Monday, April 22, 2024

Great Tips I Wish I Knew Before Writing My First YA Novel

By Jaire Sims

I decided to write and publish a Young Adult (YA) story when I was in high school. The process was exciting but had challenges along the way. Once I began writing my debut novel, it took almost ten years to self-publish my story, and the year after publishing, Getting By earned an award. While that's incredible, there are some things I wish I had learned about publishing before launching. I was a newbie, and in many ways, I still am. But I know a lot more now by trying to figure out the process of self-publishing a book, mostly on my own, leading me to create an online course on self-publishing to help writers streamline the process and save them time and money. It will also allow me to improve the release of my next book. With that in mind, I have some tips and suggestions for aspiring YA writers.

Researching the YA Market

Many writers start by writing a story they want to tell; as the adage says, "Write what you know." While that is fine, it's important to know if there's an audience for your story. Is it something readers will want to read? Otherwise, it will be tough to market and sell your book to audiences (though YA novels are popular among teen and adult readers.) But you still should know what makes a good YA novel. Do your due diligence by looking at market trends, researching recent successful YA releases, and seeing what stories such books tell. Then you can emulate elements at play in other successful YA books in your novel. If there's a story in you that you want to write, you don't have to compromise your ambitions to suit trends entirely. But depending on your goals, be mindful of what your target readers want to see in their YA books and find a compromise.

Building An Online Platform
One regret with my self-publishing experience is that I didn't establish a solid online presence before publishing my debut book. Now, I'm building my online platform with a blog and writing articles, expanding my email list by offering freebies to help aspiring YA authors, and collaborating with other writers in the community (like Ignited Ink!) to increase my visibility and attract my target readers. But it's an uphill battle. Marketing and selling a book after publishing without an established audience is challenging. Start building an audience as soon as you embark on your writing and publishing journey to build hype. Connecting to and engaging with the writing community is a great start, as many people would be willing to help you with your writing goals and champion your progress and success. Remember that no one is successful on their own, so it's good to seek help from people who may have knowledge that can help you early in the writing process and will spread the word when your story hits shelves!

Hire an Editor
New writers debate whether to hire a book editor for their manuscripts because of the cost (TLDR: do it!). Hiring a freelance editor was one of my best decisions. It's an investment that nobody should ignore. You risk launching a book that lacks polish, which can affect your reputation as an author. While many books have a few typos, readers don't mind if the story is good. But if it's riddled with mistakes, that will distract readers from enjoying your story. Moreover, an editor will smooth details in your story, like plot holes, character development, and other critical elements. To release the best version of your book, an editor's role is to help you improve the quality of your story, so don't skimp on one.

Beta Readers
After revising the first draft of my manuscript, I thought my editor was the only resource available. Now I know about beta readers and their vital role. But back then, I relied almost entirely on my editor's feedback to improve my novel. While I don't regret taking input from my editor (I received excellent feedback!), I wish I had contacted a few YA fiction beta readers first. They may have helped me improve my story further and boost my marketing reach after the fact. If you have just completed the first draft of your manuscript with revisions, have a few people beta-read and review your work before sending your story to your editor.

Creating a Marketing Plan
However you decide to publish your book, you need an effective marketing plan if you want your story in your readers' hands. A great story is not enough by itself anymore. In fact, there are successful books that may not have the best story premise or exceptional writing but are still bestsellers because of a great marketing strategy. Shocking though it may seem, I find writing and publishing a book is the easy part: marketing is the most challenging and what you'll spend most of your time doing. As a result, many writers outsource help to promote their novels. Thankfully, there are plenty of options to market and sell your book. But be aware that not all services deliver the results you are looking for. Also, don't choose a marketing service because someone recommends it. Research to see if these businesses have convincing reviews, look into their clients' successes, reach out to their clients for feedback, set up a preliminary meeting to connect, and then evaluate if it's a good fit for you. You can save money and energy by carefully vetting marketing services (and, honestly, anything you will outsource: editing, graphic design, etc.). When it comes to marketing, my final bit of advice is to start as early as possible to see better results.

Thoroughly Research all Publishing Options
Once you're ready to share your book with the world, you must decide how to publish it: traditional or self-publish. Whichever way you're leaning, evaluate your options before deciding, as either has many benefits and disadvantages. You'll want to pick the best method for you and your book. One of the reasons I chose to self-publish was to avoid going through the grueling and time-consuming process of reaching out to literary agents and traditional publishers, hoping they would like my book. Rather than risk facing countless rejections, I wanted to make my own opportunities and decisions, for better or worse. There are multiple self-publishing platforms available, and I decided to publish my book through BookBaby because their services fit my needs. Your publishing goals may differ from mine, so consider your objectives and evaluate your options before choosing the publishing route that will make the most sense for you and your book.

Set Realistic Expectations

You can save a lot of heartache by establishing expectations. To start, writing a book while balancing other responsibilities is challenging. Stick to a schedule, set aside time to write your story, and be realistic about the time it takes to finish a page. You should also understand the publishing industry and that it's competitive and often pretty subjective. Publishing houses rarely accept manuscripts upon the first submission, and many authors, even renowned ones, face dozens of rejections before being accepted. That's just part of the process, but you can use that as an opportunity to learn, improve your work, and persevere. Also, finding a literary agent and securing a publishing deal will take a while. If you're thinking about self-publishing, it takes time for first-time authors to make money. You will likely lose more money than you earn because of publishing and marketing expenses. But remember, your first book is the start of your writing journey, but you can lay the foundation of establishing yourself in the book marketing sphere and see success as an author for years to come.

Give Yourself Enough Time
Take your time, and do not rush through the process. Even though it took me years to publish my book, I'm glad I took my time with the publishing process. It's tempting to speed through so you can finally have it in your hands, but if you want to see any success with your book, you need to take your time and avoid skipping the necessary publishing steps.

Publishing comes with its ups and downs, but remembering why I wanted to write in the first place helped me persevere. I had a story in me that I wanted to share with the world. I published the best book I could write with the knowledge I had at the time. But it was so limited, and while I wish I knew more at the start, I did learn so much throughout that journey (check out my online self-publishing course if you're interested in learning more!). By keeping the above in mind, I guarantee you'll have a smoother process than me. If you have more questions about what I do or self-publishing, please find me on social media and reach out.

Jaire Sims lives, works, and writes where he was born and raised, in Chicago. After spending years with social anxiety and undergoing counseling, he was eventually diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Still, he overcame the challenges before him, graduating from Monmouth College with a Bachelor's Degree in Communication Studies. Off and on, he worked on and eventually published his debut novel, Getting By, named a finalist in the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Jaire hopes to inspire and nurture aspiring authors and, through his work, champion marginalized voices facing similar struggles to him.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks for the informative article, Jaire!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for the tips, Jaire. I agree with you that marketing would be harder than writing the story. It's true for me even though I do have an online presence through my blog, Literary Rambles.

SeƱorida Anastasia said...

TYSM for this!!! I'm 14 trying to write a book and I've been working since the past 6 months. Sometimes the stupid in me is just like why isn't this book ending!? Then I tell myself to be patient. I'll treasure these tips.

Fundy Blue said...

Thanks for a great article, Jaime! This is full of helpful guidance!

Jaire Sims said...

Thanks for the replies everyone! I'm glad my article was helpful.