Tuesday Writing Tips – Jack Heath’s 6 Top Tips

Today I’m pleased to welcome popular Young Adult author, Jack Heath, and he’s going to share some great tips on writing.

Jack is the award-winning author of six novels, including The Lab and Money Run. He lives in Canberra with his wife, their dog and some chickens which he is too soft-hearted to eat. 

Jack-Heath-Ash-Peak-croppedJACK’S WRITING TIPS

I’ve been writing young adult fiction for thirteen years, and I still have a lot to learn. It’s a tough genre to master, because it’s not a genre at all. It’s a category which encompasses sci-fi, horror, crime, romance, fantasy and lots of other tricky story types.

But I have learned six things which make the process easier:

1) Read what you want to write

As a teenager, I was hooked on the Animorphs books. So were all my friends (and rightly so, because “girl turns into grizzly bear and fights aliens” is a fantastic premise). But these days, almost none of the teens I meet on tour have heard of Animorphs. The world has moved on. It’s important for you to know what it’s moved on to.

Go to the YA fiction section of your local bookshop and see what stands out. (I highly recommend Kate Forsyth, Scot Gardner, Simmone Howell, Justine Larbalestier, Tara Moss, Michael Pryor or Scott Westerfeld.) Remember, it doesn’t matter who you would have been competing with decades ago – it matters who you’re competing with now.

2) Write what you want to read

Once you know which YA books you like, work out what you like about them, and replicate it. But avoid surface similarities. Go for the emotion. If you like Twilight, don’t write about vampires – write about love. If you like Harry Potter, don’t write about wizards – write about discovery and wonder.

One of my favourite YA books is I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells. The text is about a boy who works in a mortuary, but the subtext is a question about whether it’s our intentions that make us good, or our actions. I’m fascinated by that question, so I’m using my new book, Ink, to ask it in a different way.

3) Be aware that your customers are not your readers

The publishing industry has always been part of the gift industry. Most people buy books for each other rather than for themselves, and since teenagers rarely have much disposable income, you’ll have to appeal to their parents and other relatives.

I’d recommend leaving out the sex, drug use and coarse language. I hate to say that, since teens have a right to read about these issues, but if you put them in, you’ll be limiting your audience. (Sometimes it’s worth it – Ink is about drugs. Just be aware of the risks.)


4) Don’t write for children

Your work may be sold in the children’s fiction section, but teenagers are not children. They can handle complex characters and advanced moral puzzles. Once you’ve gotten past the parents, you can offer some very adult concepts to your readers.

The Hunger Games is about war crimes, and ends and means. Harry Potter is about racism. The Knife Of Never Letting Go is about guilt, atonement and sexism. If you find yourself toning down the ideas at the core of your novel because you think your readers won’t understand, then you’re probably not giving them enough credit.

5) Leave out the boring bits

If teenagers are reading your book, it’s not because they have nothing else to do. Instagram and Angry Birds are clamouring for their attention, so every page of your book has to be more entertaining than those things – which means not diluting your ideas.

For example: Ink is about a drug which gives psychopaths a conscience. The main character is afraid of himself, because his supply is running out. I think that’s a good premise, but in YA, one sci-fi concept isn’t enough to sustain a whole novel.  So I set the book in a world where 3D printers have become so common and advanced that no-one ever buys anything except printer ink (and therefore the economy has collapsed). I put SIM cards in the brains of all the characters so as their locations can be tracked and their thoughts overheard. Good YA writers don’t stop at one idea – they write every book as though they’ll never have the chance to write another one.

6) Get your readers involved

For the first time in history, authors can easily and instantly communicate with readers. So get their opinions! Pitch ideas on social media. Put samples on your blog. Put your email address on your website. Ninety-nine percent of what you receive won’t be useful feedback – hell, most of it will be ads for prescription drugs from Canada – but it’s worth trawling through the spam to get to that 1% of 24-karat gold.


I recently read Money Run by Jack Heath, and I couldn’t put it down.

Money Run is an action-packed adventure from start to finish. But one of the things I loved most about it was the characters.

Fifteen yea- old teenage geniuses Ashley Arthur and Benjamin Whitely are looking for a new challenge in their lives.

They’ve pulled off a number of successful heists – initially venturing down this road after Ashley’s mother moved out taking all the money with her and Ashley and her dad were left pretty well bankrupt.

Now Ashley and Benjamin are aiming big. $200 million dollars is hidden somewhere in billionaire Hammond Buckland’s building, and they are determined to get their hands on it.

But things don’t go entirely to plan. There’s a hit man in the building and he’s not the only one with murderous intent.  This time, Ashley and Benjamin could have bitten off more than they can chew.

Apart from being carried along by the sheer pace of the story, I loved the way each character has been carefully and uniquely drawn and even the baddies have their redeeming qualities.

I particularly enjoyed the quirkiness of teens Ashley and Benjamin and found that their antics constantly made me smile.

Money Run has authentic teen voices and the kind of humour that teens love – and there are gadgets and technology cleverly interwoven into the story.

I’m hoping that Jack Heath has plans for more adventures for Ashley and Benjamin and I’m sure I’m not the only one interested in seeing how their relationship develops.

Teacher’s Notes are available here http://www.panmacmillan.com.au/resources/JH-MoneyRun.pdf

You can find out more about Jack at his website: http://jackheath.com.au/


Jack is currently working on his new novel, Ink.

He says, “Anyone who pre-orders a hard copy of Ink will get access to the work in progress as I write it. Is that a good idea? It’s too soon to tell. But I already know that I’m going to learn from the process, and that will make me a better writer. ”

Visit pozible.com/inkscifi to pledge support for Ink and earn cool rewards.


10 thoughts on “Tuesday Writing Tips – Jack Heath’s 6 Top Tips

  1. I really enjoyed reading this interview with Jack Heath. Lots of food for thought and very sound advice. It’s certainly made me want to read Money Run which sounds thrilling and just what YA readers would enjoy. As for I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells, I’ll be interested to see if it is anywhere as good as one of my favourite YA novels, The Dead I Know by Scott Gardner, about an undertaker’s apprentice.

  2. Thanks Di,

    Great tips weren’t they? Apparently there’s a sequel to Money Run called Hit List. Already out in Australia and coming out in the US in 2014. I’m looking forward to reading it:)

    I haven’t read Dan Well’s book either, but I’ll have to add that to my reading list too.

    I hope your writing is going well


  3. “Write what you want to read”… YES, YES, YES! Too many writers chase ‘the next big thing’ instead of writing what they would like to read. How can you expect your book to grab the interest of other people, if it doesn’t grab your own interest?

    All round great post. Lots of good advice.

  4. Great interview with Jack Heath today, Dee.
    His advice was right to the point and very useful.

    Thanks as always for insightful Tuesday Writing Tips.


  5. When I was writing that list of really good YA authors, I KNEW I’d forget somebody. This time, the somebody turned out to be James Roy, talented author of Anonymity Jones. He’s great.

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