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Matching subject matter, format and audience


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#1 Cat Woods

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 08:07 PM

Ms. Kole,

As writers, we agonize over which shelf our projects will reside on in the book store. We know this is vital to writing our queries and determining which agents will be the lucky recipients of our submission package. Yet I think we often fail to realize that where a book fits on the shelf is highly nuanced and hinges on more than a set number of words or the protagonist's age.

Can you sum up the importance of matching our subject matter and format to our intended audience? How easy is a mix-matched manuscript to spot and how much weight does this carry in an agent's decision?

Also, can you give a brief example of what a good match might look like for each category of juvenile literature? Either a broad definition (board books are typically concept books with simple phrases that help build vocab in infants through 3-year-olds) or a successful title and a bit on why it worked?

Thanks in advance for your time on this question.

~Cat

PS~ At a recent conference I attended, you topped an editor's list of must follow blogs! :smile:

Cat Woods
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From the Write Angle~ Group Blog

Whispering Minds~ Blog for A.T. O'Connor

 

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#2 Mary Kole

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Posted 12 April 2011 - 09:02 AM

I'm not quite sure what to make of this question, as I haven't really thought about it in these terms before, but I will try. Here are general subject matters and age groups:

Board books: Simple phrases and words appropriate for the age group (0-3) with a very short story or concept, usually character-focused or utilitarian (counting, ABCs)

Picture books: 800 words max, with a quirky and funny voice, character-driven but with a plot from beginning-middle-to-end do best...rhyming is difficult right now...good themes are family, universal situations, friendship stories, and adventures, with or without animals, which are always popular

Early readers and chapter books: 1,500 words (early readers) to 15k words (chapter books) max, usually voice and character-driven stories with a complete plot and sometimes a subplot (chapter books) that focus on adventures with friends and family or family/school/friendship stories, a very popular theme is either discovering new things or expressing one's individuality and the uniqueness of your self, family, and friends

Middle grade: Characters from 9-13, about 50k words max, with any subject matter, plot, or genre. You can have characters who are grieving a loss and coming of age (LOVE, AUBREY) or being a super genius spy (SKULLDUGGERY PLEASANT, ARTEMIS FOWL). It's really all over the map.

Young adult: Characters 14/15 and up to 18/19, from sweet and contemporary/realistic, to high fantasy or paranormal.

For MG and YA, the biggest theme that I focus on is authenticity. Is the voice authentic? Are the characters real and fleshed-out? Does it speak to the MG or teen experience in an authentic, relatable way? These readers are looking for connections, so giving them a character or story to relate to is key.

You do need to pay attention to where your book will fit on shelves, but for MG and YA, the difference is age and word count and whether there's content or not (read my answer about that elsewhere on this thread). But don't overthink it if you're not sure whether you've written MG or YA. An agent will be able to tell you when you query.

As for book recommendations, I'm currently fleshing out my Resources page (http://kidlit.com/re...ces-for-writers) and have picture books up there right now. I will add MG and YA soon and I hope that will give you some good inspiration for the different categories!

#3 Cat Woods

Cat Woods

    Juvenile Junky and Clairvoyant Ninja

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    As A.T.O'Connor: short stories in the Seasons Anthologies. YA Novel: WHISPERING MINDS.

Posted 12 April 2011 - 10:22 AM

Thanks so much for addressing my question. It might have been more convoluted than I intended it to be.

You answered the YA/MG dilemma in that an agent will point you in the right direction if your content is out of sync with your intended audience on an otherwise compelling piece.

I understand that a rewrite to align these components (particularly for other age groups) can be time-consuming and offer no guarantees with the final product. To that end, I've heard it stated that an agent will automatically reject a query when the content, format and audience do not jive.

I was just wondering to what extent this is true.

Thanks again for your wonderful breakdown of age groups within juvenile lit and answering a confusing question.

Cat Woods
Juvenile Junction Group Moderator


Words from the Woods~ Blog for Cat Woods
From the Write Angle~ Group Blog

Whispering Minds~ Blog for A.T. O'Connor

 

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#4 Mary Kole

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Posted 13 April 2011 - 02:26 PM

Again, you are thinking in a very specific way about this. I've never personally rejected something because content, format, and audience don't mix...most writers don't know better. I've also never heard an agent say that they will do so.

#5 Cat Woods

Cat Woods

    Juvenile Junky and Clairvoyant Ninja

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  • Publishing Experience:As Cat Woods: adult short stories in the Seasons Anthologies. Middle Grade Anthology: TALES FROM THE BULLY BOX (2014). Middle Grade Novel: ABIGAIL BINDLE AND THE SLAM BOOK SCAM (2015).

    As A.T.O'Connor: short stories in the Seasons Anthologies. YA Novel: WHISPERING MINDS.

Posted 13 April 2011 - 03:24 PM

Thanks, Ms. Kole.

I was hoping that was the answer, but have seen enough "advice" and panic on this topic in various writing communities to wonder if there was truth behind the words.

Glad to know we aren't expected to know every nuance of the book world and that agents will help direct well-written material rather than tossing it on a technicality.

You've been wonderful to us and I really appreciate your time.

~cat

Cat Woods
Juvenile Junction Group Moderator


Words from the Woods~ Blog for Cat Woods
From the Write Angle~ Group Blog

Whispering Minds~ Blog for A.T. O'Connor

 

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