Someone asked me recently if there were any great writing conferences they should know about. I go to some conferences, but I actually think other writers are going to be best equipped to answer that.

Recently I was at RWA Chicago North's Spring Fling and was super impressed with the conference, especially the "hot night" critique session that I sat in on.

But I also took the question to twitter. The questioner was asking specifically about conferences for YA writers.

Some of the suggestions I got are:

Oregon Coast Children's Book Writers WorkshopThe Western WA SCBWI
New England SCBWI

But let's hear from you. In the comments let me know what are some great conferences that you've been to--not matter what you write.
There's not much out there that's better than spending a day with a Cora Carmack novel. Maybe spending a day with this guy...

Only now there's a new Cora Carmack novel that reminds me of the very best things about a show that I loved (family relationships, Texas football, hot guys, strong female characters, etc) and all of the things I love about new adult (romance, college, hot guys, strong female characters, etc).

And today, it's here.


The first book in the Rusk University series, All Lined Up, is one of my new absolutely favorite novels. I know I'm biased, but it's amazing. 

I mean it when I say you're going to love this book. Even if you know nothing and/or don't love football.
Okay this week's question is:
I'm working on a high-concept YA drama which I'm excited about. An industry person said if I changed the main character from a 16 year-old boy to a 16 year-old girl it could mean the difference between a hit and a massive hit, presumable because of THE HUNGER GAMES's and DIVERGENT's success with female leads. What do you think? Does it matter? FYI In my book's case, even though the lead is male, the three other main characters are female. GRACIAS!
Well I'm all about high-concept YA drama so yay for that!

The advice this industry person gave you is interesting. The Hunger Games and Divergent are good examples of series that have been a massive hit--and they do have female leads.

But there are a few things to think about.

First I want to address something that's not really part of your question: what is the difference between a "hit" and a "massive hit"?

I'm not exactly sure how you define either--I imagine a lot of people have different viewpoints/thresholds. Regardless of the definition though, I think this is the wrong thing to focus on. The truth is that as an author a lot of the publishing process is out of your control. A lot is even out of the publisher's control.

I can think of a number of books that got a big push from their publisher, that I saw everywhere, that I heard someone say "This is the next Hunger Games!" and whether the books were good or not, they did not reach "Hunger Games level" in terms of sales and fan mania.

If you go into publishing looking for your book to be a massive hit, you're bound to be disappointed.

But back to your question. At the root of it, you're asking will your book be more commercial if your protagonist is female.

The answer is: possibly.

I would like to say that it doesn't matter. After all, I'm interested in books that have male protagonists. I like them. I want there to be YA novels for teen boys out there. And I have a problem with telling anyone they should change the gender/race/sexual orientation of their main character for the sake of being more commercial.

But the truth is that right now YA fiction is dominated by female protagonists, because it's also dominated by female readers.

Hunger Games and Divergent have female protagonists as you mention. So do TwilightThe Fifth Wave, A Fault in Our Stars, Shatter Me and The Selection. Even in Cassandra Clare's novels, which have an ensemble cast, arguably the main characters are the female characters: Clary (in Mortal Instruments) and Tessa (in Infernal Devices).

There are of course some exceptions. The Maze Runner and Beautiful Creatures both had male protagonists. Perhaps if John Green had written A Fault in Our Stars from Gus's perspective, it would be just as much of a "massive hit" as it is today. Or perhaps not--it's just not something that I can answer for you. There are a number of really amazing books with male protagonists that didn't take off the way maybe they should have. If I could wave a magic wand, Holly Black's White Cat series would have a movie adaptation and topping the bestseller lists (I loved those books!).

In the end, you'll have to decide what to do with the gender of your protagonist yourself. If you want to think about it from specifically a strategic and commercial angle, I would suggest having a few beta readers, read the ms and get their feedback on whether they would have liked the plot more if the protagonist was female.

Also as them to keeping the following things in mind while they read:

Is this male protagonist a guy that YA readers can love?
Are there some amazing other female characters who are strongly represented throughout the story?

As much as I like money (I do), I'm in this for the love of books and the love of reading and storytelling. If I were you, I would think about what it is that made you fall in love with the story and what made you originally tell a male character's story. Then decide what you think you need to do for this story.

Hopefully you're in this for the long term which means you can always write more books after this one. This feeling that success has to come overnight isn't accurate. After all, both Suzanne Collins, Rick Yancy, and John Green had wonderful books before they perhaps hit the "massive" level of success.
I have been a Sarah Frances Hardy fan ever since I had the chance to see the picture book dummy for Puzzled by Pink.

So I'm so excited to let you all know that her new book, Paint Me, is out today! (It's also the first picture book that I sold, so it's an exciting milestone for me too!)


I love this little girl and I love her dog who is just as mischievous and cute as she is!



I've recently gotten two questions about MG voice.

Here they are.
I've been told by agents who've looked at a couple of my MG manuscripts such things as: "it was a little too ... juvenile" and the "character sounded a little younger than her age." If it's a middle grade novel, how do you as an agent determine if a MS has struck a balance between not sounding too young and not sounding like what it is: written by an adult? I know that's a tough, subjective "voice" question, but I'm hoping you can shed a little light based on your experience.
And
This may be a tough question to answer, but when it comes to an MG voice, have you ever read manuscripts that are TOO young-sounding or juvenile for your tastes or for the intended audience? If so, what are some things in the ms that made you decide that?
This is a tough question to answer. Because it really revolves around voice.

To address the questions, I will first say that if you're getting similar feedback from multiple sources, it's probably an issue.

That out of the way, an agent determines whether the voice works in a MG ms (not too young, not like it's written by an adult) by being well-read in the genre. Most readers who are wide read can start reading something and know immediately whether the voice feels authentic or not. Unfortunately something that feels too young feels inauthentic.

I have absolutely read manuscripts--and turned them down--where the voice has been the turn off. I've read manuscripts with a boy protagonist that don't feel like a boy. I've read MG manuscripts that have felt too young.

MG voice is tricky. I think it's one of the hardest voices to "nail" but there are some important factors that go into it.

Who is your intended audience?

Think realistically about what readers are going to pick up your book. So leave out books like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Your voice is going to be different if you're writing something for readers of Of Ice and Giants by Shelby Bach than it is if you're writing Wiley and Grampa's Creature Features by Kirk Scroggs. They're different audiences.

What POV are you using?

There's also a huge voice difference between a book like When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente. As an author you need to think about the POV you're using and why you're writing the story that way.

Diction, Syntax, and All Things Writing

Another thing to consider is your word choice and sentence structure. Are you avoiding "big words" because you're worried kids won't know them? Do you have too much onomatopoeia or exclamation points which can make your writing seem immature?

My recommendation is to read, read, read. And write, write, write. The more informed you are and the more you practice, the easier it will be to nail your voice.

Some New Leaf reading recommendations with great voice (in addition to the ones mentioned above):
Nightingale's Nest by Nikki Loftin
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Sway by Amber McRee Turner
Chained by Lynne Kelly
Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas