5 Things A Debut Author Learned

It’s been eight months since my debut novel released. If you’ve been there, you know what a busy, challenging year that is for authors. If you haven’t– it’s months and months of constant learning, screw-ups, trial-and-error, thrills, and pretty much every emotion available to humans. I learned a few things this past year, and I’m pretty sure this next year I’m going to unlearn them all and re-learn them in better and less newbie ways. However, here are 5 things I learned while writing and releasing my debut novel:

Thing One: WRITE A BETTER BOOK

One of the hardest things I’ve been learning as my debut starts to hit shelves is that I can’t really control how well it does. I can’t control reviews, publication timeline, what other fabulous book releases the same week, deadlines, or bestseller lists. I can’t control how much my publishing house invests in my book, whether the concept appeals to readers, or whether YA contemporary is hot right now. Not everyone is going to like a first cousins romance, and a lot of people are going to really not like it. What I can do is write the best book I possibly can—and then to make it even better. “Good enough” is not good enough. If you know you struggle with pacing, don’t let that remain an issue. Tackle it. Resolve it. If you suspect there’s a tension wobble somewhere, dig into the problem. How We Fall had both of these issues, but I didn’t listen to myself and kept plowing on through drafts, revising other things and ignoring those problems because I didn’t know what to do about them. I convinced myself it wasn’t that big a deal, that no book was perfect. Don’t do that. Have the guts to stop, evaluate, and dig into those problems you half-suspect are there. Don’t stop at “good enough.” Go all the way.

My writing, my book, is what I can control. I can become a better writer, I can push myself, and I can write a better book.

Thing Two: BOOKS ARE MADE IN REVISIONS

The first draft of How We Fall was 60,000 words, and it’s now 89,000. The story was there in the first draft, mostly, but it needed a lot of work. In its final version, the mystery is darker, the romance between the cousins is a little more obsessive, and the pacing is much faster. I had to dig deeper into the legal issues of cousin marriage (it’s legal in about half the states, and only considered incest in a few), as well as the ethical and safety issues, and let those pressure the relationship. Between revisions with critique partners, my agent, and my editor, it went through six major rounds of revisions. Even in final edits, it gained a new first chapter and a new final chapter. Revisions made my ugly first draft almost an entirely new book.

Don’t get discouraged when you’re drafting if you’re not seeing magic happen. That magical touch and those insightful moments you see in great books aren’t magic at all. They’re the result of blood and sweat. First drafts are limp and flat and awkward—that’s normal. The depth and layers come as you revise. And revise. And revise.

Thing Three: TEACH YOUR GUT, THEN FOLLOW IT

Writers get told a lot to follow their intuition. And that’s great advice—as long as you’re training your intuition. Good writers aren’t born knowing how to magically write brilliant books. They learn and learn and learn until it becomes second nature. So read, and read a lot. A book a week—or two. Consume, so you can see what’s been done and what hasn’t, and how it was done, and how you could do it differently or better. Read out of your genre to see what those authors tackle, and how they pull it off. Make your own blend. And as you’re reading so much, and reading new and different things, dissect what you’re reading to see what worked, what didn’t, and why. Teach your gut, and then listen to it when it says something is forced or too thin or just right.

Thing Four: KEEP YOUR EYES ON YOUR OWN PLATE

When I was querying, it was sometimes a struggle to not be jealous when someone else signed with an agent. When I was on submission, it was hard to not be jealous when someone else landed a book deal. Even though I was happy for my friends, it often turned into a “does this mean I’m not as good?” self-defeating little sad-party. And now that I have a book out, there are other authors’ awards, bestseller lists, and publicity and buzz I could be upset over.

But no one else’s success diminishes mine. One of the most wonderful things I’ve been realizing as I find critique partners and connect and blog with other authors, particularly in YA, is that we’re much more colleagues than competitors. Readers can pick up my book, and they can pick up someone else’s, too. Another author’s success doesn’t limit or detract from mine. What does limit my success is me looking at someone else’s plate, and wishing I had what they had, and letting my own work suffer.

