Tap. Tap. Tap. Is this mic on? Testing. Testing. Ahem! Please welcome a fabulous guest post by Erica O'Rourke, award winning author of UNCHOSEN. (Women who wear crowns know what they're talking about, so pay attention!)
But here’s the thing: winning the Golden Heart, while lovely, was just the cherry on top. The truth is, joining RWA was the single best move I ever made in my career, even before I won.
Still, a lot of YA authors aren’t sure RWA is a great investment of their time or money. “I’m just not sure what I’d get out of it,” I often hear. “I write young adult, not romance.”
Maybe you don’t. Perhaps you don’t write happily ever after endings, or perhaps the romance is a minor subplot. Calling a book a romance implies some pretty specific genre elements – it’s why they have their own section at the bookstore. But I’m hard-pressed to think of a recent YA book that doesn’t, in some way, touch on romantic relationships. Not always happy ones, of course. Lauren Strasnick’s RITA-nominated NOTHING LIKE YOU is brutally, painfully honest, and at its core, about a girl coming to grips with her mother’s death. But it’s also a story about love and sex and how difficult it can be to differentiate the two. And it is BRILLIANT.
If you’ve written a YA book that has kissing, or people thinking about kissing, or people trying very hard NOT to think about kissing someone who is both 1) bad news and 2) irresistible, you should join RWA. Not “in spite of” writing YA, but specifically BECAUSE you do. I tell you this for two reasons:
REASON #1: A GOOD YOUNG ADULT BOOK IS A GOOD BOOK.
Period. Full stop. People who suggest teens don’t deserve compelling, meaningful books solely because of their age should be kneecapped. When I wrote UNCHOSEN, I didn’t try to make it sound “teen” or dumb down the language. I didn’t simplify the characters or the conflicts. I didn’t try to teach anyone a Very Important Lesson About Growing Up. I wrote the story I wanted to read, and it happened to be about a seventeen-year-old. Suggesting YA is easier to write or that the standards are lower is crap, frankly, and insulting to teenagers and authors alike.
But it’s for this very reason that you’ve got to bring your A game. You need to hone your craft just as much as authors writing for adult audience, and you need to learn about the business side, too. That’s what a good author does, regardless of genre.
RWA does a fantastic job of educating its membership: on craft, on the publishing industry, on how to conduct oneself professionally. It provides opportunities to meet agents and editors at conferences. It runs contests – both the Golden Heart and chapter contests – to get feedback on your writing and bypass the slush pile. It shows you take your work seriously, and the publishing industry should too.
REASON #2: EVERYBODY NEEDS A TRIBE.
Of course, YA authors still have specialized issues. The market and conventions are different, as they are for other subgenres. The industry professionals are (sometimes) different. What you need is a group of people in your field, collected in one place, with wisdom and experience and a willingness to share. You need YARWA, the online Young Adult chapter of RWA. It’s an incredibly vibrant, intelligent, giving community, comprised of authors at every stage in their career, from newbie to bestsellers, in every genre from steampunk to contemporary. Their dues are minuscule compared to the amount of information and support they provide. And while you might not put names with faces until Nationals, they are most assuredly your tribe.
I said RWA was the best thing I did for my career, and I wasn’t being glib. Every good thing that has happened to me in my journey as an author is directly linked to RWA, and particularly my local chapter, Chicago-North. They taught me about craft as I was writing UNCHOSEN, and they held my feet to the fire as I revised it. They pushed me to enter the Golden Heart. They organized the Spring Fling conference and invited Joanna Volpe, who became my agent and who does wondrous, amazing things for my career on a near-daily basis. When I won the Golden Heart, the cheers from my chaptermates were deafening. A tribe, I tell you. Get one.
(By the way, this year’s RITA winner for Young Adult? NYT Bestseller, Simone Elkeles – another C-N member. Coincidence, or proof my chapter is made of awesome? You decide.)
RWA has been an incredible resource for me, and the other YA authors I know. It’s given me knowledge, a sense of community, amazing friends and incredible opportunities. I’ve never felt marginalized or looked down on by the greater membership, and the chapters I belong feel like home. It’s one of those rare situations where there is no downside – take advantage of it. You’d be crazy not to.
Erica O’Rourke writes dark urban fantasy about girls who learn to use their loud voices, and make their own fate. Her first novel, UNCHOSEN, was the 2010 Golden Heart Winner for Best Young Adult Manuscript. You can read more about Erica at her website, www.ericaorourke.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erica_orourke
Thanks for guest posting, Erica! You're welcome to stop back any time.
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