All posts in Questions Answered

20 Mar

Why I Write YA

In Publishing,Questions Answered,Reading by MK England / March 20, 2017 / 0 Comments

Someone on my fandom tumblr just asked me why I write YA and what the primary characteristics are. I, of course, LOVE to nerd out about this very topic and yet have NEVER put into words what I love about YA. So, here:

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First, let’s define YA fiction as best we can. Terminology: YA is not a genre, it’s an age category. Genres are things like romance, mystery, sci-fi. Age categories are things like middle grade, young adult, easy reader, adult. So, any given book will have both a genre and an age category. Next, misconceptions: YA is not only for teenagers. YA is not dumbed down, shallow, or lacking complexity. You cannot make any assumptions about quality, and very few assumptions about content, based on the fact that a book is shelved as YA.

So, what is it? Most YA books feature a protagonist aged 14-15 for lower YA or 16-19 for upper YA. The book is written in a teen’s voice and through their point of view, which is influenced by where they’re at developmentally. This authentic teen voice is critical: Not all books with teen protagonists are YA books. YA fiction is published for and marketed to ages 12-18, but is very widely read by adults as well. There are a few limitations on content. YA fiction can absolutely tackle tough topics like rape, drugs, sex, lots of swearing, violence, etc. The only real limit is that torture and rape can’t be gratuitous (nor should they be in adult fiction, but that happens all the time, ugh), and there can’t be any really explicit on-page sex.

So, why do I write YA?

The simple answer is: I write YA because it’s what I love to read. Any writer needs to read extensively in their chosen age category and genre, so it really helps if you actually love it. My other job is being a YA librarian, which means both my careers are heavily teen-centric and YA fiction-centric. They jive.

But you’re looking for something deeper than that, and there’s plenty. WHY do I like to read and write YA? Oh, so many reasons. In no particular order:

1) There’s no shame. Read romance, read sci fi, read literary, read horror—the culture of judgment just doesn’t exist in the YA world to the same degree it does in the adult world. Oh, it’s definitely still there, especially among awards committees, but the perceived gap between a YA literary novel and a YA romance novel feels far less than that between a National Book Award winner and a bodice-ripping adult romance. NOT, let me clarify, because the YA literary novel is not of equally significant quality and value to the National Book Award-winning adult book, but because the YA world has much more of a read-and-let-read mentality.

2) Teenagers are at the greatest point of change in life, and that makes for fascinating characters to explore. Throw someone who is growing and changing and forming their identity into challenging circumstances and watch the magic happen. Many adults are quite set in their ways. Teens are more likely to be adaptable, fierce, open-minded.

3) Teens are (in general) less bogged down by “life stuff”. They haven’t had 30, 40, 50, 60 years of friends and family dying, failed relationships, lost jobs, destroyed homes, and all the other bad shit we accumulate in life. There’s a freshness that I find appealing in a character, and I enjoy being able to mold a character as I see fit without having to work around the giant elephant of their history and baggage. (That said, there are absolutely teens who have had extremely rough lives, and there are YA novels that tackle that, too.)

4) I think teen voices are vastly undervalued in our society (at least, in American society, can’t speak to elsewhere). I respect and value teens and by writing them I get to put a little power back into their hands.

5) The YA world is where the charge is being let for large-scale change in the publishing world. Check out the We Need Diverse Books movement, originated by YA authors. YA authors are making real change in the publishing world, working for authentic, sensitive, and equal representation of marginalized groups in fiction. While the rest of the world cries about lack of diversity in the media, YA authors are Getting Shit Done.

6) That energy permeates the entire YA fiction world. It’s an electric place to be.

7) LGBTQ+ content doesn’t preclude a book from being a major financial success in the YA world. LGBTQ+ rep is becoming increasingly common and welcome. YA agents are actively seeking it. YA editors are more and more open to it. It’s beautiful.

8) It’s fun and I love it.

I’m juggling three adult projects right now because I contractually can’t sell a third YA novel until late next year anyway and I’m having a great time with them. I’m not saying YA is BETTER than adult. But, I am saying the COMMUNITY around YA fiction is better, and that it’s a different experience that I really enjoy. I’m also unabashedly trying to convince all of you that YA is legitimate and is not in any way less than adult fiction, because every loser who writes an inflammatory column in the New York Times about YA lakjsdhflkashd okay this is a whole other thing that makes me really angry so I’ll stop now YA IS GREAT OKAY BYE.