Thing Five: STORY IS CONFLICT

A lot of people have asked me why I would write about two cousins who fall in love. I mean, weird, right? And as I tried to write a better book, and revise revise revise, and teach my gut, I started to realize what drew me to the concept in the first place: story is conflict. Usually, the deeper the struggle, the more fascinating the story. We’ve seen that with other forbidden love stories– biracial, cross-cultural, and same-gender relationships, relationships crossing political, religious, and status lines, and just about any other boundary we put up between people. When the conflict is an immoveable fact with deep-rooted prejudices and potential to harm people you love, that’s a significant and difficult struggle. What does this do to your family? What if your siblings get bullied because of it? What if the relationship fails and you’re stuck related to an ex-boyfriend? The issues involved in cousin relationships are a huge part of why I wanted to write about it. It would test my characters in ways not much else could.

Story centers around conflict. Without a problem, there’s no story. A page or chapter or book that lacks conflict is lacking story.

So revisit your conflict, keep in mind that genius writing likely won’t happen in the first few drafts, and train your instinct. Read out of your genre, read a lot, focus on your own successes, and keep writing the best book you can front and center. This career takes blood and sweat and persistence, so keep at it.

I originally wrote this post for Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds, as part of my blog tour for my book release– I wrote about 30 posts that went up on different sites over November and December, and with all that content out there, I’d like to keep it all in one place, so I’m posting it here for archiving purposes!

How To Tell If Your Manuscript Is YA

Being able to accurately categorize your writing as middle grade, young adult, new adult, or adult is an important part of writing for your audience and preparing to query. Sometimes writers assume because a novel has a main character who is a teen, the story is YA, but that isn’t always the case, and it’s not really the character’s age that’s the main determining factor. Many thrillers deal with teens and children, and aren’t YA.

When I first started writing, I thought the MS I was working on was YA because it was about a teen, and it wasn’t really YA. It had several young adult elements, but it was a much closer match to adult fiction. So how do you tell, really, if you are writing YA, or something else?

Here are some examples of works that muddy the waters:

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn is told from two points of view, and one POV is from a boy who’s fifteen years old. Room and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close have children as the main characters, but they’re adult fiction. The Harry Potter series is one of the most well-known examples of category confusion. The series is shelved in the children’s section because the first few books are MG. But Harry grows up, and so does the series. So, is the series middle grade, young adult, or adult?

Whether a manuscript is MG, YA, NA, or adult isn’t defined primarily by the main character’s age, although certain experiences, settings, and plots lend themselves to characters of a certain age group. Basically, it boils down to perspective.

Perspective is chiefly what makes a story young adult fiction. The lens through which the main character sees the world is what gives YA its distinctive flavor. The characters tackle adult issues, but when they do, it’s for the first time. Of course, YA can contain all the grit and reality of adult fiction, but the characters confront those things without the experience and often without the resources adults have. Of course, teens tend to go to high school, date other teens, have parents and homework. Other category tendencies are the use of first person, school as a major setting, and frustrations with parents and gaining independence. But what ties all these things together, what makes YA fiction YA, is the perspective of the characters.

To me, this perspective of facing the adult issues for the first time is what makes YA unique, and it’s why I love it. Over half the YA-buying readership is adults, and that’s probably a big reason for it. We read it and write it because YA is about change, and we all remember those years—and we don’t stop changing even as adults.

In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle says:
“Only the most mature of us are able to be childlike. And to be able to be childlike involves memory; we must never forget any part of ourselves. As of this writing I am sixty-one years in chronology. But I am not an isolated, chronological numerical statistic. I am sixty-one, and I am also four, and twelve, and fifteen, and twenty-three, and thirty-one, and forty-five, and…and….and… If we lose any part of ourselves, we are thereby diminished. If I cannot be thirteen and sixty-one simultaneously, part of me has been taken away.”

It’s not about being a certain age, it’s about what it means to be that age. YA keeps that part of our lives, that unique perspective on the world, awake and healthy.

 

I originally wrote this post for The Thrill Begins as part of my blog tour for my book release– I wrote about 30 posts that went up on different sites over November and December, and with all that content out there, I’d like to keep it all in one place, so I’m posting it here for archiving purposes.

“You don’t grow out of YA”: My Interview with International Thriller Writers

Last fall, The International Thriller Writers interviewed me– they’re a great organization of highly respected authors who do a wonderful job supporting new thriller writers, with Lee Child, M.J. Rose, R.L. Stein, and other greats on the board. Here’s that interview!

