in Self-publishing

YA Fiction Advice from Some Actual Young Adults

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Wise Ink has the privilege of working with publishing industry professionals on a daily basis. We love helping authors get feedback from copyeditors, proofreaders, graphic designers, and marketers who are immersed in the world of books and are conscious of today’s literary trends.

But at the end of the day, it is the readers who will determine whether a book is a sensation, not these professionals. That’s why one of our consistent pieces of advice for authors is this: get to know your audience.

So, when two bright and insightful teenagers, Natalie and Bella, stopped by the Wise Ink office to learn more about self-publishing, we decided to learn something from them as well. When they weren’t busy helping us get organized or reading manuscripts, we asked them to give us a consumer’s perspective on one of today’s most beloved book categories: Young Adult fiction.


YA authors, listen up! Their responses just might surprise you:


Q: What’s really interesting and engaging for you in YA fiction?


Bella: “Realistic characters! Not everyone fits the mold of strong, beautiful, brave, athletic, and cunning.”

Natalie: “Patchwork character designs and personalities. I like this because many unique stories can unfold from an interesting appearance as well.”


Other trends they love:

  • Characters that fight injustice
  • Books that promote the empowerment of teenage girls
  • Characters with relatable conflict


Q: What are your least favorite trends in YA fiction? What is lame and overdone?


Bella: “All of the romance! This trend is not very realistic! It is often an overwhelming theme and it sends a message that a relationship is a must-have. This is especially true for younger kids that read YA. I often hear young girls wishing for a relationship like Katniss and Peeta—it’s a bad example, as I doubt they will be forced to participate in the Hunger Games.”

Natalie: “What I find boring are special-snowflake characters—young teens with dead parents but an incredible supernatural ability. I’ve seen this mold used and reused more time than I think necessary.”


The girls were also critical of the overabundance of dystopian and futuristic settings within today’s YA fiction:


Bella: “There are so many books about teens doing the impossible—saving the nation, leading rebellions, and overthrowing governments. Again, this is almost nothing like the real world. I feel like every YA novel now has this theme dealing with the supernatural. I love my Harry Potter, but it’s getting repetitive.”

Natalie also suggests avoiding these protagonist concepts:

  • “Everyone is in danger because of me”
  • “I hurt everyone I love”
  • “I have walls built up that no one can break down”
  • “Characters who are good at everything”


Q: What advice do you have for YA authors?


Bella: “There are still plenty of things right here in everyday life that have not been written about —or pioneer a new genre! Don’t add to what’s already here, start something new. The uniqueness will draw people to your writing.”

Natalie: “Wise Ink really made Bella and me think hard about what we want to see in the books tailored for our age group, especially with so many people dying to strike gold like J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins. But what’s the point in building an empire if your throne is made of recycled material?

Make the characters more human and believable. Let them have flaws, make them imperfect, let them react the way you would expect a normal human being would. They can cry—sob, even. And believe it or not, they can love! Give them fickle willpower—I’ve seen lots of books where characters can keep their emotions at bay because of their incredible mental strength. Let them make lots of mistakes.”


Make the characters more human and believable. Let them have flaws, make them imperfect, let them react the way you would expect a normal human being would. They can cry—sob, even. And believe it or not, they can love!


Q: What do young readers want to see in future YA fiction?


Natalie: “There’s so much untapped material and endless combinations of plot devices that could completely dominate the YA genre! I know that I’m not the only one getting a little tired of the trite, overused dystopian future setup, so I have hope that younger writers will seize the day and bring light to this genre!

I want the diversity of settings to increase. Don’t always zoom forward to a futuristic barren wasteland of no hope and a tyrant-like government—create new worlds! Or, stay in the present, just pinpoint your story onto the other side of the map to a country you would have never dreamed writing about. Do some research, tap into a different culture. You might learn something too.”


I want the diversity of settings to increase. Don’t always zoom forward to a futuristic barren wasteland of no hope and a tyrant-like government—create new worlds!


Q: If you were going to write a YA novel for your age group, what elements would it have?


Bella: “It would address more problems normal people have and it would explore new genres of fiction.”

Natalie: “Thrilling twists and interesting characters. And, if it were to have a romance, make that romance outside of the box.”



We cannot thank Bella and Natalie enough for sharing their thoughts and exposing the minds of YA readers!



Authors: what other questions do you have for your potential readers? Feel free to comment below!


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  1. I’m so glad to hear that about the romance… I’m not against some romance in a novel, but sometimes it does totally overshadow every other aspect of a YA story!

    P.S. Yes, my name is Natalie, too, so I was especially happy to see a fellow Natalie in this post. 😉

  2. Invaluable advice! Thanks Natalie and Bella (and of course everyone at Wise Ink) As a fan and new author of YA fantasy fiction myself, I’m still learning the pitfalls of what makes a great story. Just because I love classically told fiction of the past does not mean I should dishonor that by drawing carbon copies of it. Still, it’s fun to explore new worlds and lose myself in them, regardless of potential stereotypical elements. I just hope that new readers share the same excitement of my stories I had writing them.

    (and I promise that Book 2 of my eco-fantasy will star one very strong, but very fallible girl)

    Thanks again and keep exploring!

  3. This is a really interesting piece and thanks to Bella and Natalie for taking the time to tell us what they want to read! Have shared it in a couple of writing groups on facebook – and feeling slightly smug that I haven’t fallen into any of their bugbear categories….improved my day no end 😉

  4. Really interested to hear these thoughts from ‘actual’ YA readers. As someone who writes YA I often feel I am still a teenager at heart, but there is always that worry that you are not on the same wave length as current teenagers. Completely agree that it’s good to have protagonists who are not ‘special’ or ‘unusual’. I like to write about normal people who are nevertheless very interesting – because people are very interesting!

  5. Great post! I’m 22 and still read a lot of YA and sometimes forget I’m not the intended audience anymore. I agree with these girls that the over abundance of romance gets annoying. So many YA heroines find their true love after their first kiss. It’s ridiculous. Also, I 100% agree with avoiding the “everyone is in danger because of me” trope. Yawn and eye roll. Thanks for sharing!

    • Great reply, Amber. And you’re in good company here: we love YA, too, no matter the intended age of the audience!

  6. I read a lot of YA so I agree that the dystopian thing is overdone. What would make a romance outside of the box? Not sure what that means to teens…

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