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28 Jul

Pitch Wars Live Video

Last night I was on Pitch Wars Live answering your questions from Twitter about Pitch Wars wish lists, submissions, and the craft of writing. It was a TON of fun, and we got some really great questions! I haven’t been able to go back and watch it because I know I make incredibly stupid faces when I talk, but if you want to be entertained by my face, you can watch below, or on youtube here.

If you want to follow up on any of the questions I answered, or get answers to any of the ones I skipped, let me know in the comments!

10 May

AskAuthors Blog Announcement

In AskAuthors,Questions Answered by MK England / May 10, 2016 / 0 Comments

I recently started contributing to a group blog called AskAuthors, which solicits questions from the tumblr community to be asked of the entire Pitch Wars class of 2015. There will be a question posted every Monday, plus additional questions asked by followers in between. It’s been a lot of fun so far! I love seeing how twenty or thirty different people respond to the same question. As the questions are posted on the Ask Authors blog, I’ll be reposting some of my own answers over here, sometimes with additional content.

We each answered a short questionnaire to introduce ourselves to the AskAuthors audience:

Name: M.K. England
Favorite Book: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Status: Agented, on submission
Primary Genre: YA Speculative
Super Hero Name: According to a highly accurate facebook meme, it’s Stardoom the Smiter of Mars. Pretty good, actually.
Superpower: Teen Librarianing like a BOSS
Three words to describe yourself as a writer: Caffeinated neurotic disaster

Make sure you visit the blog (and follow, if you’re a tumblr user) to see everyone else’s responses, too. The real value of this blog is the variety of perspectives, so ask us things! You can send an ask anonymously even if you don’t have a tumblr account.

Looking forward to answering your questions!

24 Feb

Idea Seeds and Updates

In Drafting,Questions Answered,Writing Process by MK England / February 24, 2016 / 3 Comments

It’s been a while. I know. Forgive me. Things got pretty real in the beginning of 2016.

So what’s happened? Two things, mainly.

  • I completed my R&R for Space Academy Rejects, which includes a completely new second half and tons of fantastic revisions to the front. I looove it. It was brain-bendingly difficult, but I’m thrilled with the final product, and I hope my beta readers are enjoying it right now!
  • A lot of stuff went down in the city where I work. Public libraries are part of local government, so whenever a city has major financial issues, its public libraries suffer. We’re talking possible bankruptcy, state takeover, layoffs, the whole nine. Fun times.

So, y’know. I’ve been a bit off the grid. But I return!

Moriarty(1)

The big topic on my brain lately is book ideas. After each book I finish, I have a major panic moment where I feel like I’ll never have another good book idea ever again. It inevitably passes and I fall in love with another project, but it doesn’t make the fear any less REAL each time. It’s like:

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I’m coming off another such crisis right now and am beyond thrilled to be outlining a new YA space opera with a main character I adore. But the question that gets asked of every writer at some point is: where do your ideas come from?

For me, there are two stages: Seeds and sprouts.
(and I hope you’ll forgive the cheesy metaphor, which I’m about to beat like a bad cliche)

I have a whole document full of unspecific ideas that can come from anywhere at any time. Concepts I think are cool, bits of dialogue in need of the right character to say them, worldbuilding details that need a plot to go along, and other tidbits. Some are more fully-formed than others. These are my seeds: little story bits that are fully of potential, but need the right catalyst to get them growing.

But what’s the catalyst? What provides the water and sunshine for the seeds? (What will stop this awful metaphor from continuing?) That’s where my own media consumption habits come into play. When I’m having an awful time getting a new book idea going, it’s almost always because I’ve been neglecting reading, TV watching, and video game playing in favor of 100% focus on my writing and critiquing responsibilities. For those little concepts to turn into real, feasible story ideas, they have to collide with something I’m experiencing in media.

For Space Academy Rejects, the seed was utterly generic: some kind of space academy thing, a wacky sense of humor, and the whole found family crew concept common to sci-fi like Joss Whedon’s Firefly. That’s nothing. There’s nothing to go on there. No plot, no conflict, no character. That seed planted itself in my brain in mid/late 2013 and lay dormant for over a year.

