Saba Kapur shares her tips for attracting her generation of readers.
There’s no doubt that Young Adult fiction is dominating today’s book industry. Every sparkly vampire has been brought to life on a movie screen, and just about everyone has secretly assessed how far they’d make it if The Hunger Games become a reality (I’d be the first to go. I wouldn’t even make it past the reaping). So it’s no surprise that the YA section of Barnes and Noble is being stocked with exciting new stories everyday. And despite being glued to their iPhone screens, it seems that those in the social media generation are still willing to immerse themselves between the pages of a book. Trust me, I know. I’m one of them.
Being a teenage author is an almost indescribable experience. My relationship with writing is one that is considerably new, but still feels so profound. For me, YA literature was not just the simplest genre to choose, but the only one. Teenage fiction has formed so much of who I am, and it only felt fair to give back to the genre in any way I could.
The official release of my debut novel, Lucky Me, is right around the corner, and I’ve been asked a lot lately about my writing techniques and tips. Who actually has a foolproof plan for writing books? I’ll tell you what I tell everyone else. Nobody, that’s who. Except maybe J.K. Rowling. Honestly, you should really be asking her to write this article and not me. But since she’s too busy enjoying her $15 billion franchise, I’ll step in.
Truth be told, I am no expert. My mom still does the laundry and I can’t open a jar of salsa without calling in three people as backup (those things are baby-proofed, I swear). But writing isn’t always about expertise, it’s about emotion and experience. So without further ado, here are some tips I picked up along the journey of writing a YA novel.
* Please note that while these are extremely great tips, which I probably deserve some kind of award for, there is no guarantee that you will earn $15 billion after reading this article. My sincerest apologies.
1. Choose a relevant & original topic
Like any genre, YA novels are rooted in their stories. But the great thing about YA fiction is that you don’t need an intricate plot with twists and turns at every corner. You just need to understand what your audience cares about.
Us teenagers get a bad rap for being hard to figure out, but in reality, we’re really quite simple. We laugh at funny online videos that usually involve someone falling over, and we spend a lot of time planning fake weddings to members of British boybands. It’s really not rocket science, trust me. If you want to write a YA novel, you have to choose a topic that’s appealing to the targeted audience. My novel was largely inspired by my generation’s obsession with celebrity culture, and the ever-present fixation on the children of wealthy public figures. I simply personalised this by adding my own interest in mystery to develop a storyline. If I’m completely honest, I was sort of hoping that if I mentioned George Clooney a couple of times in my novel, he’d be so impressed that he’d fall in love with me. This hasn’t happened yet, but I’d like to consider myself an optimist.
Now, I know that it can be easy to get swept up in the popular trends of YA fiction, especially if you’re struggling to come up with an original idea. It’s great to go for a tried-and-tested formula, but at the end of the day there are only so many post-apocalyptic stories we can read. We get it. The government sucks, the female lead always has great hair and your favourite minor characters will probably die by the end of the third book.
There’s no doubt that many will read a novel from an already popular genre, but it will always be a comparison to something else. If you want to stand out you have to choose something new, even at the risk of straying from the norm. Lucky for you, the interests of young adults are always changing. One minute we hate Justin Bieber, the next minute we’re singing along to his latest hit while trying to cover up our ‘belieber’ tattoos (I just like that one song, okay?). You really can’t go wrong with originality.
2. Do your research
I’m clearly at an advantage because I could technically be classified as a young adult myself. It was easy for me to write about things that are appealing to my generation because I’m living amongst the latest trends. Who better to understand teenagers than a teenager herself? But YA fiction is written by authors of all ages, and each one brings their own experiences with them, whether it’s through their children, siblings or peers. It is understandably difficult to address a group that you don’t have exclusive membership access to. So how do you overcome this little dilemma?
Do. Your. Research! I don’t mean Google ‘what do young people like?’ Because not only will that probably flag you on some kind of FBI watch list, chances are you’ll end up scrolling through lots of blogs about how parents can’t deal with their children’s pubescent mood swings. If you’re having trouble appealing to teenagers, be observant of pop culture, idolized icons, and the types of lingo that young adults use. After that it’s simply a matter of selecting what best applies to your book’s setting. Pretty much anyone under the age of 25 can tell you what ‘YOLO’ or ‘FOMO’ mean, and social media will be your best friend during your research process. It certainly was for me, as my fictional world is largely based off real-life trends. So don’t just turn off the TV next time the Kardashians are on! Try and understand the appeal (however minimal it may be).