From ITW:

A rural Missouri girl, Kate Brauning fell in love with writing at a young age. She was that child who practically lived in the library, discovering all its treasures. Now, she resides in Iowa with her husband and a Siberian husky, and works in publishing. She loves to connect with readers. If you see her and say hi, she might invite you for a coffee and to talk about books.

Her debut novel HOW WE FALL is a young adult tale about two cousins with a secret relationship, a missing best friend, and strange girl with secrets. Will this strange girl be a harbinger of doom? Will they find their friend? THE BIG THRILL sat down with Brauning to find out more.shadow

When did you start writing?

Oh, I was pretty young. I wrote my first “story” at ten or so, I think. I’ve always had fun writing stories, and I wrote a novel all through high school. I loved it, but it just never occurred to me that I could write for a career. I kept on loving it, though. In college I decided that I loved it too much to not try.

Did you ever want to be anything besides a writer?

I decided early on that I wanted to be an author, so no, not really. Along the road to becoming an author, I’ve discovered I love the publishing world and I love editing, so if I couldn’t write anymore, I’d continue to work with publishing houses as an editor.

What got you interested in YA Fiction?

Great question. I didn’t imagine myself as a YA author to start with, actually. I started out writing adult, but it didn’t quite fit the stories I wanted to tell. Young adult fiction explores the teenage years of a person’s life, and those years are a significant point of change for most of us. Teens are tackling adult issues for the first time—serious relationships, jobs, shifting authority structures, new limits and opportunities—but they’re doing it without the experience, and often without the resources, that adults may have. It’s a vulnerable, heady, thrilling stage in someone’s life. Teens are also adjusting to greater independence and more authority in their own lives, but might still be dealing with limitations at odds with those things, like curfews, not having a car, house rules, and the structures of school. YA tackles that.

The experiences we have in our teenage years are formative ones, and the mistakes and choices we make can follow us into adulthood. There’s great opportunity, uncertainty, and passion in those years, and they leave a mark on us. I didn’t start reading YA until I reached my twenties, and I wish I’d found it earlier—seeing so closely into the lives of other teens who are wrestling with the same changes and struggles I was would have been so helpful as a teen. I still find myself identifying with the characters in these stories, because people never stop struggling with change. You don’t grow out of YA.

Did you have a favorite character to write?

HOW WE FALL is a YA contemporary story about two cousins who are hiding a relationship. I chose Jackie as the perspective character for this story because I really love how she thinks. She’s not really honest with herself, and often says the opposite of what she means, so it was a really interesting voice to write. Since it’s first person, the reader is really close to her thoughts, but I still needed to communicate the difference between her thoughts and reality. It was a really fun style I’m looking forward to doing more with.

What was the road to getting published like?

I’ve been writing since I was a teen, but it wasn’t until after college that I finished a novel I wanted to get published. I researched agents and query letters, developed an interest in the publishing world, and started working first as an internship with a publishing house. Then I worked with a literary agency, and started sending out query letters for my novel. I then moved to a job as an editor with a publishing house. While I was querying, I started writing my second novel, which was HOW WE FALL, and the response from agents was much more encouraging than for my first work. I did revisions and signed with an agent after about six months, then we went on submission right after the holidays and I had an offer in late February. It happened pretty fast and I couldn’t have done it without such a fantastic agent. My debut just released in early November, and it’s been a tough but really wonderful journey.

How would you describe your writing process?

I spend a long time working on the concept of the story—living in the story mentally, churning scenes around, and figuring out the focus—before I actually start drafting it. Once I start drafting, I try to fast-draft the first act so I can see how things work out when I write characters into the situation and the environment. Then I go back and heavily revise that first third to get all the layers in place and make any changes to the plot/characters that I thought of along the way. After I have the first act solidly drafted and revised, then I finish drafting the rest of the book. Of course, it depends some on the book and how well I know the story before I start writing it. Doing revisions in that first third makes starting a manuscript slow for me, but I do find it helps me avoid having to change major parts of the story.

What does 2015 hold for you?

I’d love to know that, myself! I’ve just moved to a new publishing house (Entangled Publishing) where I work as an editor with YA fiction, so I’ll be acquiring and editing some really wonderful YA titles. I’m also hard at work on new projects, both adult and new adult, that I’m really excited about. I’m also attending a lot of conferences (I’m a conference junkie), so be sure to say hi if you see me!

