BYU’s Young Adult Novelist Conference (YANCON) introduces aspiring student novelists to published authors and professional writing techniques.
Three years ago, I had never heard of BYU’s YANCON (Young Adult Novelist Conference). It was described to me in a creative writing class I was taking, and I was told BYU undergraduate students can get into the annual five-day conference for free by applying with the first chapter of an original manuscript. I wondered if I would qualify to go since I hadn’t published anything. I feared others would judge my work. But I loved to write, so I filled out the application form and wondered if I would get in.
To my surprise, I’ve gotten in not only once but three times! This year marks my third time attending YANCON. This year’s conference improved my characterization and taught me new romance-crafting skills. Fellow aspiring authors shared their budding novels, and each participant respected the work of his or her peers. MFA students Kath Richards, Mari Molen, Erica Smith, and Tanner Millett conducted this year’s conference with an emphasis on inclusion and time spent practicing new writing techniques.
YANCON features published authors and those who work in publishing as keynote speakers. Past conferences have boasted authors such as Shannon Hale, while the 2022 conference included authors David Yoon (Super Fake Love Song), Sarah Allen (What Stars Are Made Of), and Mason Deaver (I Wish You All the Best), among others. These authors encouraged writers not to let rejection and setback stop them. In fact, even though the speakers now enjoy success in publishing, they all shared how they struggled through submission and rejection. However, by continuing to write and submit new books, they finally broke through and were published.
One speaker shared a quote from Harlan Ellison, “Art is not supposed to be easy. Building roads is supposed to be easy. Art is supposed to be demanding.” The presenters described the wonderful, satisfying feeling of holding in their hands a hard copy of their first book.
Breakout sessions focused on the details of writing. Some of the classes included, “How to Handle the Parents in YA Fiction,” “Love Triangles,” and “How to Brand and Market Yourself.” Following are some of the main points from each of these three classes.
“How to Handle the Parents in YA Fiction” showcased the creative strategies you can use to have adults move the story forward. Not every main character has to be an orphan (looking at you, Disney) to go on adventures. Parents can even instigate the adventure—or they can be villains. Parents can be on standby, allowing their child to take risks while being there to provide help. These and other ways allow for family relationships without resorting to cutting parental figures.
“Love Triangles” come in more shapes and sizes than you might think; here are few common ones that were discussed:
- The Equilateral. With an equilateral triangle, all sides are the same length. In an equilateral love triangle, the protagonist can see herself (or himself) equally with two different love interests. The two love interests represent diverging paths for the protagonist, both of which lead to a successful relationship.
- The Decoy. This triangle was used in the popular Twilight novels. The author only provides one valid love interest for the protagonist, but to add drama, the author introduces a fake love interest, which fools the protagonist into thinking a relationship with the decoy could work out when it never really will.
- The Eponine. Named after the tragic character from Les Misérables, this triangle focuses on a happy couple and their third wheel. The third wheel is in love with one of the people in the couple and desperately works to be noticed. However, it is not intended for this character to find love within the triangle, and he or she is often left in the dust as the happy couple drive away.
“How to Brand and Market Yourself” focused on how authors present themselves to the world. Who are you? Why do you write what you write? Who is your book for? Answering these questions helps create a base for what your brand image will be. Just as every product at Trader Joe’s is a recognizable part of its brand, everything you put online should be recognizable as your personal brand image. Color, logo, content, style, and genre are all important aspects of a personal brand. Cultivating your social media content toward this brand helps you gain a following that will be ready to receive your work when you do get published.
YANCON participants can enter a variety of fun contests throughout the week, with novels gifted by the presenters as prizes. One of the contests, the popular title mashup, involves creating a title that combines two well-known novels. One person suggested Diagon Abbey for a Harry Potter–Jane Austen mashup. Other contests include the word count contest, daily raffle, and the best-first-line-in-a-book contest.
For aspiring undergraduate student writers at BYU, YANCON is an exceptional opportunity. It doesn’t matter what skill level you start at. If you love writing and want to improve, there is a place for you at YANCON. There’s no easy path to becoming a successful writer; it takes work and lots of it. But to quote from David Yoon, if you want to become a writer, you need to “just keep writing.”
For information about next year’s conference, you can follow @yanconwriters on Instagram or visit the website https://yancon.byu.edu/.