My paranormal romance for teens, Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, was published just about a year ago, and to switch things up, we changed the cover last week. I think readers approve, because it’s suddenly #1 on the Amazon free teen paranormal romance and horror lists. Exciting!
Here are a few things that I’ve noticed from readers’ comments that I never would have guessed as a novice YA writer. Use them to either avoid pitfalls, or capitalize on what I’ve learned!
1) if the prose of your book contains the words “one” and “direction,” whether you were intentionally trying to reference the boy band or not, female readers will find those two words together and freak out instantly.
2) if you develop a cute, emo teen boy love interest, threatening his life or killing him off will provoke a greater reaction from your readers than anything else that might happen in your story, including having your heroine die, commit terrible sins, or experience dire hardship (John Greene co-signs this point, with Augustus as evidence).
3) teen girls actually really like feisty, strong-willed female characters. In writing this book, I didn’t think too much about the sharp-witted, pint-sized character Mischa, but because she’s the most outspoken character in the book, she’s by far the readers’ favorite. There’s an abundance of wishy-washy female characters in YA, and this generation of teen readers doesn’t identify with them.
4) Female readers will discover and invent references to pop culture influences in their own lives whether you want them to or not. There’s no need to load your book up with mentions of Austin Mahone, the Beebs, Harry Styles, or whatever style sneakers kids happen to be wearing today. Mahone fans will find context in your work even if you try to avoid it. How can you possibly memorize every single lyric? You can’t. You don’t have to, your readers have already done it.