How to Write a Bestselling YA Fantasy Novel

June 02, 2019

(Yes, this is that speech I was talking about last week. It’s going to be pretty long, so brace yourself. And if anyone’s reading this for advice - please DON’T DO ANY OF THIS. The book community might hate you, and nothing I say in this post is actually meant to be believed as truth. XD)

(Also, if I continue with this intro, it will ruin the effect, so without further ado:)

There’s a rumor spreading that writing a book takes a lot of hard work and creativity, that a writer will spend months and months working and never even get considered for publishing.

What if I told you that this is completely false? What if I told you that you could write a book with minimal effort - and still be published?

It sounds crazy, especially here, in the blogosphere. At first, I didn’t believe it either. But then I took a closer look at some of the New York Times bestsellers. Many of them have succeeded using a simple formula that, if used, can definitely get you published.

Now, yes, I, personally haven’t published anything yet. But I think all the fantasy YA books on the bestsellers list will speak for themselves.

And, during this post, I’ll be crafting a story along with you to show how simple this is!

So, are you ready to get rich - and famous - quick?

All right. Grab a pen and paper.

Let’s get started. 

First, we need to pick the genre and target audience. Don’t worry, you don’t actually need to know what those are to write a book - and you’ll understand why in a minute.

Genre: For this bestseller, you should market it as Fantasy, or High Fantasy. In fantasy novels, you can literally get away with anything. Want to put a random dragon in your story? Go right ahead! Need an explosion so your characters can get away? Sure thing! In realistic novels, you actually need to follow the laws of this world, so you can’t randomly have zero gravity. But in fantasy, anything goes! And you don’t even need to have any explanation! 

Target Audience: You’ll want your target audience to be YA, or young adult. This is because, as we all know, teenagers are stupid and don’t know bad writing when they see it. They literally don’t care what they read. I mean, look at the success of Twilight! (Sorry, that was uncalled for.)

Now that we’ve got our basics down, it’s time to look at the first piece of the puzzle, and if you don’t get this part right, you’ll ruin your story.

There’s a lot of aspects to get into here, so let’s dive into it.

Gender: Female. No one wants to read about male protagonists nowadays. Females, of course, are the only IMPORTANT gender in YA.

Basics: She’s seventeen or sixteen, and is a STRONG, INDEPENDENT woman who can kick butt and doesn’t like wearing dresses.

Name: This can go one of two ways.
  • Her name can be super simple, like Tris from Divergent (although that’s a nickname) or June from Legend.
  • Her name must be the most complicated thing ever, like Celaena from Throne of Glass or Denaerys from Game of Thrones. Fortunately, this isn’t too hard - just take a common name and switch a few letters around.  
For this example, I’ll take the name Hannah, deftly switch and change some letters. Our protagonist’s name will be Haena. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Family: Again, this is up to your discretion. Your MC’s parents can either be dead or super cruel. (If they’re dead, they have to be killed unjustly - or by a vicious disease, but more on that later.) But no matter what, they have to be really poor. Like, really poor.

Enter sibling. They can either be killed off before they appear in the book, or they can be a Prodigy Who Is Loved By All, such as Mare’s sister in Red Queen. They have some sort of chance your MC could never have for some reason. Either way, your MC must be jealous of them, but love them passionately.

Let’s see . . . Haena’s parents have been dead since she was seven, and she’s always hated the murderers. She and her younger sister, Felicity, have been scraping by. But Felicity has an amazing voice, and she’s being requested by the rich upper class to perform. This could bring money to their poor family.

Appearance: Your MC needs to be tall, skinny, and probably pale, with shoulder-length brown hair that never needs cutting and probably brown eyes to match. She likes to wear sweats or other “sloppy,” gray clothes. I think Haena fits this description perfectly.

But there’s one important thing about her: She has to be utterly GORGEOUS and never even realize it. She must self-deprecate her appearance almost on every other page. (It gets you to your word count, see.) This IS her personality.

Special Snowflake: Yes, your MC needs to stand out in some special way. Maybe there’s a prophecy designating her as the Chosen One, or maybe she’s long-lost royalty. Throw in a superpower or two in there.

I think Haena’s a princess who’s been smuggled away as a child, who secretly bears water manipulation powers. (Of course, these powers are not allowed, or course, but more on that later.)

Now, this may not make much sense, considering that she saw her parents get killed, but her parents actually disguised themselves as peasants.

Hey, don’t question ME about this logic. I don’t know any more than you do.

After all that MC development, you’re probably exhausted. It’s a good thing that there’s only three side characters you have to worry about in terms of personality.

