Read It & Weep: Young Adult Fiction Writing
Join young adult author Amy Zhang as she leads us through prompts to write bestselling YA fiction and shares her journey as a writer who published her first novel with HarperCollins at age 18.
What’s in Store
- Learn about the world of Young Adult fiction
- Practice writing short fiction using new techniques
Write along with Amy’s playlist!
Prompt #1: Observational Narrator
Write a short fiction narrated with someone who can only watch events unfold without interfering (ex: an imaginary friend, the toys from Toy story, a pet, etc).
Prompt #2: Surreal-iously
Write about a setting where reality feels “off” or in some way surreal (such as an abandoned playground, your school during summer break, airports late at night, an abandoned mall, etc.)
Q&A with Amy Zhang
How does one start writing a novel?
That’s a good question. I feel like most of my ideas come after I’ve read a couple really good, inspiring books, so I think the thing that makes me want to write the most is when I’ve read a really good book and it plants these ideas and they sort of get mixed up, and eventually, you know, there’s a story in there that you’re super desperate to tell yourself. That’s usually how my novels start.
Can you talk about your editing process after you’ve finished a first draft?
When I finish my first draft, I put it away for a week to a month, however long I can wait. I put it away and I don’t open it, I don’t look at it, and usually after a month, when I come back, I can see it as if I was reading it for the first time, so that makes it so much easier to edit things. Lately, as I was saying, I’ve been editing a lot by just starting over, so it takes me a few tries now to write a book. So I write a first draft to explore the characters, to figure out if I should be telling the story through the person’s point of view, or if maybe my main character isn’t really my main character. So it takes me a few tries. And that’s how I’ve been editing lately.
What resources did you use to help publish your book?
I remember Agent Query being really helpful, I used that a lot. There’s a big community on there of people who are also writing query letters, who have experience with different agents, who know things about it. Twitter is actually a really good resource. I’m not on Twitter anymore, but when I was first writing, that’s how I found a lot of people in the book community and there’s agents on there who will take pitches during pitch wars, they have certain dates for that, and you’ll just tweet out a brief summary of your book. Twitter is actually really helpful. Yeah, those are two of my bigger ones I think.
How do you deal with feeling self-doubt as you’re writing a novel, especially when you’re dealing with plot or character?
I talk about this a lot. I feel like lately in terms of self-doubt and imposter syndrome, it’s been a little while since I’ve published anything. My last book—the last time I did anything for any kind of release was 2017 I think, so it’s been a minute. I think it’s one of the most difficult things about being a novelist, it’s just that there’s a big gap between books. You know, when you’re writing books, it takes one to two years after you sign a contract even for it to be in stores, by which time you’re like, over that book and onto the next book. So there’s a big time delay. I don’t know! In terms of dealing with self-doubt and stuff, that’s definitely something that I struggle with every day, I’m lucky to have a really great support system around me. But I do definitely wallow in that sometimes.
Can you speak a little bit about marketing yourself?
So when I was doing Falling Into Place, I was really lucky in that HarperCollins provided a ton of resources for marketing. You know, Epic Reads was just starting to be really big then, they had a really strong marketing team. So I communicated a lot with somebody from Epic Reads who was doing marketing, and there was a publicist assigned to it, so I personally just kept up my social media. Which is funny, because Instagram was pretty new then I think, so I was experimenting with little things—there was a Tumblr that you could use for Falling Into Place because Tumblr was really big back then, too. But yeah, honestly, for marketing, I relied on HarperCollins a lot.
Do you outline everything and know how it ends?
So I outline the first third of the book, and then I tell myself if I get the first third done, things will fall into place after that. It doesn’t always work, but usually that’s how I outline. I think one of my favorite pieces of advice in terms of just writing consistently and figuring out what to do next is that Hemingway quote where he says, “You have to stop for the day in the middle of a sentence so that when you come back to it the next day, you know what you’re going to write.” I like that piece of advice a lot.
I’m trying to write a book of my own, but I don’t know how to get a publisher.
Yeah, so, what’s really crazy now—I feel a lot of people talk about this on TikTok—there are a lot of avenues towards publication. You know, there’s self-publishing, there’s smaller houses, there’s independent houses, there’s obviously the traditional publishing houses. I think it’s really important to figure out what you want out of publishing your book, and then figure out which of those avenues is right for you. For traditional publishing, like I said, there’s tons of really, really great resources online. The basic stuff is like, you just have to find an agent, figure out with your agent which houses you’re submitting to.
How did you find time to write with school and how did you stick to a consistent writing schedule, especially on days when you didn’t feel motivated?
When I was writing Falling Into Place, it was really helpful for me to be writing for National Novel Writing Month. If any of you have done this before, you’ll know that National Novel Writing Month, on the website, they have a word count tracker, so all you had to do every day was write 1,667 words and you had to put it in, and if you didn’t reach it, it would adjust and tell you how many words you had to write the rest of the month to stay on track. I really liked that as a resource, especially for drafting, where you’re just like, OK, all I have to do is write 1,500 words today or 2,000 words today, and you can plan it out like that. When I’m drafting I do try to stick to a word count. Some days, it obviously just doesn’t happen, but I think that’s a good resource for trying to stick with it.
This event was originally recorded on December 18th, 2020.
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Amy Zhang is the author of FALLING INTO PLACE, THIS IS WHERE THE WORLD ENDS, and THE CARTOGRAPHERS. She lives in Seattle, WA.