Mental Health and the YA Fantasy Genre

Wow, it’s been forever since I’ve posted here, and I’m sure my poor blog is feeling quite neglected. *pats blog* But after recently reading an indie novel, I was reminded of my YA Fantasy pet-peeve, and I need to rant about it. And what better place to rant than a blog, eh?

I should probably prelude this post by mentioning that I’ve grown up surrounded by mental illness. I have many relatives with conditions such as bipolar disorder, personality disorders, major depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia. So while I personally don’t have any mental health issues, I’ve become rather sensitive to how people approach topics such as mental illness.

And this leads to one of my strongest pet-peeves in YA Fantasy: When a character from the “real world” discovers magic or other paranormal aspects, and assumes they’ve gone insane. The author then proceeds to send a barrage of unhealthy messages to the reader about mental illnesses.

At its core, there’s nothing wrong with a character mistakenly thinking they’re experiencing things outside of reality. If I stumbled across a wardrobe-portal or a sparkly vampire, my first assumption would be that I was hallucinating. It’s totally natural for humans to try to find logical explanations for illogical events.

But my pet-peeve arises not from this insanity trope, but from the way it’s usually handled by authors. In most YA Fantasy where this trope is used, one of these three things usually happens, and seeing all three of them isn’t uncommon:

1. The character never tells any authority figure what’s going on. This is usually done out of shame–they’re so horrified and embarrassed by their “hallucinations” of paranormal events, that they refuse to tell anyone about it.

2. The character vehemently tries to deny that anything is wrong. Once again, this is usually a result of shame and embarrassment. Instead of approaching the “hallucinations” from a logical standpoint–they need to get help, they need to see a doctor, they need to make sure they’re safe–the character refuses to admit that their “mental illness” is potentially harmful to their emotional and/or medical well-being.

3. When the character discovers that the “mental illness” is actually the result of real magic, they’re instantly relieved. It doesn’t matter that a demon is chasing them, that a werewolf is trying to kill them, that their family is in danger from a vengeful witch. To the character, all of this is preferable to having a mental illness.

These three things send terrible, potentially damaging messages. Essentially, the author is teaching the reader that mental illness is something to be horribly ashamed of, and it should be kept hidden whenever possible. Which is totally, utterly, completely untrue. If you talk to any credible psychologist, they will explain that mental illness isn’t something brought on by personal weakness or deliberate intent. In fact, mental illnesses are just like physical illness in many ways, including that it’s not the “fault” of the patient. And in many cases, mental illness is technically a physical illness on a more microscopic level. The physical lack of certain hormones, proteins, and chemicals in the human body often cause mental illnesses, and many of these deficiencies are related to genetics.

Yet these authors ignore all these facts. Maybe they’re not intentionally spreading a horrible message, but they are. And worse, they’re spreading it to an audience of teens, who often don’t know enough about mental illnesses to differentiate between true and untrue statements. Not only that, but teenagers are also notoriously prone to low self-esteem, which makes it easy for readers to embrace negative perspectives of mental illness. And if this isn’t bad enough, there’s the fact that a huge percentage of mental illnesses begin to show symptoms in the teenage years, and this is a vital time to support a person with mental illness, instead of bad-mouthing their condition.

I know a lot of authors don’t write this trope with the intention of sending a harmful message. I know most of them don’t even realize they’re doing it. But that doesn’t change the fact that mental illness needs to be approached delicately and thoughtfully, whether in a Contemporary Romance novel or an Urban Fantasy. Genre doesn’t matter–mental illness should never be inserted into a book carelessly. It’s not just some convenient plot point or an easy way to ramp up the tension; this sort of illness is a challenging reality millions of people face, and it should be treated with the utmost care and respect.

Okay, so that completes my ranting for the day. Phew! I’d love to hear your personal opinion on mental health in YA novels. How delicately do you think it should be treated? And can you think of any novels that handle the subject exceptionally well?

Why Age isn’t Relevant to Publishing

Yesterday, I did a blog post about how age is relevant to writing. That post got me thinking about another misconception many teens have: They believe age is relevant to publishing. This misconception seems to come in many forms, but the most common versions I’ve seen are:

  • So what if my novel has 1,200 grammar mistakes? And so what if I can’t spell? Everyone should still buy my book, because I wrote it when I was only thirteen!
  • It doesn’t matter that my book costs an outrageous amount! I’m still going to become a bestseller, because I’m only fourteen.
  • It’s totally okay if I write snarky replies to every negative review I receive! After all, I’m only fifteen, so readers shouldn’t say anything negative about my book in the first place.
  • Obviously, I need to spam everyone on the internet about my book! And I need to include my age every single time I mention my novel, because the most important part of it is that I’m only sixteen.
  • It’s okay if my writing isn’t nearly as good as most authors! Considering I’m only seventeen, it’s really good, so everyone will still buy my book.

