Genre tips / writers tips

14 Tips for Young Adult Writers

“YA” or “Young Adult” fiction is novels, stories, poetry, and various non-fiction written for adolescents, the group somewhere between ‘children’ and ‘adults’. It includes popular novels like Hunger Games, Harry Potter, andSE Hinton’s The Outsiders.

Look at this infographic on the YA market, put together by Bowker Books, the world’s leading provider of bibliographic information and management solutions to the publishing industry:


The YA market is exploding, not only in published novels but readers.

Plus, as many adults read YA as the core audience, so if you’re writing in that genre, it becomes a difficult requirement to fulfill at times.  Here are some tips to help you succeed:


  • include themes appropriate for teensya
  • include language used by teens
  • don’t ‘dumb it down’. Intellect and depth of meaning has nothing to do with YA reading.
  • plot, setting, and character are more important than theme and motivation
  • most YA protagonists are teens that have teen sort of problems–first love, dysfunctional families, school.
  • ‘coming of age’ stories are popular in YA, showing how a young adult deals with problems typical to that age group and ends up stronger and better for that struggle
  • Rachel Cohn estimates that 60 to 65 percent of YA fiction is written in the first person and present tense. Certainly not required
  • the pace is quicker than other genres. Why? Hard to say (because I don’t write it). I’d love to hear from you on this
  • include lots of dialogue. YA readers like hearing the characters talk.
  • teens in the story often sound like adults but act like kids. The idea is that teens are intelligent and capable, just not as experienced. I like that.
  • include what David Levithan calls an ’emotional truth’–the ah hah moment that makes the book resonate with its young readers.
  • don’t be afraid to use Pop Culture to ground the story, but be aware it could date it. Pick carefully when you include those references.
  • there’s almost always an underlying optimism in YA–that things will work out, the world with survive, life will be better. Not true in all genres.
  • Robert Heinlein’s advice: Write the best story you can and then take out all the sex (I couldn’t verify this as a Heinlein quote. It’s catchy though, isn’t it?)

YA writers: Please add your comments. I update this list yearly and would love to include your thoughts.

More genre articles:

19 Tips for Children’s Writers

8 Tips for Historic Fiction Writers

8 Tips for Historic Fiction Writers

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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56 thoughts on “14 Tips for Young Adult Writers

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  10. That’s quite a jump. I’m relieved to see that I’m not alone being in the 18-29 age group. My thoughts are that YA books are generally a guaranteed easy-read and provide a sense of escapism for all ages, as generally, all works out well in the end. Shame is that being a YA writer myself, there’s now loads of competition!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I write YA. I’d add that it’s about dancing at the threshold of adulthood. Not quite kids but not adults even though they want to be. Also everything is bigger, grander to them. And no one understands how their situation is unique. Also they’re trying on different selves to find out who they really are.
    Such an emotionally rich time!


  12. I read a lot of this (so I can know what my teens are reading). I think they are fast paced to compete with the lightening fast speed of video games and easy access entertainment, no? But I find they can be just as enjoyable for me as adult fiction, so long as the writer doesn’t pull any gimmicks for the sake of “teen entertainment.” A good book, no matter the age group, is still a good book. “Wonder,” for example, is a kids book but certainly a must read for adults too.


  13. I just finished taking a YA Lit course for my graduate degree. We read a novel a week and talked about issues like censorship and classics/contemporary lit. in high school English classes. There’s some good work out there for teens. There’s also a plentitude of bad work, and unfortunately that’s what kids are often drawn to at first glance. YA authors have a responsibility to not only be “honest” or “intriguing,” but to also be good—good in the ethical sense. Harmful behavior can appear pretty cool to young adults, and old adults, for that matter, when the artists aren’t careful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ve hit on what bothers me about YA–my perception of it. It deals with mature topics when readers are only teens. But–done well, that’s a plus. Thanks for making that point.


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  15. I really enjoyed this post! I think the pacing is so fast so the emotion feels strong and intense for the reader. During this time in someones life every emotion feels so intense. They can have the best and the worst day of their life on the same day. I’m a huge YA fan and aspiring writer so I’m thrilled to see it becoming so popular!


  16. I love YA. I see so many interesting topics and themes explored, and there’s a lot since teenagers are more open to experiences at their age. When I read a YA novel with a slow pace, I feel like the writer is stuck in an adult style. YA is definitely faster based on attention spans and recommended word counts.


  17. Great post, Jacqui. The pace is faster for YA because teenagers have shorter attention spans. I’m 22 now and it still applies. When I work on my YA novel, I am constantly balancing the ’emotional truth’ with brevity.


    • I like faster (I’m a thriller writer–nothing slows us down). And I was happy to learn faster didn’t mean simpler. the topics focus on what interests YA but that includes lots of deep ideas.


  18. I recently published my first YA novel on Amazon in order to get feedback from readers other than those who know and love me! I have been amazed at the cross section of people who have fed back to me, either on Amazon, via letter, Facebook and email. The youngest have been around fourteen; the oldest is almost eighty. I have also had favourable comments from grown men (one of whom is a biker …). I didn’t expect any of that, but looking at the information you have gathered, it all seems to make sense! Thanks to Damyanti for drawing attention to this post and your blog.


    • I’m doing a series on tips for the various genres. It has informed me on how great are their differences. I don’t know how people write across genres without getting confused.


  19. It’s always been of interest to me the explosion of YA and your post on this has been informative and interesting. While it’s not my genre I can understand its fascination – thank you. Coming by via Damyanti’s recommendation and I’m glad I did. Will check your other posts.


  20. I love this and definitely agree with these points. I am not surprised by the numbers, as I have watched the explosion of YA over the past several years. It’s been my favorite genre to read for a long time; I’ve been writing it for 20+years; and I can’t imagine writing anything else.


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