Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What's common in YA and how to seperate yourself

Tip of the Day: A little birdie named MySpace told me it was our very own Lisa Schroeder’s Birthday today. Have an amazing birthday, Lisa!

In the YA writing world, some of you might have seen the 25 common phrases and ideas in YA books that Joelle Anthony posted and Agent Kristin Nelson reposted on her blog last week. On one of my online writing lists there has been a small discussion centered around whether it’s okay for new writers to take to heart and/or remove their most common or clichéd phrases from their manuscripts.

I don’t really want to debate that, personally because I think that if someone posted information in an attempt to be helpful to new or established writers, those writers can either take the advice as intended or simply not look at the information. And I come from the camp that you can do anything—even clichéd—phrases if you do them well. I also come from the camp of loving lists—which topped this particular list as the most used idea in YA books—and would hate to see all the “lists” in books suddenly disappear.

However, in seeing the discussion it sparked something in me that I think a lot of new writers, myself included, sometimes forget.

And that’s marketing!

If you think you don’t need to be aware of marketing when just starting out writing a book and trying to sell it, then I am here to tell you, you are wrong. (You can go ahead and throw objects at me for admitting that, if you wish. But please no tomatoes or computers—unless it’s the new MacBook Air, which I will gladly catch and keep.)

Marketing is much more than selling books to readers. From my good old college days, I do remember that there are four main P’s in marketing: product, price, place (distribution), and promotion. Luckily as a new writer just starting to write and sell we only need to be concerned about product at this point.

But another key component to any marketing is that you are aware of who you are marketing this product to. That’s why there’s entire classes devoted to demographics and psychographics of understanding the “customer” and your “competitors.”

So for YA novels, who’s your customer?

Sure it’s teens. Sure it’s adults (because we all know there’s plenty of adults that read YA).

But even before that, the main “customers” of your book are agents and editors. You have to get it by them before you can sell to your end customer.

And you know what, these are the people you have to be concerned about cliché and popular ideas for. Because teens probably wouldn’t be able to spot a clichéd phrase out of a line up (some would, but most probably won’t care if they like the book enough); however, agents and editors read hundreds and thousands of sample pages a year. And if they are seeing stuff come up over and over again, then I think it’s important you know about this, so you can try to separate yourself from the pack.

Just like how on most agent blogs you read that in query letters, agent don’t really like seeing clichés in the letters, since it makes it “appear” like the book is going to be like a bunch of other books already out there.

Separating yourself from the pack doesn’t have to mean completely removing clichéd phrases or concepts. Maybe it’s twisting the phrase or idea on its head. Maybe it’s focusing on the stronger parts of your manuscript instead, such as your voice or your plot. Just something to make it stand out. And most of the time, this happens naturally. But I do think it’s important to be aware of what else is out there.

That’s why, I for one am very grateful to have an inside look at what other writers, editors, and agents are seeing an abundance of. It’s the good old marketing-brain in me that loves to know all about my competitors and customers and how I can separate myself from them in both query letters and my manuscript.

So if you think it might help you, too, then make sure to check it out: here and here. And is there anything else you guys see alot of in YA books?

Bonus tip (since I loved Kate’s idea of one): Make sure to check back on Friday for a special announcement about a oh-so-exciting thing we have planned next week to celebrate Valentine’s Week.

-- Emily, Miss Awaiting an Agent


Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Yo! Toss me one of those MacBook Airs, too! [perhaps with my first advance check ;-) ]

And happy birthday, Lisa!

Thanks for these comments, Emily. I had to laugh as I read through that list last week. My second book completely avoids all of those little items, but my first...Ha! The MC has strawberry-blond hair. Does that count? And her mother is dead!

I think you are right, though. Like rhyme and shifting POV and all those things that editors warn you of at conferences, cliches can actually be done well sometimes. I like the suggestion of tipping it on its head a bit, shaking up the old standard. Sometimes cliches can be tools. But that's just it. They should be tools, not just throw-away issues offered up for lack of inspiration. If it has a purpose, it can work.

And you're absolutely right--as a writer, you can take advice or leave it. Do what works in your writing.

Kate Fall said...

The red hair thing is overdone, as are mousy brown, lustrous black, and gorgeous blonde. Hmm, that doesn't leave us with much, does it? (I did try to write a character with "hair that color between brown and blond that isn't really a color" but it didn't really work.) Mousy brown bothers me the most, not that I, uh, take it personally. ;)

Great post, Em! "Know your audience" is advice that I try to take to heart. I'd love for my stories to have readers someday!

DeenaML said...

Em, this is a brilliant post! I totally agree with you. I was amused by the outcry that followed the 25 YA cliches list, but I have to say, you can support your decision to have the red-haired bff and a dead mom all you want -- but then make sure to FOCUS ON THE HOOK when you write your query to the agent/editor. GREAT reminder! Thanks!

Emily Marshall said...

Ghost Girl, I thought it was funny too, because my first manuscript had alot of them, my second less, and my third even less. Too funny. But I think within reason these things can be used. The girls in my current work have "original" red hair for a purpose. And I think I used that purpose because my husband has red hair and a downfall of it--according to him--led to a good reason to give the girls red hair in my book.

Ut oh, Kate, I think I gave someone mousy brown hair. I think it describes it well though. Maybe I should rethink. Hhmm...

And Deena, I completely agree.

Kristina Springer said...

That list didn't do anything for me. I just didn't see the big deal if someone wants a BFF with red hair. Or, if someone wants to make a list because-- people do actually like to make lists. I love lists in books too Em. If someone tries to avoid all of those things they'll drive themselves crazy! I think you hit it on the head-- work on making the hook unique.

Now I'm off to write my book about the list-hating MC with the bald best friend, six mothers, all of whom are very much alive, the mean gang from the chess team and the gorgeous friend with skin the color of green tea.

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

LOL, tina! Love it! Will it all be told in journal entries?

Hook 'em, girl!

Emily Marshall said...

Tina, that's hilarious. I'd love to read that book :)

And I agree!