And my response:

No, NO, NOOO, NOOOOO, NOOOOOOOOOOO!

 (Before I go any further, I should clarify something: In most cases, I don’t mind if teens self-publish unprofessional books. Most of these teens don’t market their books, and only publish them to share with friends and family. Personally, I think this is 100% okay.)

What’s not okay is when teens seriously market an unprofessional book. When this happens, teens expect strangers to pay money for a low-quality product, and the results are often disastrous. Not only does it make the individual author look pretty terrible, but it gives a bad name to other teen authors. And when all this bad stuff strikes, the teen author almost always uses the same excuse:

But I’m just a teenager! What else did you expect from me?

Quite simply, I only expect one thing from authors, whether they’re teens or adults or toddlers: I expect professionalism. Simply put, all the misconceptions I listed above usually result in an unprofessional product and author. And this leads back to my original point: If you’re going to act like a professional writer, you have to realize age is irrelevant to the process of publishing. The only way age ever impacts publishing is if you use is as a feeble marketing gimmick or an excuse–both of which show a lack of professionalism.

So what makes a professional writer? Personally, I think it’s a myriad of things, and none of them have to do with age. I believe some of the most important aspects of a professional writer are:

  • They don’t use marketing gimmicks.
  • They have nice-looking covers.
  • They don’t constantly spam people with their buy links.
  • They gain positive reviews the honest way.
  • They put out well-written, well-edited products.
  • They price their books reasonably.
  • And, most importantly, they respect their readers.

Alright, I’m done ranting for now. Do you agree that age has nothing to do with publishing? And what do you think makes a professional writer?

The Comparison Blues

Writers are well-known for their low self-esteem, and I’ll admit that I’m no exception. In general, I dislike my own writing. There are occasionally days when I’ll look at my writing and go, “Hmm, not too shabby.” But, while I love the process of writing, I generally despise all things I write.

 
In some ways, this is helpful. It makes me look at my novels with an extremely critical eye, and it also helps me embrace critique much more easily. But, in many ways, this mindset just isn’t healthy for me. It took me years to realize this, and when I finally did, I knew I had to change my outlook on writing. In particular, I knew I had to stop comparing myself to successful writers, or I would drive myself insane.

 
I think all writers, including me, have examined the work of famous authors to see what works and what doesn’t. While this process is almost always helpful, what comes next just isn’t healthy. After I examined their writing, I found myself comparing myself to the actual author: John Green has such amazing voice, and I don’t. Patrick Rothfuss can build such amazing worlds, and I can’t. Stephenie Meyer can attract millions of readers, and I never will.

 
Thinking like this comes naturally to me, but it isn’t as easy to stop doing. It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others, and it’s not like I could just flip a switch and stop. But, after some thinking, I realized some things that made me reconsider the way I compared myself to other writers.

 
1. People don’t pick up my novels to read John Green.

In other words, if people want to read a John Green book, they’ll pick up a book written by him. When people choose to read one of my novels, they expect to find a unique voice. My unique voice.

 
No, my writing isn’t nearly as good or deep or emotional as John Green’s. But, in some ways, I think being different is a good thing. After all, if I didn’t have a different voice and outlook, then everything I wrote would feel old and over-done.

 
2. I’m not nearly as good as Patrick Rothfuss, but maybe someday I’ll come close.

I don’t think writers ever stop learning. I’ve talked to experienced writers and beginners like me, and everyone seems to agree on this point: There’s always more to learn. Whether it’s about writing itself, or the publishing industry, or marketing–the learning just never stops. Since I’m still a teenager, and since I plan on writing until the day I die, I figure I have about 60 years left to study my craft. And that’s plenty of time to develop some skills, right? So I don’t feel like I need to panic about all my inadequacies quite yet.

 

3. Maybe I’ll never have millions of readers like Stephenie Meyer, but that doesn’t matter much.

This is perhaps the most important thing I realized: It’s my love for writing that counts. Yeah, having a million readers would be nice. But what’s even nicer is that I get true joy out of my craft. Even if I had no chance of being published, I would still write. Even if I couldn’t show my work to a single soul, I would keep writing. And, personally, I think that sort of love is what gets writers places. I could read every writing manual on the planet, but if I didn’t have passion for the craft, my work would still fall flat.

 
So, after realizing all these things, I feel like I can read “The Fault in our Stars” without banging my head against a wall about my own, er… faults. What about you? What are some things that help you stop the comparison-blues?

NetGalley for Indie Authors

For years, NetGalley has been an invaluable tool for traditional publishers. All they have to do is upload one of their books into the NetGalley catalog, and the company distributes it to potential book reviewers. It’s an easy, fast way to reach book reviewers.