Then I saw Guardians of the Galaxy in the theater in August 2014, and something about the sense of humor in that movie jumpstarted the voice of my main character, Nax. Suddenly I could hear him so clearly, hear his humor and self-deprecation, and in September 2014 I vomited the first chapter onto the page in one go. I toyed with it, thought about changing tenses out of fear of writing first person/present tense, decided to stick with it, wrote another three chapters, then added 50k words to finish the novel in November 2014 for NaNoWriMo. I haven’t written all that many books yet, but each time, it’s worked the same way: an idea seed lies in wait until it meets the right catalyst, then sprouts.

groot dance

Any time you plant seeds, there will always be some that don’t sprout. Some cool ideas will only ever be cool ideas. And that’s fine. Maybe they didn’t meet the right catalyst, or maybe there was something wrong with the seed to begin with. Maybe they’re still waiting for the right reaction. BUT. So long as you keep planting seeds and watering them, something will eventually grow. Keep that list of cool ideas and engage with lots of media. A new idea will take root soon enough.

(Hear that, self? STOP PANICKING.)

How do you come up with new story ideas?

16 Jun

MK’s Top 25 Books

In Personal,Questions Answered,Reading,Recs,Short Stories by MK England / June 16, 2015 / 0 Comments

So, someone over on my fandom blog decided to take me up on my offer of personalized book recommendations for the summer. Except they are an omnivorous reader, so they just wanted my top five favorite books.

First of all, you should probably never ask that question of a librarian unless you have lots of time on your hands.

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But here’s the problem with asking me specifically for my Top X Books of All Time: I either adore what I read, or I put it down. There’s rarely an in-between. There are SOME books that I forced myself through for the sake of school, and some that I enjoyed in the way you enjoy cotton candy dissolving into nothing. But the books that stick with me are the ones that really engage me intellectually or emotionally, or inspire the writer part of me stylistically. I do have some favorites that I enjoyed purely for a fun story, interesting world, and great characters, but that’s a separate list. This is the list of favorite books that affected me in some way. Most links will take you to Amazon, except in the cases where the book or story is available for free online somewhere. In no order whatsoever:

  1. Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (YA, realistic, Native American)
  2. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (adult, sci-fi, literary)
  3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA, realistic, rape culture)
  4. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (adult, sci-fi classic, stylistic influence)
  5. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (YA, LGBTQ+, romance, realistic)
  6. The Raven Cycle by maggie-stiefvater(YA, fantasy, realistic, stylistic influence, audio version is HIGHLY recommended)
  7. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (YA, sci-fi, LGBTQ+, screwed up/filthy/awesome)
  8. Little Brother by mostlysignssomeportents​/Cory Doctorow (read it for free on the author’s website! YA, tech, hacking, cyberpunk)
  9. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples (adult, sci-fi, weird, graphic novel, parenthood, nsfw)
  10. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (YA, feminist, realistic, humor)
  11. Channel Zero by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan (gritty, dystopian, tech, awesome art)
  12. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (adult, military sci-fi, hilarious)
  13. Graceling by Kristin Cashore (YA, fantasy, feminist)
  14. His Majestey’s Dragon by Naomi Novik (one of the founders of the OTW!, adult, fantasy, alternate history, LGBTQ+ subtext)
  15. Local by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly (adulting, travel, setting as character, 20-somethings)
  16. Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman (adult, literary, quick read)
  17. The Scorpio Races by maggie-stiefvater(YA, celtic mythology, audio version is HIGHLY recommended)
  18. Sold by Patricia McCormick (YA, human trafficking, novel in verse, audio version is HIGHLY recommended)
  19. Young Avengers (2013-2014) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie (YA, Marvel universe, LGBTQ+, just…so good)
  20. Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan & various artists (YA, Marvel universe, LGBTQ+)
  21. X-Wing: Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole (adult, sci-fi, Star Wars, fighter pilots)
  22. Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona (YA, Marvel universe, Muslim hero)
  23. The Knife of Never Letting Go by patricknessbooks(YA, dystopia, hard to explain, just read it, audio version is HIGHLY recommended)
  24. The P.L.A.I.N. Janes by Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg (YA, art, social change, nonviolent protest)
  25. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (J/YA, wizards, y’all know this one)

BONUS short stories:

Yet More Bonus Selections under the cut. Seriously, just stop me. What books have affected or inspired you? Tell me in the comments!

