Does every book have to open in a sensational way? And are YA books getting more and more sensational?
****I would not necessarily use the word sensational because that tends to sound a little extreme and does not seem appropriate for all genres and sub-genres of fiction. What’s ‘sensational’ in a light YA is not sensational in an edgy YA or a Thriller or Paranormal. But yes, every story needs to start engaging the reader right from the get go. I read a great comment the other day where someone said, “nobody judges a book on page 342”.
Here’s an exercise I have students in my Pacing workshop try. Next time you visit a book store, or library, or have some time to troll Amazon, read only the first line in books you’d normally NOT read. Stop after that first line and ask yourself would you buy that book based on that line? See how many books it takes you to find a published novel that engages you with that first line. That author knows how to engage or hook you.
IF you are still engaged by the end of the first page it’s most likely you will buy the book [if you are the average reader looking for a book to read – we as writers tend to choose books differently so we’re not the average reader]. That’s how editors/agents read our first pages. They read further IF they are not hooked to see if you started the story in the wrong place [a common occurrence because what we as writers need to discover about our character
Sensational? Only if the genre calls for it. But then what’s sensational today quickly becomes the norm for tomorrow’s readers. So engage yes. Hook, yes. And the sooner the better. As for YA books getting more and more sensational again I’m not sure that’s the word I might pick to describe the growth and trend in YA writing.
What I have seen is an explosion in opportunity with a core reader base that has more and more choices available to them. When that happens the so-so stories, or the ones that sound like the last five books a reader has read, will be culled, and editors and agents are readers. As I travel around the U.S. and Canada to teach I’ve seen a huge shift in what writers are writing.
One of those shifts has been those writers who write YA. Five years ago maybe 10-15% of an audience wrote in that genre. Now? Easily 50-70% of a group. So the competition of new books into the hands of editors and agents means they can be pickier about what they will and won’t accept. What made it through the slush pile a few years ago might not even hit the radar today. It’s the nature of the business. So I would say the bar has risen for YAs as it has in Paranormals in the last few years.
Do you know how many of your students have “broken into fiction” or have been published?
**** I’m delighted to say quite a few! Each Break Into Fiction© workshop averages from 10 participants [if I’m teaching alone] to up to 20-22 [when Dianna and I taught together] and we’ve done probably a dozen events in total. Of those participants usually 3-5 per event were published authors [some with 20, 40 or 70 books to their name]. Those authors were looking for a more consistent way to create new work while juggling the demands of promoting their current novels. Some writers in each group were very new to writing and for them, as well as others, understanding the structure of story without having to write several books to get the basics, probably cut years off their learning curve.
What we’ve seen is that those participants in the earliest groups – which means they’ve had time to write their stories, submit them and get through the submission process – we’ve seen a good dozen folks not only get contracts but get multiple contracts – two and three book deals – which is so super cool. Others have landed agents because their novels are so much stronger.
Attending a Break Into Fiction© two-day plotting event is hard work. It’s very intense and you literally walk through your novel from beginning to end and back again – several times. Most writers are used to learning in much smaller chunks of time. An hour here, two hours there. A paragraph here, a page there. So the commitment and focus can be daunting. There’s never any guarantee with our writing. I wish there was, but I do believe that those students who have broken into fiction as a result of taking a Break Into Fiction© workshop did so because their story structures were taken to a new level. One that made them saleable.
Is there an age range for establishing a career in writing. What if a writer is in their 50’s or 60’s? What approach should they take?
*** I’d take the same approach as I would at any other age. Go for it! Don’t let age or the lack of age or any other issue give you an excuse to NOT create a career you want. But be prepared to know what it is you really want. Any ‘career’ takes energy and commitment. Not all writers want to make that kind of commitment but want to write for other reasons. For enjoyment. To get one specific story on the page. As a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with any of these reasons. But don’t kid yourself – at any age – that just because you’ve written a book means you’ll have a career. It may mean you have a publishable book.
The average length of time it takes to get published [in traditional print format] has increased over the last ten years from 7.2 years to nearly 12.8 years. This is an average from the time one starts writing with the goal of publication in mind. If you are a writer that might take 2-3 years to write one book or are working on the same book after 10 years you might find a career as a published author more challenging if you start mid-life. But just because something is a challenge is not a reason not to go for it.
Writing a publishable novel is not for wussies. It’s hard, hard work. So whatever age you might be – know yourself, know how hard you want to work and what you’re willing to do [study, make a home office, write when you don’t feel like writing, etc.] and what you’re willing to give up [watching favorite TV shows, family time, other interests in order to get pages written].
Will you have the templates from the book available for download on the internet?”
***No. That’s the short and long answer. They are available in e-format now but our contract with our publisher expressly forbids us from sending any templates out in electronic format. So even when we do teach the Break Into Fiction© plotting retreats and have students complete two of the templates before class begins, I mail out hard copies. Sorry!
You have an intuitive, direct and very craft oriented style of teaching. The intuitive and forthright nature is part of your make up, but how did you discover your approach to novel writing?
I guess the answer is I discovered my approach through trial and error. They say an expert is someone who’s made every mistake at least once and learned from it and boy that learning curve can seem steep at times. When I started writing I had five children under the age of ten at home. I had to learn how to write fast and write well at the same time. Thinking was at a premium, much less creating time to write. Teaching came later. I never set out to teach but I do like to share J if for no other reason than to make the journey toward publication and beyond easier for someone else.
There were some amazing people who helped me on my journey. Who talked with me or looked at my writing or just said “I believe in you” when I wanted to throw my hands up. I love learning and I love sharing that while I can. I believe Story is valuable to our survival as a species. Because I believe this I’m willing to share with others. Plus it’s fun
I hope this helps. Thanks, Elizabeth, for the questions – they stretched the brain cells which is super cool!!
Happy writing to all ~~ Mary B
Thank you Mary for taking the time to go into such great detail. It's been very helpful. Savvy Authors will be running this interview on Monday, June 11 and Tuesday, June 12.
Till next time,
Mary Buckham is an award-winning romantic-suspense author and co-author of BREAK INTO FICTION™: 11 Steps to Building a Story That Sells who, before becoming published in book-length fiction was a freelance article writer, selling hundreds of articles to local, regional, and national publications. She was also an editor of a regional magazine. Mary co-founded www.WriterUniv.com an online educational resource for writers and is a sought-after speaker and writing craft teacher for both online and in live presentations throughout the United States and Canada. For more on Mary visit www.MaryBuckham.com or www.BreakIntoFiction.com
Thanks to Laurel Wilczek, Mary Lou Cassotto, Ree McDowell, Robin Yaklin, Alice, Shelley Souza for their questions.