Writing for Teens: Advice From Razorbill Publisher Ben Schrank

Ben Schrank, publisher at Razorbill, gave his insight about publishing for the teen market at the 2010 SCBWI New York conference. The following is his take on the market and advice to aspiring writers:

What Books Does Razorbill Publish and Why?

  • The Naughty List by Suzanne Young – Schrank found this book to be hilarious, yet simple. Its a good example of what he deems as “Frothy Lit.”
  • The Good Girls Guide to Getting Kidnapped by Yxta Maya Murray – This was a good gritty book.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher- This was a book with all the major pieces. It has a strong concept, strong voice, and a provocative title. Schrank also felt they had a good package to publish it with, and it’s paid off because the book has been in hardcover for two and a half years.
  • Razorbill publishes both hardcover and paperback books.
  • Schrank seems to like concept driven books rather than voice or character driven books.

What Helps to Sell a Book and Make it Successful?

  •  Schrank thinks part of a book’s success is that you put the appropriate amount of books in the marketplace and then promote the book.
  • Word of mouth also helps to sell books.
  • He thinks that one in one-hundred-thousand books will be able to place and perform the way Thirteen Reasons Why did.
  • Voice + Concept = A Successful Book.
  • A lot of what they do at Razorbill has to do with the package (to promote and sell the book).

Common Mistakes Aspiring Writers Make:

  • Writing for the market. The market is too fickle.
  • Voice-y teen writing. Don’t try to sound like a teenager it will seem fake. There’s no real way to capture that teen voice, what seems fresh and real now may change by the time the book is published.
  • “On the nose” introductions can kill an opening.
  • Starting your story too early. Often you will actually want to start your story in the middle, so there is an immediacy and urgency.

Speak to the Fantasy Life of Your Reader:

  • You need to find a way to tell old stories in a new way. (He really stressed this point).
  • Ask yourself if the conflict and underlying themes of your story can fit into a school cafeteria? As in a metaphor for the relationships found there.
  • Your book must speak to the fantasy life or the real life of the reader.

What Will Make You Successful?

  • It pay’s to be nice. That can go a long long long way! Don’t yell at your editor or be a stink!
  • Be confident and secure in yourself and your work.

Ben Schrank is President and Publisher of Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. He has written two novels for adults, Miracle Man and Consent, as well as the Insiders series for young adults. He has written for the Financial Times, The New York Observer, Vogue, O, and Seventeen, where he was the voice behind the fictional column “Ben’s Life.”

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8 thoughts on “Writing for Teens: Advice From Razorbill Publisher Ben Schrank

  1. “Voice-y teen writing. Don’t try to sound like a teenager it will seem fake. There’s no real way to capture that teen voice, what seems fresh and real now may change by the time the book is published.”

    I like this price of advice. I am a teen who loves to read. Often, I find myself looking at a page in a book, wondering “Do we really sound/act like that?”

    • Maryssa, I’m sure Razorbill would publish a book written by a teenager if they felt it was ready for publication. The age of the author is not important usually, it’s the content and quality of the book that they care about.

  2. Thank you for the tips! I find it thrilling to hear your point of view on how to be successful. I’m always trying to wonder about some of those thing, like talking like a teenager in novels and I must agree with your logic there. Looking forward to any other tips you ever give.

    KM

  3. I guess EVERYBODY has written a book and well, I’m no different. I wish I could get it out there unsolicited. It’s a very humorous book about a dog told from her own POV. It’s entitled “Rotten Rotty”, and I really wish I could get some info on how to submit it somewhere, ANYWHERE! A little help??

    • Heather,
      To find out how to submit to a publisher try:
      1) Checking out the website of the publisher, most guidelines are posted there (and be sure to follow them to a T.)
      2) If you need a list of kidlit publishers search online, buy the children’s book writers marketplace book, or join SCBWI.
      3) Check out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (www.scbwi.org)
      4) Look into getting an agent who will submit your book to publishers for you.
      5) Attend a conference for children’s literature.
      6) Search online and do your research!
      7) Have fun!

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