Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Meet Young Adult Authors:

Shelia Goss, Paula Chase Hyman, Rose Jackson Beavers

Writing for Teens
By Rose Jackson-Beavers

I spend most of my free time with teenagers. Having seven teenaged girls, who are quickly growing into young women, has given me a lot of experience with their issues and how these issues. affect their decision-making process. In addition to having these young girls who are open and feel free to discuss their lives with me, I also have eight young teenage nephews going through their own life challenges.

Teenagers within my church, community organizations, and my personal friends’ children feel a great level of confidence in my suggestions, counsel, and opinions.

Even though not all of my words of advice are always followed, knowing that they value hearing what I have to say gives me the desire to write for teens to help them think before they act; particularly, since teenagers do not like to be talked down to, put down, judged or ignored.

As authors we must present ourselves as good listeners, great communicators, and in-depth researchers to help us in writing stories that will not only interest teen readers, but ultimately help them to think before making major decisions. To write for teens we have to write about situations that they are experiencing or things they are thinking about.

We have to:

Familiarize ourselves with their issues- what challenges are they facing and how they are feeling about relationships, dating, having sex, using drugs, dropping out of school, trying to survive in the ghetto/hood, etc.

Work with teens to better understand their problems or the things they are going through; have rap sessions to get their perspectives about life, about how they see themselves, what they want and/or need, etc.

Familiarize ourselves with the writing markets- find out what teens are reading- do they want romance, self-help books, mysteries or urban stories. Also, we need to know and adhere to the submission guidelines for becoming published with magazines, publishers, etc.

Take creative writing classes- learn how to write stories that people want to read

Read all kinds of teen books, even boring ones- understand what teens are buying, what types of writers captures their attention and intrigues them

Write everyday- the old proverbial saying that “practice makes perfect” is true- master your craft by writing something everyday

Join a writing group- sharing your writings with others who share your interests to get their opinions

Affiliate ourselves with youth organizations by becoming an expert and speaking at their events, conferences, etc.

Decide why we’re writing for teens- what do we hope to gain? Do you hope to save a kid, share resources, inspire them to lead, change, or do we just want to make money, etc.

Make sure we have a good book cover- This is Key. When my nephew and I wrote A Hole In My Heart, a book about substance abuse and how it affects children and the family, we used a picture that was hand drawn by an alcoholic. Barry was drunken everyday, but he was an excellent artist when sober. I met him through a co-worker who showed his work to me. I asked him to become sober to do the cover of this book. He did and since then, he has become a full-blown alcoholic. I kept the cover because it was so significant to the theme of the book. But recently, we received several letters from guys in prison who suggested that we change the book cover. They thought it was a good book that young people needed to read, but may not pick it up because of the cover. I had been thinking the same thing too but was reluctant to make the change. Parents always buy the book and kids between the ages of 8-15 years old seek it out. But what if we changed the cover, would we sell more and reach more teens? We plan to re-release the book in hard back with a new cover to see if we can attract more readers. Still, we are very pleased with the many letters from parents and teens who have said that the message helped them with their situations. Covers are indeed important.

Read and watch the news. Know what is happening with teenagers across the country as well as in our own neighborhoods.

Write from experience: Our newest book released this month - Caught in the Net of Deception came from my own experience with teens posting fake pictures on the Internet. I also know someone whose child was nearly molested and there are plenty of stories of teens who ran away to be with someone they met on the Internet. A Hole In My Heart is based on my nephew’s experiences. This Christmas, we will release Attacked by Love, a story about domestic violence in which I went through with a niece. Edward Booker, who is now 19, co-wrote both of our teen books and he’s releasing his new book, Love in the Hood, a story about a senior in high school who impregnated his girlfriend and is now going through all kinds of things trying to deal with that. This winter, I’m releasing Bottled up Inside, a self-help book about African American teens and Depression. Finally, Simply Put, by Kareem Tomblin focuses on teens that have already messed up and ended up in the prison system. He encourages them to utilize their prison years to educate themselves so that upon release, they are equipped to be great men doing great things.

When I wrote A Hole In My Heart with my nephew, I asked him to write a journal to express his feelings. He was suffering and we did not understand why. I was surprised when I read what he had written and asked him to share it with readers. We decided to co-write the book and since then, we write about what teens are going through and how it affects their lives. Though we haven’t hit the best sellers list yet, we have sold thousands of this book without leaving our hometown. Kids seek him out, parents express how much they love the book, and school districts ordered them to put on their shelves. Nothing could compare with the letter we received from a parent who purchased the book for her daughter. When the daughter finished the book she passed it to her friend. After reading it, he went to his counselor and told her that he was planning to commit suicide but changed his mind after he read this book. That’s why I write for teens!

Finally, I meet regularly with teens to listen to them talk about their problems. To hear their pain, their problems, their issues, and all that they suffer with, it’s enough to break your spirit. I make myself available so that they can have someone who will not pass judgment on them and who will LISTEN! This gives me topics to write about.

Statistics show that teens are reading, so why not write something that not only will entertain them, but will have messages that are not preachy, but can help them face their own issues.


Shelia Goss said...

Thank you LaShaunda for featuring YA authors at the conference. I wanted to share with your online audience a hand out I give parents.

6 Tips for Parents
Encouraging Your Teen to Read
By Shelia M. Goss

As parents or guardians, finding ways to encourage your teenager to read may be difficult but it’s not an impossible task. Below are a few tips:

1. Show by example. Let your kids see you reading—newspaper, magazine, books, etc.

2. Find out your child’s interest. Find a way to connect his or her interest to reading material.

3. Take your teen to the library or book store. Ask your librarian for book suggestions. When at the book store, let your child wander the aisles and observe which area of books seem to hold their attention.

