Friday, June 27, 2014

4 Craft of Writing: How to Write a Bestselling YA Novel by Allen Zadoff

Allen Zadoff is the bestselling YA author of a lot of books. His debut FOOD, GIRLS AND OTHER THINGS I CAN'T HAVE won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award and was a YALSA selection for Most Popular Paperbacks of 2012. His newest series, previously titled Boy Nobody has a revamped name and look. It is now called The Unknown Assasin, the first book of which is called I AM THE WEAPON and the newest I AM THE MISSION, which came out June 17th!

How to Write a Bestselling YA Novel by Allen Zadoff

Stop trying.

This is my best advice. If you want to write a bestselling young adult novel, stop trying to write one. Don’t follow trends, don’t do what others think you should do, don’t emulate what’s already successful, don’t even write what you think you should write.

Go deeper.

Write the other story, the one you must write, the one that scares you.

Understand what I mean when I say “scares you”. I don’t mean you have to write a gut-wrenching novel of terror. I mean you should write the story that scares you personally. The one where you say, “I want to write a comedy, but I’m afraid I’m not funny enough. I want to tell the truth, but I’m not sure I have the guts to do it. I want to talk about real life as I experience it, but I’m afraid people won’t be interested. Or I want to write a vampire book, but there are already twelve billion vampire books.”

That last one is tricky because there really are twelve billion vampire books, and it’s tough to sell a vampire book. But remember what I said earlier. Write the one you must write.

If you have an absolutely personal and unusual idea for a vampire novel that you must write and you’re sure you can’t move forward in life without writing it, then I support you in doing it. But if you’re writing it because you know the genre is popular, because you hope to catch the trend, because you think you’re guaranteed to have a hit book, then I suggest you dump it.

Go deeper. Write the one you must write.

Three years ago, I was known as a funny, contemporary fiction writer. I’d written three YA novels, all in a similar style. My debut, FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN’T HAVE, won a number of awards, received fantastic reviews, and was widely read. But after three books with quirky, neurotic, and all-too-human protagonists, I was inspired to write something different. One day I heard the voice of new kind of hero in my head, a sixteen-year-old assassin for the government whose job was to befriend the children of his targets so he could get close to and assassinate their parents. I knew it was a thriller, and I had a very strong sense that it was going to be more than one book.

I wasn’t trying to write a bestseller. I was simply writing the next one, the one that scared me. I risked it all, betting on my inspiration rather than my reputation, doing what I was moved to do rather than what I thought I should do or what people were expecting from me.

It was the birth of THE UNKNOWN ASSASSIN series.

And guess what? It’s been my most successful work by far. The first book, I AM THE WEAPON, earned starred reviews, has been translated into over a dozen languages, and was optioned by a major movie studio. Now it’s a finalist for best YA novel in the International Thriller Awards.

All great stuff. And all more or less beside the point.

More important is the fact that I did what scared me, and I’m a better writer for it. I grew, I stretched, and now I get to do it again.

There are no guarantees of success. I can’t promise you that if you go deeper, write what you must, and write what scares you that you will have a bestseller at the end of the day. But I promise you this. You will feel like a real writer. You will get better every time you do it. And eventually you will find your voice, and your audience will find you.

That’s my wish for us both.

About The Author

Allen Zadoff is the author of the THE UNKNOWN ASSASSIN series as well as several acclaimed novels including FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN'T HAVE, winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award and a YALSA Popular Paperback for Young Adults. Allen's action-packed series debut, I AM THE WEAPON (formerly BOY NOBODY), is a page-turning thriller about a teenage assassin that has already been optioned for film by Sony Pictures & Overbrook Entertainment. The book was featured in the Los Angeles Times' Summer Reading guide and has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and VOYA. Kirkus Reviews called I AM THE WEAPON "fast, furious, and fun." Look for the sequel, I AM THE MISSION, beginning in June 2014. Allen is a graduate of Cornell University and the Harvard University Institute for Advanced Theatre Training. His training as a super spy, however, has yet to be verified.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About The Book

He was the perfect assassin. No name. No past. No remorse. Perfect, that is, until he began to ask questions and challenge his orders. Now The Program is worried that their valuable soldier has become a liability.

And so Boy Nobody is given a new mission. A test of sorts. A chance to prove his loyalty.

His objective: Take out Eugene Moore, the owner of an extremist military training camp for teenagers. It sounds like a simple task, but a previous operative couldn't do it. He lost the mission and is presumed dead. Now Boy Nobody is confident he can finish the job. Quickly.

But when things go awry, Boy Nobody finds himself lost in a mission where nothing is as it seems: not The Program, his allegiances, nor the truth.

The riveting second book in Allen Zadoff's Boy Nobody series delivers heart-pounding action and a shocking new twist that makes Boy Nobody question everything he has believed.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads


  1. Well put, Allen. I guess it's easy for me to say "write what you feel" like because I do have the day job and all, so I'll never starve. On the other hand, I think I want to see my work read just as badly as anyone. The wonderful thing about this new age of writing is that we have options. If no publisher wants to buy my Amish Zombie Romance, then I can self-publish, gab with my fifty loyal fans on twitter, and call it a success. But life is too short to follow trends and turn writing into another 9 to 5 job (though we should take the business side seriously). One of us will produce the next "overnight success" novel (that took us ten years of rejections to get to). But we have no chance at all if we just write what everyone else is writing. Wanna write a vampire novel? Go for it. We each write from a different perspective and out of a uniques set of experiences. So if my vampire happens to be a Navy Brat who's parents work hard to keep his secret as they transfer from duty station to duty station, who's to say it won't be the next big thing? (I've actually considered that one...maybe a free giveaway series). So yeah, write whatever your odd imagination can conjure. Somebody once thought, "Hey! What if a kid goes to a school for wizards?" Someone else thought it was a dumb idea. Good thing she didn't listen to the experts.

  2. I Am the Mission sounds terrific. Thanks for the good advice. There is a lot to think about in this post.

  3. Love this advice! That's one of the things I love most about indie publishing. You can write what you want without worrying whether or not it will sell. You can write what scares you, what inspires you, and put out a polished product for readers.

  4. Excellent advice! I know people mean well when they say things like "don't write fantasy/horror/zombies/vampires if you don't want to." But it does me no good because that *is* what I want to write! Even though they're hard to sell right now, the fact that I love writing what I do takes a lot of the pressure off.


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