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Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson (For Dummies, $19.99, 384 pages)

First, I have to provide a disclaimer.   I adore Books for Dummies, and I’ve used several; however, when I heard about Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, I was very skeptical that the Dummies format would be an effective tool for helping writers through their creative process and into print.   That skepticism vanished after I had the book in my hands for a few minutes.

In the Introduction, Deborah Halverson invites readers to jump around, skim, scan or pause to absorb on their own terms, and the Dummies format turned out to be brilliant for encouraging this highly-individualized use of her book.   It’s easy to spot the Bulls-eye icon that signals important time-saving Tips, or to pause at the String on a Finger because this icon means “Remember this.   It’s important.”   The Time-Bomb alerts readers to problems, things to avoid.   The Nerdy Guy icon signals that the reader can skip this for the moment and return later for a more detailed examination of a point.   The Exercise icon tells the reader to stop for a moment and try out what has just been presented.

Halverson has what it takes to help the aspiring author with a “behind the scenes” look at the world of young adult fiction.   First, she had a ten-year stint as editor at Harcourt Children’s Books, then she became an award-winning author of two young adult novels, Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth.   In addition to these excellent credentials, she’s the founder of the website, DearEditor.com, regularly speaks at conferences and teaches writing.

In Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, she offers up her years of experience in clear, digestible chapters.   Halverson provides examples and exercises that allow the reader different ways to access, understand and assimilate what she has presented.   Added bonuses are the thirteen top notch, award-winning writers and agents who expand on the chapters with targeted tips and models.   Mary E. Pearson gives ten tips to beat writer’s block.   Agent Erin Murphy explains how to make those “quiet books loud” and salable, and Darcy Pattison discusses the book trailer’s importance as part of a promotion campaign.

Chapter one starts with getting “The Lowdown on YA Fiction.”   This chapter provides a clear understanding of what is meant by young adult fiction, a term Halverson uses as an umbrella for two categories:  books written for teens from 12 to 17, and those written for kids 9 through 14.   I found myself drawing hearts next to sentences like, “Above all, young adult fiction is not watered-down adult fare.”   I drew a double heart next to, “Let [the knowledge in this book] free you up to explore and experiment with your own fiction, finding the right way to tell your story.”

The book ends with the prospective author’s ultimate goal: selling and promoting her published book with “Ten Ways to Make the Most of a Conference.”   I wish I’d had this step-by-step help before I attended my first writer’s conference.   I would have gone with my list of tangible, achievable goals:  I would have known about the faculty and made comments on those business cards I collected; I would have come away with and retained so much more than I did.

The chapters between the beginning and the end are meaty without being dense.   They pinpoint the essentials, and they carry the reader through the most important phases of this creative process, but they also make the business and professional aspect of writing apparent, important and clear.

I really appreciated the chapter titled “Writing the Almighty Hook.”   Authors are always being told to write a “hook” in their queries as well as in the opening lines of those books that are under construction, and that’s great advice, but so often I’ve seen the question, “How do I do that?”   Well, Ms. Halverson shows the steps.   In this chapter there are models of great hooks, wonderful tips for keeping that hook right there as a guide from beginning to end of the writing process, and then there are distinct steps that lead into practicing and perfecting those first lines.

In “Strategizing and Packaging Your Submission,” she demystifies so many aspects of this part of the process:  targeting your submission, writing that dynamite query letter, the synopsis, putting all of your submission into a neat and interesting package, and turning those rejection letters into learning moments.

Overall, I’d have to give Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies a Five Star Rating.   I feel it fills a need in the “How To” market.   I’m really pleased that I happened to be in the right place at the right time to review this book and pass along what I gleaned from its pages.

C. Lee McKenzie

C. Lee McKenzie is the author of the YA novels The Princess of Las Pulgas and Sliding on the Edge.   Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies was published on July 5, 2011.   We interpret Ms. McKenzie’s rating as the equivalent of a Highly Recommended rating on this site.

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