Thursday, May 19, 2011

Y is for YA: Writing for the Young Adult

As we near the end of the alphabet, I'm very pleased to welcome author Cindy K. Green who shares her thoughts and her expertise on writing Young Adult fiction.

Writing for the Young Adult

Like YA books? Curious about the genre as a reader or a writer? I’ve got some information for you. My love of YA literature began when I was a pre-teen myself and continued as I became a teacher of middle schoolers. When I took the step to become an author, the first manuscript I ever worked on was a YA story. Just like any other type of writing, you need to know your market/audience and genre well. Here’s some help.

What is YA?

YA stands for ‘Young Adult’ and most often refers to literature intended for older tweens and younger teens. These are books which have an interest for teenage readers and follow the growth and experiences of a teenage protagonist. They can have various tones. For example, Meg Cabot’s Princess Diary series is light and funny but there is a lot of truth and reality in there too. On the other hand, there are very dark, almost-adult themed books intended for the YA. They do not all necessarily end happily—that of course will depend on your tone. However, they should have a point and a reason to hope that through this journey the characters are better off either through the change in circumstances or through the lessons learned in the course of their experiences.

What is the age range for young adults?

The range for YA can vary. There is the low rage of 10-12 and then the 12 and up variety. There is even what is called ‘Teen Fiction’ for 16 and up. Generally speaking, young adult refers to those over 12 years of age. Write characters that are a couple years older than your intended audience. YA readers tend to enjoy reading about kids that are the same age or older than themselves. So, if you are aiming for the Jr. High market (12-14 year olds), write a story about a character 14 years-old or older.


*Learn the writing craft. Everything you have to know to write for adults pertains to the YA market as well. IT IS NOT EASIER TO WRITE FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS. A key bit of advice is to not write down to your readers. Use language that you feel works for your story. If a YA reader doesn’t recognize or know the definition of a word, he can look it up or just deduce the meaning through usage.

*And like all authors know, to write in a certain genre you must read in that genre. So, if you want to write for young adults start reading the books. I have heard some authors suggest you try to read all the YA books in your library. That could be daunting depending on your library, but at least begin to sample them. As a middle school English teacher, I read a lot of YA books before I even contemplated writing in the genre; but that background really helped in writing my book.

*Knowing kids today also helps. You want to be able to get into the heads of today’s teens (as much as we can) and reach them with your story. Figure out a plot that teens can relate to in this day and age.

*Join an organization such as SCBWI, the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. This is one of the best organizations for Children’s writers and illustrators.

The Market & Resources

*Right now the market for YA books is booming. Check out the Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents by Jeff Herman (Prima Publishers) an annual publication that has a subject guide in the back. Also look in the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market from Writer's Digest Books, also an annual.

*If you want a list of YA publishers, try this link.

*Another great website for it’s comprehension into publishing, writing, and reading YA literature can be found at

*Check out Verla Kay’s Website for getting started in writing for Children and Young Adults.

*There are a lot of print resources as well. Here are a couple I can recommend.

Writing for Young Adults by Sherry Garland

Writing for Children and Teenagers by Lee Wyndam

My best advice to you is to write and continue writing. Resolve in your heart that this is something you want to do. My favorite writing quote is that there are more quitters than failures in writing. Don’t be one of the quitters.

This is just a beginning of all the information out there on writing for the young adult. But you have to start somewhere. Any other YA authors have some bits of advice?


Cindy K. Green is a multi-published author with degrees in History and Education. Previously a middle school English & History teacher, she now homeschools her own children and writes in several genres: Inspirational, Contemporary, Suspense, Fantasy and Historical romance. No matter what she writes, she always throws in a bit of humor and fun. Under the name CK Green she writes YA romantic fiction.

Find out more about Cindy and her books at and CK Green has a website at and a blog


Angela Verdenius said...

Hi Cindy

I've always believed it takes a special kind of writer to write for YAs, and I'm still convinced of it LOL. It's an art form all of its own! Great article, thanks.


Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks so much for this, Cindy. My first Tween novel (10-14 age) was recently accepted for publication next March. So I'll check out the resources you mentioned.

Jo Ramsey said...

Great list of resources, Cindy. I write YA as well.

My best advice for people who want to write YA is something you mention in your post. Know today's teenagers. Going by what you remember of your own teen years probably isn't going to cut it, unless you're not far out of the teen years, and you need to have a strong voice and current language (unless you're writing historical) to keep your readers engaged.

Victoria Roder said...

Thanks for the helpful information!

Linda Rettstatt said...


Thanks so much. The info you've provided is informative for me. I know next to nothing about YA fiction, and this truly helps me understand it a bit better.


Fiona McGier said...

It helps to remember that teens are as varied in their interests as adults are, since that's what they almost are! Some will devour complex writing, some have trouble with even Hemingway's short, choppy sentences. Choose a style that complements who you expect your audience to be, and hope they like you enough to Facebook and Tweet about your book!

Sandra Cox said...

Great blog, Cindy. Love your covers!

Herman and Dori said...

I've judged YA contests and my #1 comment is...stop writing in teen speak and just write a compelling story. Many novice writers think writing YA's will be an easy way to publish. Truth is, writing for teens and children is more challenging than writing for adults. Also, like Jo said, if you are writing from your memory of being a teen, you're doomed. I'm always impressed by authors who write YA and have a faithful following.

Therese said...

Hey Cindy, I write ya fiction too, and I agree with your comment about knowing today's teens. I also work in my son's school library. I love referring books to kids and talking to them about what they're reading. Love your book covers! Therese