I’d like to do a follow-up post to last week’s article on writing for children by moving to the teen market. Writing for teens is quite different than writing for children, or even tweens, as you can imagine. Additionally, many teens are now reading adult books, so it can be an ill-defined market to try to capture.
In my opinion, you are either a teen-targeted writer or you are not. I think you can become one over time if you’re not, but it takes a lot of research, hanging out with teens, and a huge knowledge of the current teen market, which changes faster than the speed of light.
Right now the teen book market is very hot, and most publishers are saying that this is the fastest-growing segment of their market. But that doesn’t mean you should jump in with both feet…unless you know what you are doing.
Instead of me telling you how to write for teens, I’m going to let other teens tell you how to write for them. After extensive research, various authors compiled the following tips based on what teens told them about what they wanted to see in their reading material as well as how to get to know them. To me, this is the best market research you can get. If you’re interested in writing for teens, what could be better than hearing directly from your market what works for them and what doesn’t?
1. “Don’t preach to us or always try to teach us a lesson.” Teens can see through this very clearly. Sometimes (often) they just want to be entertained, so go easy–if at all–on stories that have moral lessons attached. Let your story speak through your characters and allow them to learn whatever it is you want them to learn on their own, without you guiding them through it.
2. “Know our lingo.” This is tough because it changes frequently (constantly). What’s in vogue now may not be when your book comes out. But it’s still important to be as current as possible on how teens talk and what they’re really saying when they do. One of the biggest complaints from teen readers who were surveyed is that the authors usually get it all wrong when they try to “teenspeak.”
3. “Be honest and transparent with us.” Teens, like kids in general, can spot a fake a mile away. Don’t try to pull anything over on them, because you can’t. And don’t try to appear–or have your characters appear–super-human to them. They don’t want that. They want real people with real struggles that they can relate to.
4. “Challenge us!” Teens today are sharp (even though they don’t always act like it!). They want to be challenged to be the best they can be, to be stretched beyond their comfort zone, and to think and analyze situations. Don’t simply hand over the information to them as you write. Make them think with your characters and through your story. And challenge them on a personal level to be better people.
5. “Help us make a difference.” This was a huge heart-cry from teen readers. They want to be known for something bigger than themselves. They want to be involved in efforts that will affect others for the better. Teach them how to make a difference in their world. Encourage them that they have what it takes to be world changers, and show them how to do it.
6. “Spend time in our world.” Teens know that if you want to speak to them, you have to be able to relate to them. So, hang out where they do. If you don’t have teenagers of your own, find some you can befriend and spend some time with them. Hop into online forums or get to know them on Facebook and the like. Find out what struggles they’re facing and how they deal with these struggles. You cannot write to teens from a distance.
7.“Respect us.” Many teens feel as though adults have no respect for them or their opinions. When you write to teens, show them respect by allowing their voice to be heard through your book, not just your voice about them. Allow your teen characters to realistically and intellectually express themselves so that your teen readers can not only relate to them but can feel good about your characters as well.
Writing for teens can be tough, but the more we know them and know about their world, the easier it becomes. If anyone has heard from teens on any points that were not covered here, or has any other ideas you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.