Guy #1: This guy needs to be perfect - he’s handsome, smart, witty, and can literally do no wrong. He’s the first guy your MC has ever talked to, and he’s virtually her best friend.

Guy #2: He needs to come in at about the quarter point of your story. The only thing you need to dwell on for him is that he is dark, broody, mysterious, and creepily attractive to your MC. (If you want, some heartbreaking backstory thrown in won’t hurt.)

Now, what you need to do is make your MC fall in love with both of them and spend at least two hundred pages stressing about which one to pick. You don’t even need to pick which one she’ll choose in the end! The point is - there must be angst.

Haena’s known this guy called Mason for quite some time. He’s the perfect best friend and really cares about her. But she’s just recently met a guy named Jax, and she’s so intrigued by how secretive he is. She feels the need to pick her One and Only now, at sixteen, so she’s super stressed out.

Villain: I mean . . . if you WANT to come up with unique motivation for them, go for it. But I like to stick with No Reasoning. He is just out to get MC. I mean, maybe he’s even a relation to her - ooo, or one of her love interests!

Draxon is the king of Haena’s country, and he wants to destroy her because of her illegal water manipulation powers. He’s also the guy who sent soldiers to kill her parents, for some unknown reason.

Now, after ALLLL that character stuff, you might be worried about the plot, but never fear! There’s several popular ideas you can do. In fact, combining two or more of these achieves the best effect.
  • Dystopian: MC must overthrow the oppressive government that continuously wrongs the people, and she joins with the super-secret resistance in the process.
  • Training: MC must find someone to help her master her power - which, of course, is illegal and dangerous.
  • Hunger Games: MC is unjustly thrown into an arena and forced to fight to the death.
  • Angst: MC constantly rotates between which guy to date/marry.
  • Illness: MC must find a cure to a mystery disease that’s threatening the ones she loves.
Haena’s main goal is to overthrow Draxon, the king of her oppressive country, the person who indirectly murdered her parents, and the person who’s outlawed her water ability. But he catches her and pits her against assassins in his theater/arena. She knows that her power is the only way to survive, so she needs to find someone to help her master it while in enemy territory. 

Oh, and she’s also worried about Mason and Jax.

Stuck During Plotting? No worries! Just take a step back and ask yourself - what’s the stupidest thing your MC could possibly do at this moment? Whatever you come up with, run with it! Don’t worry, your readers won’t notice it at allllll.

Other good things to add: 
  • This quote: “She released a breath she didn’t know she was holding.”
  • An unnecessary sex scene. Teens LOVE that steamy stuff.
  • A scene featuring your MC mastering every new skill she tries, while claiming that she’s horrible at it.
  • A betrayal of some sort that no one saw coming.

You don’t really need to focus on the setting. There’s only two scenarios you can pick from:
  • Find a random country in the world, preferably an Asian country (nothing against Asian countries, that’s just the way this goes), and just copy off their traditions. That is, if you want to do actual RESEARCH.
  • Plunk your characters and plot into a medieval, semi-dystopian society where everyone is oppressed and poor, and where a higher class (maybe with different powers) watches over the lower class. 
Haena lives in a small, poor town next to the capital, where she constantly sees the higher class folk (let’s call them the Royals) oppress her people (maybe called the Servs). 

That’s it! You know the meat of your story already!

But is your plot actually going to sell any books?


We all know teens buy books for two reasons only: cover and title. So let’s get into those, shall we?

Title: Again, you’ve got several selling options:
  • A one-word title that goes with all three of your books.
Oh, I didn’t mention that your book actually has to be expanded into a trilogy? Sorry. Better get cracking on that angst. But I digress.
  • Some common examples are Frostblood, Fireblood, and Nightblood (names of superpowered groups), and Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter (names of main characters).
  • Some formulas you could follow are “___ of ___ and ___” (Children of Blood and Bone, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, A Court of Thorns and Roses) or “Queen of ___” (Queen of Shadows)
  • Here are some words that you should probably slip into your title somewhere: scar, shadow, blood, ash, bone, thorns, night, dark, crown, queen, kiss, deceiver, lies, game, sword, secret, etc. 
Haena’s story will be named Daughter of Scars and Shadow. (You don’t really need to explain it.) 

Cover: Your MC must be in a dress. Blood should be featured somewhere. The background should be black, and the foreground should be simplistic. Just run with it.

(I’m not going to make one for Daughters of Smoke and Shadow - I’m not THAT good at design.)


Take a look at your notes. 

You’ve just written the outline for your story. Congratulations! I guarantee it’ll be a bestseller.

Oh, and don’t worry about the writing. (If you want to cover up the fact that you don’t know what you’re writing, just make your sentences nice and flowery. It distracts everyone!)

