Deborah Halverson For Dummies

I once learned how to knit by using one of those yellow books “For Dummies,” and it was excellent! The book taught me all about yarn-over stitches and that y2tog means knit two stitches together. Everyone in my family received beautiful hand-knit lace scarves that winter, thanks to “For Dummies”. So, as I moved on to my other passion, writing for children, I was excited to discover there’s a new “For Dummies” book coming out for children’s book writers and — the news gets better — it was written by Deborah Halverson!

For fifteen years, as an editor with Harcourt and as a freelance editor, Deborah Halverson has worked closely with writers helping their books reach maximum awesomeness. As a writing coach, her authors sometimes go on to get published and even win awards. She will also answer any writing related question you may have on her Dear Editor blog.

She’s obviously extremely busy — did I mention she’s an award-winning author herself AND the mom of triplet boys?! — so, we are lucky to have her here today to tell us about her book launch and to give away a copy of Writing YA Fiction for Dummies.

Hi, Deborah! Thank you for joining us! As you know, here at the Mixed-Up Files, we’re all about middle-grade fiction. How will middle-grade authors find use in Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies?

Don’t worry, Jennifer, I’ve got your back! In the book’s title I use the term young adult fiction as the world at large does — as a comprehensive label for the two distinct publishing categories: MG (middle grade) fiction and YA (young adult or teen) fiction. When making the distinction is necessary within the book, I do so. But all the craft, submission, and marketing information works for both MG and YA fiction because the storytelling techniques are essentially the same and the same publishing players handle both categories. MG authors will get a full plate of writing techniques, examples, and exercises, along with behind-the-scenes insights and tips to apply in all phases of crafting their novels. I’m particularly excited about two features I included to take this book beyond technique: First, thirteen authors, agents, and editors—including National Book Award winners and finalists and Newbery Medalists and Honorees—wrote sidebars for the book in which they share what they do and how they go about it. The foreword was written by none other than M. T. Anderson, whose books exemplify the best of both middle grade and YA fiction, across multiple genres. Second, I’ve included an extensive chapter on self-marketing to help writers exploit the many opportunities that our social media-obsessed world has thrown at our feet. Really, we writers have more power than ever before to spread the buzz about our books. Above all, I wrote WYAFFD to guide all writers—MG and YA alike—in developing a voice and style that appeals to young readers and that is wholly, comfortably theirs.

You were an editor at Harcourt for ten years and then you wrote two fiction novels of your own, HONK IF YOU HATE ME and BIG MOUTH.  What was it like to switch from being the editor to being edited?

Oh, I like “being edited.” First, my editing background helped me internalize the fact that editing isn’t personal, that it’s about improving the story for the readers’ benefit, so criticism isn’t emotional for me. Oh, sure, I can get frustrated when there’s no ready solution to a problem, but emotional? Nah. So that icky aspect of “being edited” isn’t there for me. Second, in the early years of an editorial career, young editors’ work is edited quite deeply by their mentors in order to train them and to push them to develop their own inner editors, so young editors quickly develop a thick skin anyway. And finally, I enjoy revision more than writing the first draft—in my mind, the second and third drafts are where a story really comes alive—and editing is an essential part of that revision process. So I kinda gotta like it.

Do you have plans for more fiction writing?

I’ve been itching to get back to a YA project that I started just before WYAFFD came into my life. I could almost see that round-eyed, triangular For Dummies guy putting his shoulder to my fiction manuscript, shoving it to the backburner. It was a funny feeling, really, writing nonfiction about writing fiction while I desperately wanted to write fiction.

How were you approached to write Writing YA Fiction for Dummies?

I’d been planning to write a craft book one day, but I hadn’t yet envisioned the actual project. Then, out of the blue, an email came my way from an agent who knew of Wiley’s interest in publishing a book about writing YA fiction. The agent didn’t identify the book but instead asked about my general interest in writing a book on craft for young adult fiction writers. She knew of my editorial and teaching background, and that I’m a writer, too, but we’d never met so she didn’t have a feel for me yet. Being in a silly mood, I responded playfully—and inadvertently clinched the deal with her. She revealed the project as a book in Wiley Publishers’ playful but informative For Dummies series and then proceeded to pitch me to Wiley. They bit. The best part is, my Wiley editors were as savvy and silly as the series is. WYAFFD was a real hoot to work on, and I hope that spirit carries through to readers.

What is one of the most important pieces of advice you can share with writers of children’s fiction?

That you be willing to let your hair down. Look at any craft book not as a recipe book but rather as a list of ingredients for you to select from and experiment with. No fear. Hey, you can always “undo” on your computer, right? I absolutely packed Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies with tangible techniques—that’s just how I am; I don’t like sweeping statements about art, I want specific techniques that I can try out and keep or twist to my own ends—but you won’t use all these technique in the same proportions in all of your stories. With each new manuscript you write, be open to experimenting with ingredients you don’t normally use, and be willing to cut back on your fallback faves. That’s when your writing will move to the next level.

I hear there are some big launch parties going on for your “For Dummies” book. Where can we go to get in on some of the action?

Yes! Pop over to Dear Editor June 29-July 5 for my virtual book launch, a 7-day blowout event with daily “first chapter critique” giveaways, free daily downloads, excerpts from the book, and profiles of those amazing thirteen authors, agents, and editors who contributed their voices to the book. I’m capping off the launch with a grand finale “full manuscript edit” giveaway. The book is hitting stores July 5, the day after the Fourth of July, and this is my way of shooting off fireworks.

I’m definitely heading over there to try to win a “first chapter critique” among other prizes! Thank you so much for being here, Deborah.

And readers, to help Deborah celebrate I have a free copy of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies to give away. Just leave a post in the comment section and if you spread the word by way of blog, facebook, or Twitter, let us know and you’ll be entered in the contest. I’ll announce the winner on July 5.

Jennifer Duddy Gill writes humorous middle-grade fiction and learns as much as she can from craft-of-writing books, great writers, and wonderful blogs like From the Mixed-Up Files.

Jennifer Duddy Gill