Read more →

15 Apr

What Does a Literary Agent Do?

In Querying,Questions Answered by MK England / April 15, 2015 / 0 Comments

There seems to be a lot of confusion out there about what literary agents actually DO. To some people, it just doesn’t seem worth it to give away 15% of their earnings to some random person–and I suppose that’s a valid point of view. I think for many people, though, that attitude stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the agent’s role in an author’s career. I’m firmly pro-agent because of the diverse services they bring to the table.

So, what does a literary agent do?

Discover new talent

This is what most people think of when they hear “literary agent”–someone who sits around reading all those query letters and lovingly-prepared manuscripts, looking for the next bestseller. Here’s the reality: most agents do their query/manuscript reading at home, on evenings, weekends, lunch breaks–in their free time. Their actual workday hours are spent doing all the things listed below for their existing clients. Next time you’re feeling bitter because an agent is taking forever to answer your query or read the full manuscript they requested, remember: they’re using their free time to give you a chance at achieving your dream. Be patient, send them a little long-distance love, and write something else while you wait.

Edit and Polish

For many traditionally-published writers, your agent is your first editor. They’ll help you hammer out those dents in your plot, fix your character arc, and add that final layer of polish to your manuscript so it’ll shine for the editors at the publishing houses. Your manuscript should be as close to perfect as you can make it before you even query an agent, but it can always be better. This is part of why agents have to be absolutely in love with your book to be willing to represent it; by the time your book goes to press, they will have read your words almost as many times as you have!

Pitch to Editors

This is the other part everyone knows about: agents use their inside knowledge of the industry to pitch your book to editors they believe will be as excited about it as they are. Think of it like Querying: Round 2; the agent has to research which editors are a good fit for the manuscript and craft a pitch, very similar to what you had to do when querying. This is where the real magic is. For more details, check out the great AgentQuery.com article where five different agents describe the process of pitching to editors, listed under resources below.

Negotiate Your Contract

But what happens when they pitch your book to editors and someone wants to publish it? Contracts. Lots of legalese. Literary agents know what’s standard in a traditional publishing contract with regard to rights, royalties, advances, licensing, timeline, option on future work, and much more. See the resources at the end of this post for an excellent article by agent Rachelle Gardner on publishing contracts. Essentially, the agent is there to protect you and make sure you get the best deal possible, plus manage multiple offers and conduct auctions if you’re just that popular and special. If you aren’t working with a literary agent, you’ll really want to hire a lawyer for this stage to avoid getting screwed.

Manage the Schedule

An agent acts as a go-between for you and the publisher, keeping everyone on both sides of the agreement on-time and moving. They make sure the editor gets your editorial letter to you on time, make sure you stick to your deadlines, monitor the production schedule, pass along important news and milestones (cover designs, etc.), and much more. They’ll also be the first reader for anything you send along to the editor.

Handle the Money Issues

Before I get into what agents do to help you manage your authorly finances, let’s clear up one area of frequent confusion. Agents only get paid when you do.

Let me say that again.

Agents only get paid when you do.

Any agent who asks for money up front is a fraud. Agents are paid a percentage of the earnings that come from the books they’ve sold for you. Typically that percentage is 15%, though it can be higher if you and your agent are in different countries. Agents who negotiate other rights deals, like film and foreign translation rights, often make more as well: 20% is standard. That percentage is deducted from both your advance (the money your publisher pays you just for writing the book) and your royalties (the money you make from each book sold after your publisher has earned back your advance)

So, all that said, agents don’t just take a portion of your money–they often help you understand your earnings. They receive the royalty statements from the publisher, explain the breakdown to you, and audit all of your earnings statements to ensure that you (and they!) are being paid as agreed. They are not an accountant, but they’re another checkpoint for errors. This is a valuable service, especially for those who are much better with words than they are with numbers.

Manage Your Career

Even after your books has been published, some agents continue to be the go-between for you and the publisher for things like arranging book tours, conferences, and signings. Some will even advise you on matters of promotion and marketing, though that’s really outside their realm of responsibility. Every agent is different.

Some agents sign with you only for one book, and once that book is published you’re free to seek another agent for future projects. However, many agents sign you for your whole career as a writer. These agents will read your future work and advise you on how your new projects fit into your career and brand. They’ll help you navigate tricky things like breaking into new genres once you’ve established yourself elsewhere, jumping age categories, and more, so long as your new projects are the kind of thing they represent. Agents are your guide to the publishing world.

