So, you want to rake in that sweet YA coin, do you? Chronologically, it’s the last age group where you can guarantee some level of readership, so it makes sense. Once you leave this demo everyone is distracted by going to college, getting hammered, taking pregnancy tests, and gaining weight/losing hair at an alarming rate. Who has time to marvel at your fiction skills? No one, not even your mom!
Nope, it’s those 11- to 17-year olds that still might plunk down their allowance/babysitting/paper route cash and go nose-deep in your tales of fancy. But where do you start? How do you become the next Beverly Cleary, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, or Veronica Roth? There are five easy steps to set you on the path to unimaginable wealth and legions of screaming fans.
1) Be a woman. Let’s say, theoretically, you were not born a woman (if you were, skip to #2). You’ve got the full basket of male apparel at your disposal. Don’t worry! This will not hold you back in an awesome variety of ways in today’s world. However, it does put you at a slight disadvantage when it comes to attaining mind-boggling YA riches. So, simple – get yourself a lady pseudonym. Even if you just alter your own name slightly, as I did with my ground-breaking, astronomically massive series Vampire Zombie Ville, penned under the name “Josephine Goats.” Trust me, it opened doors. Behind some of those doors were creepy agents expecting someone considerably less hairy than myself, but it still got me PowerPointing my way to selling this story.
2) Fantastical elements. You might think a story about a 14-year-old kid starting a camping club and evading wolves sounds like a great story, but this isn’t 1913. That shit isn’t gonna spawn action figures. If you want to write the great adolescent novel of our times, these instructions aren’t for you. And really, if your ideas are that good, aim higher than pimply teens and hipster douches for your audiences. Don’t sell yourself short. But, those of you looking for cocaine-lord-style greenbacks with only a modicum of ingenuity and ability, trust me, fantastic elements are the way to go. Talking unicorn president? Do it! Heroic manatee watchmen? Yes! Rampaging mutated lobster horses? This shit practically writes itself! When V.Z.V. was in the planning stages, everything was thrown at the wall to see what stuck, and honestly, 90% of it is in the book. Golem mayor? The evil John Corpus presides! Teenage, forlorn, warlock love cults? Book three! Vampire Zombie Ville: Love Bites, Then You Die! Ogre football? The most brutal sport since werewolf golf!
3) Simplify everything. Oh, you might consider yourself a goddamn Faulknerian wordsmith, but you’ve gotta tone that shit down. Because – hint, hint – it’s not just kids reading these books. “What the hell?” I hear you asking. “If adults read them too, why would they need to be simpler?” You’ve answered the question. Adults are idiots. So are teens. Hell, so are babies, when you get right down to it. People reading your nonsense teenage-fairies-battling-pterodactyl-pirates novel don’t want to get bogged down in imagery and metaphors and four-syllable words. Cut to the chase. This is YA 101 right here.
4) Sex. “For shame!” I can hear you thinking. “In a young adult novel?? How could you suggest such a thing?” Fact of the matter is, once you hit puberty, the chemicals are bubbling and things are happening that turn even the most even keel child into a raging, pheromonal sociopath. Look it up, that’s science right there. So while you don’t have to include graphic depictions of hardcore pornography to make your local priest blush, you need enough hints and innuendos to keep the palm-sweating readers turning, hoping to get to that moment when the kids grow up enough so that their groping isn’t too weird. Not to continue plugging my own product, but V.Z.V. was a practically a textbook on undead sexuality, cloaked in fist-fighting leprechauns. Go back, look at book six, Vampire Zombie Ville: High Stakes Through the Heart. That’s one long penetration metaphor right there.
5. Sell your soul to the public. And lie. How are you going to stand out in a market so clogged with this trashy product that even you are thinking of getting involved? You, with no discernible writing skills or clever ideas! Well, that’s where the public comes in. Get your hard luck story together. Acquire a few scars. Develop a crippling addiction. It doesn’t matter. Why was it harder for you to write this book than anyone else writing their stupid book? Oh, that chick went to a workshop at the University of Iowa and produced her goddamn miniature-future-dystopia-run-by-ants while raising a kid as a single mom? Did she do it while on heroin and battling encephalitis too?! Boom! Even if you’re really a thirty-something guy living with four other guys who won’t stop playing Madden and smoking weed, you can sell this reality. Because you know hardships too.
And shit, that’s it! Those are the steps. Bang through that draft, get a little editing together, bribe a few agents, hire prostitutes for some critics (I’m still assuming you’re a guy, and so are they), make the cover kid-friendly no matter the content, and watch the dough roll in! It’s as easy as that! Good luck out there, hacks!
Josephine Goats is the author of twenty young adult novels: the nine-book Vampire Zombie Ville series, the four-book allegorical King Crawfish quadrilogy, the six-book Ghost Train Express epic, and Touchdown Carl and His Team of Friendship, his first and, to date, only unsuccessful publication.