Just a few months ago, I thought NetGalley was off limits to indie authors. Luckily, I was completely wrong. NetGalley recently opened its doors to indie authors with two available plans:

 
— $400 for one author and one book. The listing stays on NetGalley for a full year.
— $300 per author for a co-op of 20 authors. The books and authors can be switched out as many times as necessary, and the listings stay on NetGalley for a full year.

 
There’s also the option to join a co-op for a limited time. This isn’t a service provided directly by NetGalley– organizations like Patchwork Press offer this. Because books can be switched out, more than 20 authors can take part in the co-op throughout the year-long period.

 
What this means for indie authors if that you have the option to test the NetGalley waters and post your book on their website for less than $300. I just teamed up with Patchwork Press to post my novel “Counting Shadows” on NetGalley for a two month session. In total it cost $80, and I was able to easily pay through PayPal.

 
So far, the experience has been wonderful. Patchwork Press is extremely organized and efficient, and now all I have to do is wait for the reviews to come in. I’ve been told to expect about 50+ reviews, which is an astonishingly high number, given the price I paid. To compare, my favorite book blog tour company, Xpresso Book Tours, offers a 40-review tour for $150.

 
There are, of course, differences between a book blog tour and a session with NetGalley. For one, a blog tour gives you the ability to connect directly to the readers, and communicate with them during the tour. Also, NetGalley listings don’t include buy-links, and there is no promise that the readers will include these links when they post their reviews. One more thing I should mention–blog tour reviews are usually posted on multiple sites. Reviewers for NetGalley only have to post their review on the NetGalley site–all other sites are completely optional.

 
So is it worth the $80? I don’t know yet. My book has only been up for a few hours, so it’s way too soon to tell. But I’ll write up another post in a month or so, and give an update on how the NetGalley experience has worked for me.

 
In the meantime, here are some very helpful posts about other authors’ experiences with NetGalley:

Susan Kaye Quinn’s experience: http://www.susankayequinn.com/2013/05/netgalley-for-indie-authors.html

Keary Taylor;s experience: http://www.kearytaylor.com/2013/02/the-netgalley-low-down-for-authors-and.html

 

Why Indie Book Covers are So Expensive

Just a few years ago, I cringed practically every time I saw a self-published book cover. But, more and more frequently, I’m finding fantastic indie covers. So fantastic, in fact, that they look better than many traditional covers. Here are some examples of some indie covers I’ve recently fallen in love with:

 

Flutter by Melissa Andrea

Flutter by Melissa Andrea

Sovereign Hope by Frankie Rose

Sovereign Hope by Frankie Rose

One by LeighAnn Kopans

One by LeighAnn Kopans

Beautiful, aren’t they? After looking at these gorgeous covers, you kind of have to wonder why all indie authors don’t have this quality of cover. Good covers bring in sales, make the author look professional, and attract readers. So why don’t all indie authors have kick-ass covers?

 
The short answer? Because they’re expensive as hell. One of my CPs uses a cover service that charges around $1000 dollars for one cover. While that’s generally considered a high price, most good indie design services charge at least $200. I’ve heard a ton of grumbling from indie authors about the prices cover designers charge, and this tends to drive me a little bonkers.

 
I’m a cover designer myself, so I’m one of the lucky authors who knows the whole cover-designing process. I thought I’d take a moment to break down the expenses of covers, so indie authors can see why these type of designs cost so much.

 
1. Design Equipment
Photoshop CS 5, the version I use, costs around $800 dollars. My Wacom Tablet (used for digital painting aspects) cost $240. My high quality laptop, which I need to run Photoshop, cost around $700. Most cover designers need all of this equipment, and sometimes more. Already, you can see why cover designers have high prices.

 
2. Stock Images

The average price is about $10 per stock image, but I’ve paid up to $75 for stock. These prices add up quickly, especially since covers can easily incorporate 5+ stock images.

 
3. Design Process
It takes me at least three hours to design a cover. My cover for “Frost Fire” took around 22 hours of work, and months of tweaking after that. Let’s say someone wants a cover like the one I made for “Frost Fire”. If an author paid me minimum wage for each hour I worked, that’s around $200.

 
4. Fonts
Fonts are pricey to buy and use for commercial use. They average around $75 for a commercial license. But, if you want pretty lettering on your cover, the designer has to pay for pretty fonts.

 

 

So, as you can see, the design expenses are extremely high. This is why cover designers ask for so much money–because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to stay in business. Make more sense? I hope so!

 
Are you now wondering why it takes so long to design a cover? I have that answer, too. Below is a start-to-finish look at my 22 hour process of creating the cover for “Frost Fire”. Obviously, it’s quite a condensed version, but you can see the drastic differences between the original image and the end.

Frost Fire

Frost Fire