The Long Story, Short

Agents do a lot of work for no guaranteed payoff. They’re like those lawyers you only have to pay if you win your case. They do so much work for you before they ever see a dime. You know, kind of like people who pour years into writing books on blind faith that one day, someone might actually want to read them. An agent is always on your side, in your corner, fighting the good fight for you. And always remember–agents love books. It’s why they do what they do.

At the end of the day, we all love great stories. Let’s work together to deliver them to the world.

How do I get an agent? How do I choose the right one? How do I know they’re legit? The answers to all of these questions and more, dear creatures, are coming soon. Check me later. I got your back.

 

RESOURCES:

Agents on Pitching to Editors:
http://www.agentquery.com/symposium_pitcheditors.aspx

What Does a Publishing Contract Cover?:
http://www.rachellegardner.com/what-does-a-publishing-contract-cover/

Janet Reid Rants: So What Exactly Do You Do Really?:
http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2015/03/rant-so-what-exactly-do-you-do-really.html

The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR):
http://www.aaronline.org/

 

 

20 Oct

Questions for Unpublished Writers

In Personal,Questions Answered,Writing Process by MK England / October 20, 2014 / 1 Comment

I came across these questions for not-yet-published authors on this blog and thought I’d share my answers over here because they got way too long for a comment. Fun to think about!

1. Did you always know you wanted to be an author, or did the idea of writing occur to you later on? Describe the circumstances which led to that choice.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since elementary school, but I took a major break from that dream. I got picked to represent my class in the school-wide Young Author’s Conference in some really young grade, but didn’t get one of the final picks for my grade level to actually participate, which crushed my tiny 8-year-old heart. I stopped writing stories until I discovered fanfiction in seventh grade, but then I was too scared to share my work with anyone. I started roleplaying a bit in high school, and had an English teacher who was wonderfully supportive, but all creative writing classes conflicted with band. I didn’t write again for a long time. I had ideas, and I used to fill bits of scrap paper with endless notes, bits of dialogue, and story beginnings while working my retail jobs.

The early idea for Firestarter came during that time period, somewhere around 2006. I didn’t start really writing fiction again until 2009 or 2010, when I decided to finally start Firestarter. I got 10k words in and quit. Did the same thing the next year, and the year after that. It took me until 2013 to really get serious about it, but I still only hit 20k words. Finally, on February 1st of 2014 I said NO MORE EXCUSES. I sat in the chair every morning and built upon those 20k words until the book was finished, 28 days later. Now, I pursue writing relentlessly and professionally. I’m querying my first novel and drafting my second. Writing is a major part of my life, and I hope I never let it go again.

2. What are the things that inspire your work as a writer? Music, art, people, travel, life in general?

I’m mostly inspired by other works of fiction, whether they be books, movies, video games, or roleplaying games. “What if I took this character type, but threw them into this completely different setting and situation…” etc. Eventually the character and plot I end up with bear zero resemblance to what originally inspired them, but the spark was there to set it off. I read widely and game widely, and those two things inspire my writing more than anything else.

3. What types of books are you drawn to reading? What types of books are you drawn to write?

I’m finding it really hard to pin down what exactly draws me to a book. I know I DON’T like characters who are weak-willed or passive. I like my books like I like my food: bold and spicy. I like strong, tough girls, and yes that includes the physically-strong sword-wielding types. I know it’s not the only way to be a strong female character, but it’s the type of character that has appealed to me since childhood. I wanted to BE a lady knight and a starfighter pilot. Still do. I like tough girls who have big dreams and big ideals, or girls who struggle with issues of gender expression and traditional femininity because they reflect my own struggles.

I don’t do sad/deep/issue books much. It has to be really outstanding for me to put myself through that. I love a book with a great setting and subtle, awesome worldbuilding, but it has to have a great plot too (and here I’m thinking of the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix). I like to write the same kind of stuff I like to read, unsurprisingly. Snarky humor, big attitudes, lots of personality, and an interesting setting. If it’s real world, it has to be described so that it almost feels alien, like in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle.

I think I learned a few things about myself and my tastes after free-writing those answers. Thanks for the inspiration, S.M.!

Anyone want to offer up their own answers?