_________

PS Did you know there’s a narrative Pinterest board for How We Fall? Have you ever seen a narrative book board? I worked so hard on it! And I love it so much. Tell me what you think? ~Kate

 

You Don’t Grow Out of YA: 5 Reasons I Write (& Edit) YA

I originally wrote this post for Writer’s Digest as part of my blog tour for my book release– I wrote about 30 posts that went up on different sites over November and December, and with all that content out there, I’d like to keep it all in one place, so I’m posting it here for archiving purposes!

When I first started writing fiction, I never expected to end up writing YA. But once I discovered what a vibrant, challenging category it was, I was hooked. I love young adult fiction, and I love the authors working in the category. Explaining to my friends and family, though, what YA is and why I was taking my career in a new direction was a bit of a challenge. Here are a few reasons YA has grabbed me:

1) A wide audience. By writing YA, we’re not crossing out adult readers. YA isn’t a reading level, it’s a category of story about a particular stage in life. Many of my adult friends thought if I started writing “teen fiction” it wouldn’t be a story they’d enjoy. But about half of YA readers are over 18, and a huge portion of the adult readers of YA are over 30. I didn’t find YA and start reading it myself until I was in college—and I’m so glad I did find it, because it reminded me how honest and surprising and deeply human fiction can be.

When you write YA, you’re writing to a wide, diverse audience. Adults buy and read YA all the time. Of course, it’s important to write with teen readers in mind, too, since they’re a significant portion of the audience, and no one can sense preachy messages or condescending stories like a teen.

2) A point of change. YA explores the teenage years of a person’s life, and those years are a significant point of change for most of us. Teens are tackling adult issues for the first time—serious relationships, jobs, shifting authority structures, new limits and opportunities—but they’re doing it without the experience and often without the resources that adults may have. It’s a vulnerable, heady, thrilling stage in someone’s life. Teens are also adjusting to greater independence and more authority in their own lives, but might still be dealing with limitations at odds with those things, like curfews, not having a car, house rules, and the structures of school. I didn’t start reading YA until I reached my twenties, and I wish I’d found it earlier—seeing so closely into the lives of other teens who are wrestling with the same changes and struggles I was would have been so helpful as a teen. I still find myself identifying with the characters in these stories, because people never stop struggling with change. You don’t grow out of YA.

The experiences we have in our teenage years are formative ones, and the mistakes and choices we make can follow us into adulthood. There’s great opportunity, uncertainty, and passion in those years, and they leave a mark on us.

3) Trying new things. Experimenting with craft is another reason I love YA. It’s a brave category. Novels in second person and novels in verse. Unreliable narrators. Thick, several-hundred-page stories. Companion short stories or novellas. Genre-blending, and epistolary-style novels with texts, blog posts, letters, and graphics. So much can be done in YA, and no story is off-limits. I love being challenged as a writer, seeing a tough story and figuring out how I can tell it, and YA is a great place to be doing that. Don’t let yourself be limited by what has or hasn’t been done before—explore new devices, new ideas, and new ways of telling these stories. Like teens themselves, YA is known for being brave and taking risks.

4) Exploring tough issues. One of the main reasons I love reading and writing YA is that the category tackles such tough issues. Along with all the new independence, vulnerability, and vibrancy of teen life come problems—things we’d like to think teens don’t have to deal with, but are so often a part of their lives. Our ideas about adolescence are often at odds with the struggles of it. The weighty, bitter truths of growing up sometimes get painted over when we think about childhood. Like adults, teens have to deal with bullying, neglect, abuse, physical and mental illness, assault, discrimination, addiction, broken relationships, loss, regret, and personal failures. YA fiction is a great place to explore what those teen years really look like, and how we can adjust, heal, and reinvent ourselves. And sometimes those harsh truths take over, and YA can give us those stories, too. Sometimes the biggest struggles are crushes and cliques at school, but that’s not usually the case. The best YA is genuine and honest about what it means to be a teen.

5) Why not? A final reason I love YA is that there’s no reason not to. Teens are every bit as complex as adults, and they can think as deeply, too. Of course they can. Teens aren’t a more simplistic or less demanding audience, and their stories aren’t any simpler or less worthy. When I came to YA as an adult, what drew me in was the depth of these stories, and that’s what I’ve stayed for, too.

