Written writer-to-writer, Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens is a young writer’s road map to the skills needed to write short stories and novels. This compact guide provides young writers with story generating ideas, revision hints, tips for writing great description and dialogue, and much more.
The book is supported by a website (http://wrightingwords.wordpress.com) that includes publishing tips and links of interest to young writers.
How did you determine there was a need to write a book for teens about writing fiction and getting published?
I researched and found only a couple of books out there. They were over 200 pages long and from the US. My experience with teens is that, when they want information, they want it fast, in small bites, in a form that doesn’t remind them of a textbook, and with some humour added for good measure. I wanted to write that kind of book for Canadian teens.
I wanted my audience to avoid some of the pitfalls of the amateur: passive voice, clunky dialogue, description you want to skip, clichéd openings, etc. I have also read a lot of how-to books, and I thought about what was most useful to me. I was a teen writer. For 15 years I was surrounded by teen writers. My son is a teen writer. Keeping teens in mind was the easy part. The challenge was keeping my writer voice real and keeping my teacher voice in the background.
You also decided to self publish. What prompted that decision and how did you go about it?
My decision to self-publish came from research and a large gulp of reality. As far as Canadian publishing is concerned, I’m nobody. If Kenneth Oppel or Eric Wilson decided to write this book, it would be on the shelves in a heartbeat. My “platform” by comparison is minuscule. I also knew that my book wasn’t one that would be snapped up by an educational publisher. I wrote the book writer-to-writer, not teacher-to-student, with no accompanying package of black line masters. I planned to dedicate a lot of time to marketing, so I went with self-publishing.
My research for a publisher was driven by my desire to have as little to do as possible with distribution and sales once the book was published. I went with iUniverse (many will groan here), but they had a sale that made the costs, for me, very reasonable. Since beginning this process, self-publishing has gone through a lot of changes. I’m not sure what I would do next time. Thanks to their connections though, my book is available in English-speaking countries worldwide via individual online bookstores, plus all the Amazon derivatives—last week Hong Kong and Brazil joined the list. To widen the book’s appeal, I also created a US edition.
Writing how-to manuals can be challenging. What were the toughest things you had to deal with?
For four years I wrote a column for teen writers called “Write Angles” for What If? Canada’s Creative Magazine for Teens, so a lot of the material was already on file. Challenges included choosing my examples (I have a 14-year-old,) deciding what chapters I needed to fill in the gaps (making lots of lists,) choosing a cover (I actually enjoyed this,) and coming up with an ending (it’s very short).
How to do you market your book?
I have a website http://wrightingwords.wordpress.com and I have used my few contacts and research to get my book in front of people in school boards who teach language and who buy for school libraries. It’s being used in several middle school and high school classrooms now. I worked with the teen librarian at my local library and got my book on the shelves and also a Goodreads 5-star review from her. I’ve sent the book out for review and got a great one from CM Magazine. Canadian Teacher is going to review the book and they asked for an article, as well, so the book will be plugged twice there. I’m currently running free writing workshops for teens at my local library. In April, I’m presenting workshops at the Ontario Conference of Independent Teachers of English. Marketing is ongoing. I’m always asking, “How can I get the word out next?”
Last words about writing in general or writing this book in particular?
Writing this book was a roller coaster ride. One minute I was feeling as though I was really doing something special that was needed “out there” and I was filled with a great sense of purpose. The next minute I was wondering how I thought I had the nerve to even think about doing something like this and that the entire thing was a piece of crap. Now that the book is out there and I’ve had feedback from young writers and teachers, I’m a lot calmer. I get a real thrill out of picturing someone halfway across the world reading my words. Yup. That’s what it’s all about.
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