I wish you the best of luck on publishing. I hope to see your name on the bestseller list!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to writing Daughter of Scars and Shadow.

-Nicole <3

I hope this was helpful to you guys! Did I forget anything? Does Daughter of Scars and Shadow sound interesting to you? Let’s talk!

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  1. This is pure genius and I LOVE it xD I've been reading so much YA fantasy and it's literally all the same, which is why I love books like the Traitor's Game and Strange the Dreamer so much...they just feel DIFFERENT to me. xD

    You did forget one little thing, though...the culture has to be Asian or African, sure, but also! Remember! DIVERSITY!!!!!!! Write diverse stuff and you don't even have to hit anything else. You will just WIN and be a BESTSELLER and YAY.

    This was hilarious! I love it! <3

    1. Thank you, Faith! :) And I definitely agree - it all seems so similar. -_- And even though I didn’t LOVE those books, I definitely agree that they broke the curve. XD

      GOSH DANGIT HOW DID I FORGET THAT??? Everyone, pay close attention to Faith's addition up here - it’s SUPER IMPORTANT. XD

      Thanks! <3

  2. So, I nearly died of laughter but at the same time it is almost too true to be funny. There is a definite theme to a lot of the YA I've read. Oh, especially the side characters bit! And the "Chosen One"! Great post, Nicole! :)

    1. Ugh, yes, there definitely is a trend. Thanks, MovieCritic! <3

  3. PRO TIP: in order to write a book that Nicole will applaud, flip every cliche mentioned here around and BOOM!! you've done it. XDD

  4. HOW ABOUT you randomly come up with a title just picking the words you listed with eyes closed? like THIS.

    scars of bone and shadow,
    crown of bones and kisses,
    shadow of sword and night,
    kiss of thorns and lies,
    game of queens and secrets
    deceiver of blood and night,
    night of games and ashes,
    etc etc


    1. OH MY GOODNESS THAT IS GENIUS. Some of those titles are downright AMAZING. <333

  5. So right now I'm torn between defending YA fantasy and nodding my head. *sweats* I definitely think a lot of this is true (especially titles lol, they're quite formulaic at this point) but maybe more so of the earlier YA novels? I'm happy to say a lot of the YA fantasy I read now slips outside these boundaries, and it's more diverse. ;) This made me have a good laugh at the tropes though! (Oh goodness if you saw the love triangles in books I read as a younger teen..)

    1. Haha, yeah, I agree with you there. A lot of newer stuff is changing, which is awesome to see! (Oh, my, I can definitely imagine. XD) Thanks for reading, Melissa!

  6. XD This is hilarious! And sadly accurate for a lot of Y.A.

    1. Thanks, Skye! (I wish it wasn’t this way, though . . .)

  7. Wonderful! I love this satire. It's perfection. :D

  8. BAHAHAHAHA this is hilarious! X'D The sad thing is that this actually seems to work. Like what even happened to unique YA literature in the last ten years?? Oh well. I'll reserve a spot on my reading list for Daughter of Scars and Shadow. X'D

    1. I know, it’s really sad! (And typically the stuff that isn’t unique has a ton of content issues with it, so . . . yeah. :( ) Ayyyy, thanks so much! I guarantee it’ll be everything you’ve ever read before. ;)

  9. XDD I'M DYINGGGG Nicole whyyy are you doing this to me??? This post is so stupidly awesomely hilarious but it's so true as well!!! Like, everything was awesome! (I'm not blaming you for bashing Twilight. AT ALL) And XDDD I so want to read Daughter of Scars and Shadow. Plus, I agree with Faith- diversity guarantees you a bestseller!
    "This is because, as we all know, teenagers are stupid and don’t know bad writing when they see it." eXcUsE mE? you're a teen, girllll. lololol :D

    1. Ohmygoodness THANK YOU SO MUCH. Hahaha, I may just have to write the first chapter of DoSoS and see how it goes. ;) Ugh, and YES, it definitely does.

      Hehehe . . . yeah, I feel like that’s how publishers and writers think when it comes to YA fiction. ;)

    2. lololol no probs!!! yess I shall be waiting for your future novel *crosses fingers*
      They do :( what even happened to all the unique YA fiction?

    3. Yay, glad to see one person who wants to read it! ;)

      Yeah, kind of. And a lot of the unique stuff has content in it that I’d much rather not read, so it’s a lose-lose scenario at this point. :(

  10. Nicole... this is GREAT.

    "She feels the need to pick her One and Only now, at sixteen, so she’s super stressed out." XD XD XD

    This is so great. Thanks for all the valuable advice, will definitely be using it soon! (or maybe not xD)

    1. Thanks, Emily!

      XD XD

      (Yeah, maybe skip out on all this “advice” - it would ruin your AMAZING ideas. :) )

  11. I


    No, really, this tickled me SOOOOOOOOOOOO much. I love you Nicole. You made my day!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. YAY, I’M GLAD I MADE SOMEONE LAUGH! :) (That was the goal, so yay!)

