Writing for Young Adults

Today’s guest post is by Lauren K. McKellar, whose debut YA novel, Finding Home, came out on 1 October. Yay!

I have to confess: I wasn’t a YA author by choice.

I’ve always loved writing and reading, and my taste has always been to read up. When I was ten, I read Lord of the Rings. At eleven, there wasn’t anything ‘mature’ enough for me in the school library, so I read the dictionary.

1013-Finding-Home_1400Yep, I had all the friends.

When I decided I wanted to try writing again, like I used to when I was younger, it was natural that I should try my hand at my current flavour of the moment: chick lit. I tried it during NaNoWriMo of 2011 and, needless to say, like many good first forays do, it sucked.


Then I saw a competition advertised, Hardie Grant Egmont’s The Ampersand Project. It looked perfect: run by Aussies, a comp for first-time authors…it had everything! The only thing that didn’t quite fit with my master plan was the age group: it was for Young Adult writers.

‘No worries,’ I told my partner. ‘I’ll just write a YA.’

Ha! Like it’s that easy.

My first attempts at YA were terrible, so much worse than my first chick lit novel. I gave up. I deleted documents, I scrunched up pieces of paper and I threw my virtual competition entering spirit in the bin.

Then, something crazy happened.

I read a YA book.

It was completely by accident and, to be honest, I don’t think I knew it was YA before I picked it up.

And what happened? I was hooked.

I loved it. I loved it so much that I went out and bought a stack of other YA books, gorging myself on these teenage novels like a starving person at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Possibly with less restraint.

At the eleventh hour, I went back and attempted a complete rewrite of my Ampersand attempt. This time, I was armed with knowledge. I knew things, things I didn’t know before, including:

  • Don’t write down to your audience. Who likes being spoken to like they’re a little kid? Not me.
  • Try to avoid trends, e.g. brands of phone, social media specifics and current bands/movies. Trends change quickly for us all, but not so much as they do for teenagers.
  • Don’t preach. My novel does feature a lot of teenage drinking, and it was hard to straddle the line between positive message and lecturing on the evils of booze. I’d like to think I’ve achieved it. Or, if not, I’ve given it a damn good shot!
  • Research your genre. The kind of YA books I liked showed me things, things that some people might frown upon but that I loved reading about when I was a teenager. I wanted to read about sex. I wanted to read about drugs. I didn’t want them glossed over; I wanted details.
    That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, and Finding Home (my debut novel) doesn’t feature a whole heap of graphics on either matter. But they both feature. And I think that’s okay.

I didn’t get chosen for the Ampersand project. Honestly, I’m a little embarrassed when I think back to the copy I handed in then.

LaurenLuckily for me, though, I did get a publishing contract. I actually had two publishers who I tricked into thinking that Finding Home was worth putting to print.

And, after much hard work, deliberation and excitement, Finding Home is on sale now, for young adults, through Escape Publishing, a Harlequin Australia imprint.

And do I read chick lit anymore? Hell to the no.

For a chance to win one of two $5 Amazon cards, one $10 Amazon card or a copy of Finding Home, click HERE!

Lauren McKellar is a writer and reader of Young and New Adult books. Her debut novel. Finding Home, is out now, and can be bought from all your usual eBook sites (links available here). She also works as a freelance editor for novels for all age groups and you can chat to her on Twitter or Facebook any time you like!

One Comment on “Writing for Young Adults”

  1. Stacey Nash says:

    Really? You read the dictionary. You, Lauren, are my hero! And *high five* to the YA love. 🙂

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