Writing For Adults vs Writing For Kids – Paul Collins talks about making the transition

Paul Collins 2The key to successful writing is simple: PERSISTENCE.

It’s taken 30 years to see my adult horror novel The Beckoning in print. Originally typed on a counter in a St Kilda bookshop, it was typed into a computer in the mid 90s, saved via various storage devices such as 3.5 floppies, CDs, zip drives (remember them?) and finally USB sticks.

The backcover blurb says:

Matt Brannigan is a lawyer living on the edge. His daughter Briony is psychic and trouble shadows his family wherever they go.

Cult guru Brother Desmond knows that the power within Briony is the remaining key he needs to enter the next dimension. Once he controls this, he will have access to all that is presently denied him.

When Briony is indoctrinated into the Zarathustrans, Matt and psychic Clarissa Pike enter the cult’s headquarters under the cover of night to rescue her.

So begins Armageddon . . .

The Beckoning _150dpi_eBookAt the time of writing The Beckoning, I was selling short stories, but my books weren’t having much luck. Luckily, I wrote two YA novels, both of which sold to Parteach, an educational publisher. Alas, they disappeared without having published my books. I persevered and finally The Wizard’s Torment sold to HarperCollins, and The Earthborn sold to TOR (US giant). And that’s basically how I started writing for younger readers. It wasn’t so much a conscious decision, more an accidental discovery of a niche in which I found myself comfortable.

Diversity is another key word in a writer’s career. Writing for adults might get a writer some kudos – writers of children’s books sometimes get asked when they’re going to write a real book – but it doesn’t pay the rent.

Over a period of time I realised that cross-subsidisation is the key to success in this business. There are few A-list authors who can make a living at writing alone. Part of my strategy was owning various bookshops while I typed stories on the counter.

These days I run a publishing company called Ford Street Publishing http://www.fordstreetpublishing.com, a speakers’ agency called Creative Net , and I also write. Different aspects of a career that independently don’t do well financially all add together to make a satisfying and diverse career.

During my career as a writer I’ve written everything from picture books right through to young adult books. This was perhaps spreading myself a bit thin. I now mainly concentrate on YA literature.

Generally speaking, YA is today’s hottest publishing category. It shares the virtues of youth itself – energy, intensity and passion. And just like adolescents themselves, YA novels revolve around drama and tackle Life’s Big Questions.

Until the erotic fiction titles in the 50 Shades of Grey series took its place, the Hunger Games trilogy by Susanne Collins was at the top of Australia’s best seller list – for all fiction – not just YA and children’s books. And YA titles continually rank among these lists.

YA used to be defined as literature with adolescent themes for readers ranging from 12 to 18 – but these days this range seems to have extended in both directions – covering readers from as young as 10 up to their mid-twenties – and many adults are reading YA books as well.

YA books need plenty of conflict and suspense to keep those pages turning.

They’re often about the period of transition between childhood and adulthood – a time when young people are asking questions like ‘Who am I’ and ‘Where do I fit in’ and even ‘Do I fit in at all?’

They focus on issues that are commonly found in teen culture: identity, sexuality, personal and social issues, depression, substance abuse, relationships with both family members and other teens. They offer a world which young people can identify with – and which can help them find a safe passage through these difficult years.

Apart from an exciting story, you need to start with well-rounded and memorable characters. For your readers to relate to them, they need flaws if they are to be believable.

THEONLYGAMEYour readers need to bond with your characters right from the beginning of the book – even if they’re a bad guy like Maximus Black in my trilogy, The Maximus Black Files – give them some traits that make them irresistible so your reader cares enough about them to cheer them on throughout the ups and downs of the storyline. Having said this there are exceptions to the rule. Despite having no likeable traits, I’m surprised at how many readers loved Maximus.

With science fiction, you build a universe with elements so real that the reader can easily fall into it with a suspension of disbelief.

Voice and style must be distinctive enough so that the reader wants to keep coming back for more.

Personally, I love the main characters that are ‘bad’. Think Modesty Blaise, think Artemis Fowl. The problem is, they characters are fundamentally good. They’re Robin Hood characters, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

Hence, I indulged in a little mayhem and created an anti-hero called Maximus Black http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S-eKDYqpEs. There’s nothing to like about him (he’s a psychopath!), which is why major publishers shied away from the series. However, surprisingly enough, readers of this series have taken to Maximus. And possibly for all the reasons I’ve outlined above about writing young adult, or new adult literature as it’s now called. I like to think I’ve bundled all that stuff into The Maximus Black Files.

Time will tell if I’ve been successful!


Paul Collins has written over 150 books and 140 short stories. He is best known for The Quentaris Chronicles (The Spell of Undoing is Book #1 in the new series), which he co-edits with Michael Pryor, The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars and The World of Grrym trilogy in collaboration with Danny Willis. Paul’s latest book is The Only Game in the Galaxy, book three in The Maximus Black Files. The Beckoning is Paul’s first adult novel.

He is also the publisher at Ford Street Publishing.

Paul has been short-listed for many awards and won the Aurealis, William Atheling and the inaugural Peter McNamara awards. He recently received the A Bertram Chandler Award for lifetime achievement in Australian science fiction. He has had two Notable Books in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards.

He has black belts in both ju jitsu and taekwondo – this experience can be seen in The Jelindel Chronicles and The Maximus Black Files.

The Beckoning

Author: Paul Collins
Publisher: Damnation Books
Kindle and print: http://tinyurl.com/ny6urwy
RRP Ebook: $5.95
RRP Print: $15

The Only Game in the Galaxy

In a galaxy of cutthroat companies, shadowy clans and a million agendas, spy agency RIM barely wields enough control to keep order. Maximus Black is RIM’s star cadet.

But he has a problem. One of RIM’s best agents, Anneke Longshadow, knows there’s a mole in the organisation.

And Maximus has a lot to hide.

Author: Paul Collins
Publisher: Ford Street Publishing
Kindle: http://tinyurl.com/mshxpsx
RRP: $9.99
Print: http://tinyurl.com/lfubra6
RRP $19.95