How to write a YA novel (the beginning)

How to write a YA novel (the beginning)

I’ve written several posts about how to write YA, but let’s just talk about the intro. In the majority of YA books (maybe half), the protagonist has to move and start a new school.

The first day goes like this:

  1. New friend explains the rules
  2. Hot guy who she’s warned to stay away from
  3. Embarrassing moment
  4. Probably a bully who makes fun of her
  5. Something mysterious or unexplained happens

Easy right?

She probably feels overwhelmed or all alone, someone shows her kindness, later she infiltrates the “cool crowd” – those standoffish, secretive kids who all look like supermodels.

She learns she has secret powers, that her parents were probably ass-kicking members of a secret, supernatural group, and that she is the key to everything – if she can learn to control her powers.

There’s another guy, who’s probably blonde, who is nice and funny but she’s just not into him. She obsesses about the other guy, the hot guy with shaggy dark hair, who is always brooding or looking at her like a puzzle he needs to solve. She finally hooks up with himĀ (even if he starts with a girlfriend) after they have a few arguments.

There’s a bad guy, who wants something she has (or something she can find; or something her parents stole… or he just wants her for her abilities) and he’s probably trying to take over the world.

He offers her the one thing she wants more than anything, but she would have to betray her new friends so she turns him down.



Every YA novel goes like this:

There’s a big choosing ceremony or event coming up.

It might be a wedding even.

Whatever it is, the main character has no freedom to choose her own destiny.

She might rebel or run away.

Or something else unexpected happens.

Whether or not the ceremony goes through, after the ceremony life is completely different.

She’s left he family and is learning new skills and facing new challenges.

She’s special: if not a princess already, she finds out that her mother or father (who she’s been lied to about) was actually important and powerful. Now she feels like she has to make them proud and live up to their memory.

She discovers that she has powers – powers she shouldn’t even have.

Nobody understands her. People are afraid of her.

In the meantime there are two boys in her orbit.

One is a jerk, the other is kind.

One is dark haired, one is light haired.

They usually have breathtaking blue or green eyes.

One is poor, one is rich.

One turns out to be a prince, the other turns out to be an assassin (aka, a bad guy – in opposition to her own goals and wants).

OR they could be brothers.

Or best friends.

Her feelings for each change as she deals with new revelations.

Ultimately, she learns to control her powers, and begins fighting back.

But all her plans fail, she’s captured and discovered, and held captive at the mercy of the villain.

She escapes certain death, defeats her enemies (for now – but not for good) and finds a safe place to regroup.

How close is your book to this plot?

Every bestselling YA book I’ve read in the past 5 years has been at least a 75% match. If you’re writing something completely new and different, with none of these elements, it probably won’t be a smash hit.

How to market paranormal romance / YA urban fantasy

I get a lot of emails about how to market fiction; today I got one specifically on how to market paranormal romance. Coincidentally, I’ve been brainstorming for hours on the same topic: my first novel Shearwater is in final edits and I’m planning a big launch. I’m going to do a lot of things that should work and a lot of things that may not work.

The best book marketing for all genres seems to be:
1. Networking with other authors in your genre and getting them to share your launch.
2. Building a targeted email list of your own of interested readers.
3. Make the launch exciting, with prizes, competitions, etc.

For #1, I built a Thunderclap campaign; and I’m hoping to reach 1 million people and get 100K free downloads on launch. If you write in similar genres, I hope you’ll check it out. BUT I hate to ask for things unless I’m giving more than I’m receiving; so I’m trying to find ways of rewarding you for supporting my book launch.

Reward 1: I will put up a “thank you supporters!” page on a few of my high-traffic sites. I’ve also set up both (for paranormal romance) and (for urbane fantasy), which you can co-opt to your advantage (we can do an author interview, you can review other books in the genre, or a guest post on writing tips for the genre). Yes, you should be doing that stuff on your own blog as well, but you want a wide net of content linking back to your main blog or page, for increased traffic and SEO. Many other sites charge for stuff like that; I’m only asking for one Tweet.

Reward 2: I thought about running a giveaway, like a $2500 marketing package – where one of you would win a custom author platform overhaul (new website, new cover, improved author bio/mission/book summaries, and some content marketing). I could do it as a random giveaway, though I’d like to do it as a prize for the person who makes the biggest contribution to my book launch (hard to track though).

Reward 3: I’ll also be needing some quick, early book reviews before launch – if you have time to post one, you can download the full ARC here; I will in turn review any book you want me to. I’m not suggesting “trading 5 star reviews” – just sharing honest ones that genuinely help readers. If you think my writing sucks and doesn’t deserve more than 2 stars, that’s fine; I appreciate your feedback and will take your comments seriously.

I’m in a tricky position, in that for years I’ve been against spammy and self-promotional book marketing tactics, like “Twitter Blasts” – and I want to avoid it as much as possible by doing classy, fun, novel things to market my books. I’ll be sharing the results of my book launch through guest posts and podcast appearances in October, so you might see me around the interwebz.

If any of this sounds interesting and you want to be involved, please sign up at my other list on the book launch page here:

PS) Do you know any other PN romance or urban fantasy authors who could use book marketing help? Please share this with them.

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