Teens are people, and people have fascinating stories. There’s no reason we shouldn’t write or read their stories, and there’s every reason to do exactly that. We read and write YA to remember that stage in life, to explore, to see someone else’s life, to empathize. To keep the teenage part of ourselves alive. For catharsis. For fun. To be challenged. To think. To create, and to participate. The stories in YA are first and foremost human stories, and that’s what makes them so wonderful.

Release Day for How We Fall

Today is my release day. My first novel is now out in the wild– on bookstore shelves, on online bookstores, and in readers’ coverhands. And I couldn’t be happier.

This has been an intense last year. From signing with my agent in September and going on submission in January, to selling the book in March and having it release 8 months later, it’s been fast and furious and wonderful. I’m so incredibly grateful for my agent, Carlie Webber, for helping make all this happen, and to my editor, Jacquelyn Mitchard, for loving my book. The entire team at Merit Press and F&W Media, too, has been wonderfully supportive and enthusiastic. From the cover art to marketing efforts, they’ve been fantastic. Thank you all so much for your work and enthusiasm.

To my friends, family, and critique partners, and all of you on Twitter and to my blog readers, thank you so much for sticking with me and encouraging me and for loving my book. I don’t know what I’d do without your support.

So here. My book is yours now. I wrote a story, one I had to write, and I loved writing it. Storytelling is communication, and while I can write for myself and still love it, there’s something wonderful about turning it over to you and watching you love and hate and argue and think over it. So I wrote a book, and now it’s yours. I hope you enjoy it.

Love,

Kate

How We Fall is available through:

      Barnes & Noble   Indie Bound   Walmart.com   Book-A-Million   Book Depository   Powell’s

Amazon.com Amazon.ca Amazon.co.uk

 

Attend my launch party:

All book lovers are invited to attend #YAlaunch, a giant book party  for How We Fall and The Hit List on Monday, November 10th, from 6-9pm central time. That’s today! Broadcast live over video, the party will allow you to see, hear, and interact with the authors. 10 YA and adult authors will be discussing everything from writing a series to how they write love interests. They’ll also be playing book games with the audience, taking questions, and giving away 100 books to guests attending online. Authors attending include NYT bestsellers Nicole Baart and Tosca Lee, Kate Brauning, Nikki Urang, Kiersi Burkhart, Bethany Robison, Alex Yuschik, Blair Thornburgh, Kelly Youngblood, and Delia Moran.  It will be a fun and interactive evening for anyone who loves books and wants to spend some time with great authors. For more information and to sign up to attend, please click here. We’d love to see you there!

Review of HOW WE FALL from School Library Journal

Today’s good news is that School Library Journal reviewed How We Fall! The review will be in this month’s SLJ print issue, and the full review is currently up on Book Verdict. I’m thrilled with such a great review from them, and it’s making some of the stress and nerves worthwhile!

In case you don’t have a Book Verdict subscription, here’s the review:

 

SLJ review

The Catharsis of Dark YA

I’ve sometimes used books as an escape, as a way to explore something new, as a way to be someone else for a while. I’ve used them as entertainment, as inspiration, as a challenge to my writing.

But something has always not quite encapsulated it for me when people talk about the power of words and why we read and why we must keep reading. We say we use books to escape our lives, for entertainment, for learning empathy, for all those things I just mentioned. And that’s true. But as I’ve been sorting through why I write the stories I do, and what draws me to the books that I really, really love, something occurred to me.

Everyone is grieving something. Life leaves us with scars, and wounds that don’t heal properly, and it’s almost impossible to learn how to grieve when you’re in the middle of it. As a child, I didn’t even realize the things I was grieving. But the books I read pulled at it– the support I was missing, the friends I needed to have, the simple fact that life hurts. As an adult, I can see now that I was choosing books that helped me sort through and process all these things. And what I read now often does similar things. It pulls out a fragment of something, and helps me process it, and brings me back to a place where I can see more than the damage. Prejudice, loneliness, poverty, alienation, loss– we carry these things around with us, and they get heavy, and we often don’t know what to do with them. One piece at a time, books can help us grieve and process and show us how to put things back together.

This is why I read and write dark YA. “Dark” doesn’t mean “depressing.” It just means it’s a story that tackles serious issues, and most of them tilt the characters toward healing. Books bring us catharsis, and we all need that. In feeling for a character, and through watching their own struggle, in many ways we’re sorting through pain of our own. And it’s a hopeful, wonderful, positive thing.