Friday, January 16, 2015

Do You Know Which MG-ers You’re Writing For?

As I was floating peacefully through my twitter feed Wednesday night (surely in an effort to seek enlightenment rather than an act of avoiding the revisions that are hounding me like a pack of yellow-eyed, slavering, were-jackels), I noticed and retweeted this tweet by Scholastic:

The graphic in question is actually from the What Kids Want in Books subsection of a much larger, more encompassing Kids & Family Reading Report from Scholastic, all of which is probably worth some eyeballs from anyone interested in writing for children. That is, I mean, you should read it, not sacrifice actual eyeballs to it because a) ew, eyeballs, gross, and b) it’s an online report and cares nothing for the paltry sacrifices  of your people.

Anyway, it was fascinating to me, in particular, as a kidlit writer who also happens to be a profound data geek somewhere deep in the cold, dark recesses of his shriveled little heart.  That said, discussing the full report could expand into a discourse of both epic and epochal proportions, and, let’s be honest, that’s a conversation to have with your best writer friend over a soy latte or cappuccino the size of Paul Bunyan’s boot at your favorite coffee shop.  Still, considering just the infographic posted in the tweet, though, was pretty instructive for me.

First of all, it was nice to see the ages of readers that make up what’s traditionally thought of as “middle grade” (admittedly, though, it does stretch a bit beyond it on both ends of the age spectrum) broken down a little more than usual. Often times, two different books that people say are undeniably middle grade “middle grade” could actually be very different depending on whether the target readers in question is 8 year old or 14.  I mean, 14 is a lot closer to 18 than it is to 8.

Of course, for most of us familiar with kidlit, this is not exactly as Earth-shattered a revelation as, say, the time you realized that Sprite was actually made by Coke. It does, however, underline something not all of us think about when we’re talking to other MG writers. That is, your preferred target age group may not be the same as someone else’s target group. Trust me, it’s always worth it to make sure you’re not comparing apples and pomegranates.

Being a middle-grade writer myself, though, the real value of the graphic was personal. I couldn’t help but take a moment to calculate where my MG books tend to fall in the age ranges specified. That is, its a chance to evaluate whether or not I’ve been writing the kinds of things I hope will draw the attention of the 9-12 year old age group represented by my kids. Because, as I’ve said, they’re the ones I most imagine reading my books.

The good news is that I see’m to be hitting the marks. My MG novels are all adventures with some element of mystery to solve, regardless of whether it’s warp-speed fueled jaunt through open space or the tale of a creepy night locked in a house that may or may not be haunted. And the characters tend to be a varying mix of smart, strong, and brave that won’t quit until they find a solution to their problems, even if they do usually need a little help from their friends to get there.

In other words, congratulations to me! It turns out that based on the research, I’m writing middle grade stories in my MG novels, particularly well-suited for 9-14 years olds.

Which, I suppose, shouldn’t come as much of a shock, since that’s what I set out to do and everything.

Still, sometimes it’s nice to see it validated with actually data, right there in (somewhat colorful) black and white.

What about your MG motivations? Do your stories fit in with what your target audience wants? Or are you just writing what you love, and figuring that someone else might love it too, no matter what the age?


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