Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wednesday's Wandering: Writing MG/YA Fiction That Sells

Today's blog concerns a workshop I took at a Writer's Conference in September. The presenter was Jonathan Maberry, a multipublished author of teen and middle grade fiction. Please check out his website at:

I think we all have trouble sometimes deciding if our story is for "middle grade" or "young adult." I keep seeing publishers who claim that YA is from age 12 to 18. As a parent and grandparent, I know there is a big difference between the emotional/mental maturity of a 12 or 13 year-old, and a kid who is 16, 17, and older. Therefore, some stories aimed at the later teens are not appropriate for early teens, and those for early teens the older kids wouldn't want to read.

Mr. Maberry has broken down the age groups in very much the same way I would, and I was glad to see I wasn't the only one who felt like this! His break-down is:
Middle Grade =  8 to 12 years
Younger YA   =  12 to 15 years
Older YA        =  15 to 17 years

I don't think he mentioned it, but I assume he figures 18 and up is adult.

There is more money right now in YA than there is in adult books, which came as a surprise. More YA books are being sold, and are bringing in better royalites. The biggest seller is for the younger YA, 12 to 15 years.  They are given the biggest print run, and there is no limit to genre or a mixture of genres, but there are fewer appropriate themes than for the older group.

Kids read up, especially in the middle grades, but that doesn't mean writing for them in the same vein as writing for the YA groups. No heavy romance, or sex, or hard horror books for this age group. Most MG novels run from 20,000 to 40,000 words, and CAN bring as much as $60,000 for new authors. Steam punk is selling well, but he says historical fiction is not. That part I would debate him on, as I'm getting the opposite information from agents.
There are more themes available to write about in the 15 to 17 year-old YA, such as drugs, sex, abuse, abortions, gangs, anorexia-type themes, rape, and etc.     Many YA are now heavily into romance, which can range from the hand-holding, first kisses to those who steam up the pages a bit with more sex.

Boys, however, are not reading the older YA, which presents an open door for those who want to write for the older YA boys. Anyone who can write a good multi-cultural story with a strong boy protagonist, or a Western with a strong boy protagonist would automatically be a good sell.

When Mr. Mabeery was asked if there is still a market for vampires, he replied that werewolves were probably a better seller, and some unique version of a werewolf would be great. The example he gave was: A boy comes from South America and becomes, not a werewolf, but a werejaguar.

That example stirred the room up a bit!  However, this was a real happening in South American folklore.

Most of the houses are looking for series for both middle grade and young adult. They want two to three books in each series, but each one must be a "stand alone" book.  He suggested saying something in a query about the manuscript was a single story but with a series potential.

He said that libraries are buying more books than school systems, due to the budget cuts. However, in my state, libraries have been cut as much as the schools, so even they are not buying new books. He also mentioned that audio books were selling well in both schools and libraries. I would liked to have had him discuss ebooks for these age groups but there wasn't time. With so much controversy surrounding ebooks right now...are they for kids or not...that subject would probably make a whole new workshop, anyway!

In his closing remarks, Mr. Maberry said one of the most important... and ... and necessary... things you can do as a writer is to have a one sentence pitch that gives an accurate idea of what your book is about. That brought a groan from the audience, as we all know how difficult it is to sum up 20,000 to 50,000 words in one sentence, even when the one sentence is 2 or 3 lines long!

I hope this has given a bit of new insight into what writing for teens and middle grade kids is all about.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


  1. Thanks for this breakdown, Mikki. Lots of good information here.
    I've been trying to work on my pitch lately. My goal is to go to my first conference in April so I've got plenty of time to obsess over it.

  2. I love this great info gleaned from conferences, Mikki! Thanks for sharing...very helpful.

  3. Splitting up into Younger YA and Older YA sounds good. I've often had trouble categorizing a PB because what a 2-year-old reads is different from a 6-8-year-old. And these days, some 3-4-year-olds can read competently while others of the same age group are still struggling with their letters.

    Quite difficult to put a specific age range on the back of the books ...


  4. Thanks for that helpful summary, Mikki. I find it puzzling that people confuse YA and MG. As for novels, I find they require completely different approaches when I write. That might be because of my experience growing up, and being aware of how different being a tween felt from being a teen.

  5. Sounds like a very informative conference. Thanks for sharing all this. I've seen books classified as 10 and up or 14 and up too. I wish they'd use categories more consistently. I think it would be less confusing for libraries, schools, and consumers.