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February 16, 2011

Y.S. Lee: Write What You Love

Posted by jordana

YSLeeAuthorPhoto_2.jpgBodyAttheTower.JPGY.S. Lee, author of THE BODY AT THE TOWER, the second book in the agency series, has some helpful advice for aspiring authors of any age. In the end, it all boils down to one thing...

An aspiring writer recently asked me for advice on what he should be writing vs. what he’s passionate about writing. In his words, “I love historical YA. But I keep running into agents who don't rep it and editors who don't want it. My current story gets comments from other writers that range from, "Why not take the story and modernize it?" to, "Why don't you set it in the future and make it dystopian?" He’s genuinely torn. Here’s what I told him: write what you love and don't worry about the rest. That’s pretty bossy of me, but I have excellent reasons for it.

1. When you follow your passion, you do your best writing.

2. When you follow your passion, it gives you the inspiration and stamina to stay with the book through difficult passages, plot points, publishing challenges, and life stuff that can impede writing.

3. When you follow your passion, you write the book you really wanted. If it doesn't sell, you've still learned from it. If it does sell, you have reason to write more in the same vein. Can you imagine writing a book that bored you, only to have a publisher ask for 3 more?

4. The question, "Why not just make this x?" reflects a problem that your reader should have phrased differently. The question you need to come back with is, "Why didn't it work for you as it stands?" If she says, for example, “There was way too much background and not enough action in the first chapter”, you have a writing problem. If she says, "I'm just not interested in ancient Greece", you need a different reader.

5. Finally, this is a point that Kristin Nelson (whose blog I highly recommend: makes, over and over again: you can't predict the market. What's hot now was written 3-5 years ago. If you're writing something because it's trendy, it'll probably have peaked by the time you're ready to sell it. Total waste of time.

Obviously, I feel strongly about this. My books, the Agency novels, are mysteries set in Victorian London. They grow from my own passionate interest in Victorian culture and I think it shows. I hear from booksellers and librarians on a regular basis who say, "Finally! People ask for YA mysteries all the time but there are so few titles out there." I also hear from readers who say, “I don’t normally read historicals but I really like these.” And that’s logical, too: you never know what you might turn to next. We readers have a way of finding books we love. And you know what, aspiring writers? The same will hold true for your books.

--- Y.S. Lee (

Y.S. Lee's next book in The Agency series, THE TRAITOR AND THE TUNNEL will be out in spring of 2012.