4. Buy a book on his or her favorite interest. If your teen loves video games, surprise him or her with a book on the characters of those video games. If your teen watches TV shows like Gossip Girl or That’s So Raven, find those books at the library or book store and surprise your teen with it. The key is to show your child they can find interesting things in between the pages of a book.

5. Encourage reading. For those of you whose teens may be reading material you deem inappropriate, try to explain to the teenager why you feel that way and offer alternate reads.

6. Read young adult books too and discuss. It’s a great way to start dialogue and could lead to ongoing communication with the teen in your life.

Shelia M. Goss is the author of the young adult series – The Lip Gloss Chronicles: The Ultimate Test (June 2009), Splitsville (Sept 29, 2009), Paper Thin (Spring 2010) and six women’s fiction books.

PatriciaW said...

I love YA fiction, for teens especially. Even more, now that I have a teen. I just wish there were more stories for teen boys that didn't revolve around sexual issues, because he's not there yet and doesn't care to read about that. Of interest to him are sports/competition, peer pressure, the Internet, family, excelling in school, making a name for himself, living his faith, etc.

I'm going to look up your books, Rose.

Shelia Goss said...

Patricia W,

There are some great book recommendations on The Brown Book Shelf: http://thebrownbookshelf.com/brown-bookshelf-library/

I would also like to recommend
Lesson Learned by Earl Sewell
The Bluford Series...one of the books is Brothers in Arms (Bluford Series) by Paul Langan but definately the entire series.

Shawneda Marks said...

This information is very helpful and so informative especially since I recently met Stephanie Perry Moore who had great encouragement and wisdom regarding writing YA and in general. Thanks for having this segment my heart has always been with teens and I'm encouraged by the post here. Thanks Ladies!!!

Author Tia Hines said...

My first novel, "Drama", was written with no audience in mind. I was just so happy I was flooded with ideas to write a book that I just wrote and wanted to quickly be published. I did have a goal though. It was and still is to get more young people to read. I didn't really think at the time that I had the best material per say for young adults but as time progressed and I developed more relationships with teens, I became overwhelmed with ideas. It's like I fell into their world. My ideas now are more teen generated and they have a message to tell.
My new release "Poison: A Desire to Burn" warns youth of the dangers of HIV. Working with them opened my eyes to the fact they think they are STD free because they are not yet adults. This is so untrue. And I make that known in "Poison: A Desire to Burn".

With my next book, I'll be venturing over to the nonfiction world to showcase stories of sexual abuse. I think it is an issue that teens are often shyed away from talking about or rather reluctant to do so. I want them to read stroies of men and woman who have suffered from such painful experiences in order to encourage them to be strong, overcome and know what to do if faced with a painful situation as such.

I live for youth and want nothing but the best for them. Our youth are in dying need of positivity and insightful knowledge. Getting them to read more is my ultimate goal. They need us and we need them.

Shelia, I have not met you yet but I want to say I love that you're writing for our youth. It is an inspiration for me to keep going and to get to your level.

Tia said...

And to Rose, you have been most helpful. You have given me a good push. You are an inspiration to teens and I'm sure they appreciate the work you are putting out for them. Kudos to you and your continued success.

PatriciaW said...

Thanks Sheila. I subscribe to the BB blog, and it's been a great help in identifying possible books for him. Still, I wonder re: space in bookstores. Most YA books seem to be geared toward teen girls, or if for boys, they're more fantasy/adventure oriented, less real world.

Shelia Goss said...

Shawneda, thanks for stopping by.

Tia, I look forward to reading Poison. I will add it to my list of recommended books for teens.

Patricia, I have to agree with you in reference to the books on the shelves for young men.
When I talk to young men in person, they either don't read or if they do read, it is usually in that genre.

My goal when speaking with teens is to find out what interests them and try to steer them towards a book with a similar theme.

Paula said...

Hi everyone.

Shawneda, I hope you're going to attend tonight's panel on YA. Some great authors will be there to provide insight into the genre.

PatriciaW - it's true that most non-fantasy teen fic is heavily geared to girls. I think YA for boys (especially boys of color) experiences the same issues that YA for readers of color experiences - the industry leans heavily toward the easy sell. Girl readers are the easy sell.

The Brown bookshelf is always there to promote good reads by authors of color, but if you're talking good stories for boys, regardless of race, John Green, Varian Johnson, Scott Westerfeld (all very different authors, by the way) offer good stories that may interest your son.

Shelia E. Lipsey said...

Kudos to all of the YA Authors! Not everyone can reach, identify, encourage, inspire and motivate our young people. It is good to learn that you have been gifted to reach our young generation! It is not a task to be taken lightly but it is certainly one that needs to be done. My hats truly go off to each of you for your talents.

Author, Deborah J. Copeland said...

Hi, Shelia

You offered great tips on encouraging teens to read more. As a single parent who raised a son,I must say because I read a lot of books myself and had plenty of books filling the bookshelves and gracing the coffee table, my son gravitated towards reading too. That and reading together,(and discussing the plot and characters) weekly trips to the library and bookstores also reinforced in him that reading was not only beneficial but fun. Another creative method that I chose to encourage the love of reading within my son was to purchase books-on-tape. We had a blast listening to audio books on rainy days and in the car. =) Parents, you might want to give Books-on-tape a try.

Deborah J. Copeland is the author of the hip YA series: The Kids at Latimar High,(Mar. 2008) Summer Love, Pink Snowballs, and a Splash of Hater-aid (Oct. 2009)

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