Writing for young adults

I’m delighted to present fellow Imajin Books author Eileen Schuh. The Traz, the first adventure in her BackTracker series, is a novel for “young adults.” It centres around Katrina, a lonely 13-year-old who’s desperate for acceptance. When Shrug, a biker from the Traz gang, asks if she wants a ride, she makes a reckless, life-changing decision.

I asked Eileen to tell us a little about writing for the young adult market. And here’s what she said:

I didn’t set out to write a young adult novel, or YA novel as it’s known in the industry. It wasn’t until I was preparing The Traz for publication that I even thought about it as being for young teens. The Traz is about bikers and cops, drug dealing and double crossing, and a grizzly gang slaying so I’d assumed it would be adults interested in it. (After all, the story and characters had me enthralled and I was closing in on being half a century older than YA.) However, my book marketing coach said that in her professional opinion, because the protagonist was a 13-year old girl my target readership market was likely young adults.

I wasn’t well-versed in target audiences so I set about researching the terminology. Not everyone agrees on the exact definition of Young Adult but the general consensus is that if young teens would be interested in the book it’s safe to label it YA. That doesn’t mean mature adults won’t read it. Many adult readers devour YA novels, and the Harry Potter series is a prime example of that.

On the other hand, young teens generally won’t pick up a book labeled Adult. Adult books are those unlikely to catch the interest of adolescents. My SciFi novella Schrodinger’s Cat is adult, not for the same reasons that movies get an adult rating, but because young teens wouldn’t be interested in the psychological processes driving the story nor understand the advanced scientific theories it explores.

Once I was firm in my mind that The Traz was indeed a YA novel, I ensured that the plot, the characters, and the writing were both appropriate and appealing to that age group. I didn’t want to talk down to teens but neither did I want to string together words and concepts that were beyond their interest or understanding.

I also had to be careful that I didn’t break a lot of grammar rules or switch points of view too often. Adults may be able to accept such artistic liberties but young readers, schooled in the rules of correct writing, may find unfamiliar sentence structures and writing techniques confusing.

That being said, in The Traz I didn’t hesitate to use a few “big words,” throw in the odd incomplete sentence or broach complex concepts. YA readers are on the cusp of adulthood and the novels they read ought to serve purposes other than just plain entertainment—purposes such as increasing their vocabulary, stretching their language skills and encouraging them to explore new ideas. For example, The Traz contains many descriptions of non-verbal communication, something young teens are just beginning to become aware of as they move beyond their self-centred childhoods. By the end of the book, I’m hoping they will have learned to read basic body language—a communication skill that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

However, mature concepts such as this and any unusual writing techniques must be presented skillfully. Young readers will set aside a book if overt life lessons interrupt the rhythm of the story, if the writing makes it difficult for them to empathize with the characters or if complicated concepts confuse the storyline.

In the case of The Traz, it was also very important to me that the action and excitement of the story didn’t leave young people attracted to a drug-dealing, gangster lifestyle. I knew that adult readers would quickly connect Katrina’s poor decisions early in the book to the horrific events that follow but I worried that young people, intent on the fast-moving plot, might miss that connection.

To counter this worry, as well as to deepen the reading experience of my young fans, I wrote a comprehensive Teaching/Discussion Guide. In addition to asking questions about issues such as depression, addiction, peer pressure and gangs, the guide provides information and alternate viewpoints to stimulate discussion. This guide is included in the back of The Traz School Edition and is also available as a pdf file on my website.

And the last thing I did for my young readers, in fact for all my readers, is include an extensive list of resources—organizations, websites, phone numbers—that can provide information and assistance to anyone dealing with the social issues touched on in the novel. Some examples of resources listed are suicide prevention hotline numbers from around the world, the link to online  RCMP reports on gangs and drugs and the link to Canada’s National Anti-drug Strategy website.

The Traz has proven its worth as a YA novel, sparking invitations for me to give author presentations to various at-risk children, including those in a young offenders’ facility. The Traz continues to entertain and educate both youngsters and the adults in their lives. It gives me a warm feeling to know that my work is making a positive difference.

The Traz ebook is available to download for free for three days only: Monday, Sept. 10 through Wednesday, Sept. 12. This is a great opportunity for parents, educators, and others who work with adolescents to sample this novel and gauge its usefulness for the young people in their programs.  It is also a great time for youngsters with limited budgets to get a great story for free.

The Traz can be downloaded to Kindles and can also be read on PCs, e-tablets, and Smart Phones with the free user-friendly Kindle apps.

To download The Traz for FREE today, tomorrow and Wednesday, click on these links: Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

The Traz is also available in paperback from all fine online bookstores.

If The Traz is not on the shelves of your local library or bookstore, you can ask that it be brought in for you.

I invite you to follow me online on my website, my blog, on Facebook and on Twitter.

* * *

Eileen Schuh lives in St. Paul, Alberta. She’s also the author of the adult SciFi novella, Schrödinger’s Cat

About rosemarymccracken

Rosemary McCracken is a Toronto-based journalist and fiction writer.
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