act. They waffle, mired in indecisiveness, and when they do act,

their actions feel sudden and bewildering. Instead, we love seeing characters with well-developed arcs,

characters whose actions seem consistent with who they are, those who earn their growth through a

series of well-defined goals, mistakes and achievements.


You don't want your readers jerked out of the story's world with such questions as, "why would this

character do that?" or "would a teacher really get away with saying that?" or "were individuals really

allowed to own factories in 1940s Soviet Union?" Knowledge of your characters and your setting is the

best antidote to these. When as readers we are in the hands of a storyteller whose knowledge goes

deep under the surface of their story's world, we can tell.


Exposition consists of facts or history or any sort of information or background the writer feels is

essential for the reader to grasp in order to understand what's going on. When such information, be

it about the characters or the setting, is dumped into the text in long paragraphs or clunky dialogue, it

interrupts the story's flow. The reader then feels lectured to. Instead, try to weave the exposition into

the narrative as much as you can, see if you can make it an essential part of your story.

Before you explain something in your manuscript, see if you can raise the question, create a hunger

 in your readers to know what you are about to tell them. And don't overdo it, keep the exposition

sparse even then.


He felt sad. She was nervous. I hate Mondays.

Those are all examples of telling. Telling has its place, but so many writers overuse it. Showing goes

under the surface of an emotion or scene.

When you portray sadness or nervousness, show how such an emotion would color a character's world.

Go specific, what is it that your character really hates about Mondays?


We see it in just about every element of story, we see it in language, descriptions, expressions

of feelings and situations. Overused phrases, stereotypes, descriptions that add nothing new to our

understanding of the world, those all lead to predictability, that sense in the reader that we have seen

this sort of story before. Do your research and spend more time imagining your story in the deepest

and most authentic possible way, and reject the first on-the-surface ideas, and you'll go a long way

toward combating cliche.

 Q: What is your best tip for writing for young adults?

Don't write to trend. Become a part of your writing community, get involved in contests, take

advantage of opportunities like Wattpad. But most importantly, once you finish one book, start the

next one. If you make a commitment to writing for young adults, keep writing! One day readers will

 fall in love with your writing, your stories and your characters, and they will want more. Be prepared

 to feed that hunger!

Q: What types of books can we expect to be trend-setters in the young adult market in the days to come?

 Realistic contemporary novels seem to be especially *it* at the moment.

Magic realism is also enjoying great interest. But really, any stories that feel fresh and unexpected.

Those become the trendsetters. I understand, there is always an interest in knowing what's on trend at

the moment. But writers do themselves and the world the best service when they focus their energies

on their truest, most authentic and greatest stories.

The publishing industry is cyclical and if your story doesn't happen to be in demand right now, there

is a strong likelihood that two to three years from now your idea will hit the mark.

 Q: Do you think the young adult book industry will continue with huge growth or is it a passing trend?

YA market has exponentially increased over the last several years, just as the number of young adults

 in the US is increasing, so is the number of books sold! To top it off, more adults than ever are

reading YA, and that trend isn't showing any signs of retreat. There has been an increase in the

number of YA imprints in recent years and editors are continuing to enthusiastically seek great

stories for teens. In addition, there's been extra interest recently in book to film, especially in the YA


Not just movies, but other businesses touched by the book industry, like merchandising, have been

affected in a positive way.

 Q: Do you have any recommendations for creating young adult characters 

 (whether in young adult or other types of fiction) readers will love?

Spend time to really get to know your characters, so when we read about them, we feel as though

they are real. Then throw plenty of challenges their way, and watch them shape their own destinies!

Write what you know, not in a sense of writing from your life directly, but definitely mine your true

emotions, then transfer them to your characters. Give your characters contradictions and interesting

histories (which doesn't mean you should put all their childhood memories into your actual

manuscript).Don't force your characters to act just to follow the plot you had laid out for them. Let

your characters be their own authentic selves. We are looking forward to reading stories crafted with

such care.

 Summary/book jacket description of your book.

Break into the Bestselling Young Adult Market with this Indispensable Guide!

Whether you're just getting started or are on the hunt for an agent or publisher, Writing Great

Books for Young Adults is your complete insider source on how to succeed in the flourishing

world of YA fiction and nonfiction. In this updated and revised edition, veteran literary agent

Regina L. Brooks offers invaluable advice for YA writers on everything from shaping your novel

to crafting the perfect pitch for your book.

Learn How To:

•Develop an authentic, engaging voice and writing style

•Construct dynamic plots that will resonate with readers

•Avoid common pitfalls related to tone and point of view

•Navigate the emerging genres of YA nonfiction and New Adult

•Create an exceptional query letter and proposal that willgrab the attention of agents and


You'll also discover how successful film adaptations like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games

have broadened the market for your book. Filled with tips and advice from agents, editors, and

popular YA authors, Writing Great Books for Young Adults is your ticket to an incredible YA


"Brooks offers writers who are serious about attractingteen readers solid guidance through the

creation process of writing YA fiction."—LibraryJournal


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

This was brilliant, with such great advice. I was excited to learn that books with magic realism is on the rise, since that is the kind of book I've started. I was thinking it would never fly in today's market but you have given me hope.

Could you explain what Wattpad is? I've never heard of that.

Okay, I'm off to purchase your book!!!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Sherrinda, I love magical realism too. Alice Hoffman is a favorite of mine but I would love to see more in the cba...