3. Empathize with your readers
People always say, “Write what you know,” which never really made sense to me before writing my own novel. If it’s fiction then how can it really be about what you know? It is only now that I understand what the phrase truly means. You can spend hours researching slang and teen heartthrobs, but at the end of the day, nothing else matters if you can’t connect with your readers. I have definitely learned that you can’t appeal to your audience if your own book doesn’t appeal to you in any sense.
Growing up is a tough process, and we just want someone to acknowledge that. Yes, our parents are the ones who worry about mortgages and bills. But our problems are no less trivial, and we love to know that we aren’t alone in our struggles. It’s essential to make your characters relatable not just on a teenage level, but on a human level. The best way to do this is through incorporating your own experiences and personality into your writing. There were so many times when I simply asked myself, “How would I feel in this circumstance if I were my character? Is this reaction a realistic one?” Admittedly, this wasn’t a tough task for me, as in many ways I grew up alongside my characters as they developed. But ultimately, the book has to be written through the eyes of the character, no matter who is writing it. And if your protagonist is anything like mine, placing yourself in their Louboutin stilettos is actually a lot of fun.
Of course, us authors may lead very different lives than our characters. I would totally love to have a six-storey mansion in LA and a hot bodyguard who follows me around all day. Yet here I am, eating chocolate cookies in bed and getting overly invested in the love lives of TV show characters. But there are so many of my own personality traits and interests that are projected through my book, almost as if I share a private joke with my characters. For me, that was essential to making them relatable, especially the flawed ones. Don’t just write what you know. Write what you feel and about who you are. Even fictional characters need some reality in them.
There are probably a million other tips that I could give you, but truthfully, I don’t believe in a single formula for writing. Books are a product of love, emotion, and commitment, and each author has a unique relationship with his/her writing. I have spent many years reading YA fiction, and it’s taught me a lot about my fellow readers and even myself. Teenagers are smart, aware and opinionated, even if we may enjoy our selfies and incessant complaining. We just want books that understand and appreciate that.
If your book can encapsulate the essence of the teenage experience, as I’ve tried to do in my own novel, then you’ve got yourself a sure winner. You don’t need my tips, however fabulous they may be.
** Okay, but seriously. If you’re writing a book that doesn’t include George Clooney, then what are you even writing for? We need all the Clooney we can get in the world.
For eighteen-year-old Gia Winters, having a movie star for a father, a former Playboy bunny as a mother, a Hollywood mansion, and a closet stocked with Chanel is simply another day in the life. But her world is turned upside down when her father mysteriously hires a group of bodyguards to trail the family 24/7 and threatening phone calls from a “Dr. D” start buzzing daily.
When Gia scores the coveted role of Miss Golden Globe, she is forced to strike a deal with her bodyguard, Jack, who is almost as arrogant as he is attractive. Juggling Gia’s romantic failures, fashion faux pas, and celebrity obsessions, the duo investigate a series of clues with the help of a police cadet, who has a special set of skills and an even better set of dimples. But with the Golden Globes just around the corner, danger levels rise higher than her stilettos as Gia learns that the biggest secrets might be the ones buried in her own home.
In a place where the hills have eyes, high school nemeses, bad hair days, raging parties, and stolen kisses, there can only be trouble for a girl who was just starting to consider herself lucky.
Born in India, Saba Kapur spent her childhood in Indonesia and Kiev, Ukraine. Her passion for storytelling developed at a young age, born from a deep-seated love of books. Saba is a 20-year-old writer currently in her final year of college, studying International Relations and Criminology at Monash University. She hopes to one day become a fabulous lawyer in New York City, with a closet full of stilettos. Lucky Me is her first novel and an ode to her favorite things: fashion, romance and mystery. In her spare time, Saba enjoys reading, watching anything to do with Ryan Gosling and pretending she’s Beyoncé. She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia with her parents, her older sister and a large supply of chocolate.