SCBWI NY: Writing for Teens

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Ben Schrank

On the first morning of the SCBWI 2010 Winter Conference, I attended Ben Schrank’s session entitled “Writing for Teens”. Schrank is the President and Publisher of Razorbill. He shared the following words of advice and caution to authors.

Writing for teens:

  • There is a kind of publishing dream that can come true, and authors should shoot for it; dream big
  • Your book has to be special, has to generate excitement
  • He doesn’t chase the market, he makes the market
  • If you’re not writing a book in order to make an impact on a kid somewhere, do something else
  • Your voice and concept need to work
  • Write the book where you can’t pull the voice and concept apart
  • Word of mouth among teens is key for promoting your book, but it can’t be forced

How to avoid common mistakes:

  • Don’t write for the market, but be aware of the market
  • If your heart isn’t about what is in the market, it will show in what you write
  • Don’t try to talk like a teen
  • Create language to influence kids or make an impression
  • Don’t use direct introductions (e.g., “I’m Trixie. I like to dance.”)
  • Don’t windmill (i.e., use lots of empty words)
  • Begin en media res
  • If your story has been told before, tell it in a new and unique way
  • If your story doesn’t work in the school cafeteria, it won’t relate to teens, or anyone
  • Be nice, confident as a writer
  • Be honest, trust the team working on your book
  • The moment you finish your book, if you’re mean with anyone about it, you’re screwed
  • Don’t overuse social media, telling the publishing process of your book; let there be some mystery and magic in the release
  • Promote online, but don’t ruin the msytery
  • Don’t try to write edgy, just write relevant

7 thoughts on “SCBWI NY: Writing for Teens

    Ingrid Edith said:
    February 4, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Sorry for my taste there are too much don’t do this 😉
    Creativity needs a free spirit…no limits.

    Ingrid Edith

      Amy K. Nichols said:
      February 4, 2010 at 10:47 am

      I suppose I could rewrite to put his thoughts into the positive form. Do this, do that, etc. Yes, creativity needs a free spirit. But I think it’s also beneficial to understand what a publisher does and doesn’t want to see. He wants to publish the next big thing. If I write the next big concept, but I don’t write it well, it’s not going to get published.

        Sydney Salter said:
        February 8, 2010 at 8:17 am

        I agree that the creative process needs to be free, but whenever I hear from someone like Ben Schrank, I’m reminded that publishing itself is a business very different from writing itself.

        Amy K. Nichols said:
        February 8, 2010 at 8:35 am

        That is so true, Sydney! Thank you.

    Kimberly Sabatini said:
    February 4, 2010 at 11:43 am

    You took such good notes because your feet were VERY comfortable LOL! Great post. :o)

      Amy K. Nichols said:
      February 4, 2010 at 12:42 pm

      It’s true. My tootsies were so comfy in those new shoes I could have cried!

    Lisa Nowak said:
    February 5, 2010 at 9:39 am

    All great advice. I don’t see it as negative, but then maybe that’s because this advice fits naturally with how I like to write.

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