      Aw, thank you so much, Lacy! You’re the absolute sweetest. <33

  12. Laughing!!!
    Brillaint -- and bash Twilight all you like, this is your blog after all, and your memes/ words are amazing.

    Also LOVE: "No one wants to read about male protagonists nowadays. Females, of course, are the only IMPORTANT gender in YA ... She’s seventeen or sixteen ... AND ..doesn’t like wearing dresses." You need to frame that.

    Also, always annoys me how girls hate dresses/ can't function in them in books. One thing that I love about Brandon Sanderson's female characters .. they can appreciate wearing a pretty dress.

    1. Thanks, Keturah! (Hehe, yeah, those memes . . . the people who created them are GENIUS.)

      Haha, thanks! (Maybe I should open an Etsy or something and sell it. 🤷‍♀️) XD

      Ugh, I agree 100%. I really loved how in Mistborn, Vin actually likes dresses. (Probably one of the reasons that it’s one of my favorite books ever.)

  13. This was HILARIOUS!! But now I seriously feel like someone should write Daughters of Scars and Shadows. It sounds like it could have some potential.

    1. Thanks, Sarah! Hehe, maybe one day I’ll write a spoof of it or something like that . . . we’ll see! ;)

  14. I think the title ideas are kinda cool! :)
    I would like to write a best selling novel, and thanks for the advice, but I am not sure if it will work as well as you say.... lol

    1. Haha, thanks!

      Yeah, it miiiiiight not be that great of advice, but shhhhh. ;)

  15. THIS.

    This is BRILLIANT. (And kind of sad, maybe?)

    1. THANK YOU, Julian! (But yes, it definitely is sad. . . .)


    No!! No, don't tell them to actually research the Asian country! You absolutely must not do that! You have to go with some vaguely stereotyped Asian-ish setting and make sure your characters are all boring, harmful stereotypes. IT IS A MUST. When actual Asian people complain, write an 'apology letter' explaining how, "I have Asian friends and they loved my book! This book is perfect! You don't know what good writing is!" XD


      *facepalm* OF COURSE! Why did I not think of this? All the popular books do it - I should definitely start doing this! Thank you so much, Becky!


  18. This was hilarious. I didn't have a problem with Katniss not liking dresses or her being tough because She was the first character like that in YA. But it seems super forced in other books......And can't there be more male protagonists? Idk I enjoy writing a female protagonist better but not everyone does. And she doesn't have to be a super tomboy who's horrible at everything but actually great at everything.
    OK, I ACTUALLY LOOKED IT UP. Daenerys Targaryan. Wow. How often does everyone else misspell her name.

    1. XD Thanks, McKayla! *nods* Definitely - it seemed to fit in her book, but then everyone just copied off of her and it was annoying. . . . I always love reading from male POVs - I'm not sure why they're lacking in YA. Exactly - our female protagonists need more variety other than Special Snowflake Tomboy.
      THAT'S HOW! I've never figured out exactly how to spell it - it's such a weird name. XD

  19. Exactly. It's the same way with a lot of TV shows. A lot of "strong female characters" are Kara Thrace knockoffs.
    True. I probably prefer reading a female POV but the male POVs are great, too, and definitely lacking.
    TOTALLY. It's probably not practical to have her wear a dress during combat unless she's a robot or supernatural creature (AIDA, Caprica Six, Mazikeen Smith, Charlotte Richards etc.).
    Yeah, I want more "girly girls" in YA.
    Yes. I mean, who would name their kid Daeneyrs?

    1. *nods* Definitely - there's no variety!
      I'm the same way - I relate to female POVs more, but male POVs are super interesting too.
      MY WORD, YES. Fighting assassins in a dress? Not practical at ALL.
      XD I know, right? (I feel like the parents would have misspelled it on the birth certificate - it's not an easy name to write!)

      Yes. As stated earlier I will forgive the author if said character is a robot or mythical creature.
      Exactly. It's so strange that parents name their kids strange things to be "unique". Have you ever heard of the kid who was literally named Lemonjello?

    3. YES PLEASE!
      *nods* true, true . . . at least then it makes more sense.
      I know, right? It really confuses me. And I haven't heard of that - that's crazy! Have you seen the name "La-A"? It's pronounced "Ladasha," and I am so confused. XD


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