Friday, May 10, 2013

TEN THINGS A MIDDLE GRADE AUTHOR HATES TO HEAR by Lee Wardlaw

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     A few years ago, I was hired to speak at a writer’s conference as the token ‘juvenile novelist’.  (Yeah, I was confused by that moniker.  Did the Powers-that-Be mean I was a teenybopper who wrote novels?  Or that my novels were immature, sophomoric, perhaps even…delinquent?)  When I stepped into the spotlight, ready for my introduction to the 300 eager participants, the conference coordinator – a writer of adult fiction – announced: “Lee has published even more books than I have. But then, hers are so much shorter than mine.”

     Jealousy?  Perhaps.  Ignorance?  Definitely.  Over the years, I’ve learned that most people – even writers for other markets and genres – are clueless about what it takes to write a middle grade novel (or any other kind of kid lit, for that matter).

     Here are a few more exasperating, amusing, royal pain in the...pen comments I’ve heard over the years:

1.  “How many children’s novels do you write a day?”  Oh, I usually dash off 10 or 20.  Maybe 30 during daylights saving time. 


 My First Little Book Job by Bob Staake
2. “When are you going to grow up and write real novels?”  (My husband has to restrain me from ripping out this questioner’s liver.)

3. “Have you written anything I would’ve heard of?” (Usually asked by someone who hasn’t read a children’s book since before the invention of, well, books.)



4. “Tsk – adolescents today! I hope your books teach ‘em plenty of morals!”  (Oh, yes’m.  And I’ll take a switch to my readers if they don’t learn them morals good.)

5. “You’ve published 30 books?  Guess you’ll be retiring soon, living off your royalties.”  (Very soon.  Why, just last week, I received a three-figure royalty check:  Nine dollars, seventy-two cents.)



6. “I’ve always wanted to write a novel for kids – if I could only find the time.”  (Once professed to me by an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon, as if he considered dabbling in middle grade fiction between tonsillectomies.)

7. “Your latest book is too good for kids.” (Actually uttered to me by a clerk in a bookstore!)

8. “How much do you have to pay the publishing companies to publish your book?”  (Utter shock when they learn the companies pay me.  Not much, but still . . .)

9. “I’d love to read your newest book. Would you send me a free autographed copy?” (Asked of me by 42 people at my last high school reunion.)


10.  “I’ve written a series of 24 novels suitable for kids ages 5 to 15 about a talking cabbage named Cabi. Even though I’m not an artist, I’ve done my own illustrations.  And I have ideas on how to market Cabi as an action figure. Would you mind taking a few moments to read my novels, give me your honest opinion, and then introduce me to your editor and agent?   

Uh…maybe I could take a raincheck on that.  Besides, don’t you think it’s time you grew up and wrote real books?

37 comments:

  1. This is hysterical! I am especially fond of #9 and #10!

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  2. I don't even know what to say lol! Especially since I just "dabbled" at writing a middle grade novel and am just as wiped from writing it as I am writing any project that requires, you know, time, effort, thoughts, all the normal things required for ANY writing project. Sheesh -_-

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  3. #7...DUDE.

    But I have to say the worst one was the introduction at the conference--because that was from someone within the writing business. People can be ignorant.

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  4. Hoping you get to introduce the coordinator from that conference some day. (I'm sure you'd be nice about it, but just thinking of the possibilities if you weren't would be fun...)

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  5. #6--the ENT surgeon's comment, is one I've heard a number of times. Wish I could take credit for this response, but what you say next is, "Oh, really? What a coincidence! I'VE always wanted to dabble in surgery. I figure I'll start sometime when I've got some idle hours." Watch for the shocked reaction. "But--but--surgery requires EDUCATION and years of practice!" It's fun.

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  6. #6 is not only for middle grade authors. Before I wrote kid lit, I wrote adult fiction--and got way more "I'd write if I only had the time" comments than I do now. (Perhaps people see the permanent grimace on my face and it naturally silences them?) #6 usually segued into #10, except that Cabi was a gun-toting mobster who was going to be brought to justice by the heroic ENT surgeon turned detective...

    Anyway, thanks for the post, Lee. They're always fun--and your photos rock!!!

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  7. LOL! This so made me laugh! Thanks for sharing this list! :) (If only it was so easy to retire on the income of published books.)

    ~Becky Fyfe

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  8. Yes, 2, 4, and 6. Number 7: someone said that? It's awful!

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  9. Great post! I choke on the comment: "You write picture books. What a nice hobby."

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  10. Hah! These are so hilarious. Thanks, Lee!

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    1. Wait till you hear #'s 11-101...

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  11. Ugh, was talking steampunk a few weeks ago and had a guy say, "But if you're into girly YA you might not like these." Hard not to get defensive, but I just said, "Actually I've read all of that author's books, but yes I do read a lot of YA, girly or otherwise--since that's what I write."

    And I've published a MG short story, but haven't tackled a novel yet. Those things are haaaard.

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    1. I find writing short stories harder, Angelica. So I admire that you can do those. Novels don't have to be too hard, though. I write in scenes, so if you just imagine a novel as being lots of short story scenes linked together, you'll have it made!

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  12. I have heard everyone of these, except #7. I have had both my dentist and hairdresser ask me to "ghost write" their story ideas...the hairdresser's was about scalp hygiene! The upside of all this is that the kids ask good questions...it's the adults who are brain dead on the subject.

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    1. Scalp hygiene...that would make such a riveting story, starring Harold the Hair and Dandy Dandruff.

      I've been offered story 'ideas' such as these in the past, with the offerer (is that a word?) saying we could spit the royalties. Sigh.

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  13. I love Mary Ann's comment - yes the KIDS do get it!

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  14. Thanks, all! #7 was a real shocker for me, as the female clerk worked in the children's section of the bookstore! Really? REALLY? Sheesh.

    Looks like one of my hilarious photos didn't show up. Ah, well...probably pilot error.

    And, yes, the intro was The Worst. He was trying very hard to belittle me. I've had fantasies about various replies, but at the time I just ignored him, let the audience see him for the pompous ass he was, and delivered a talk that brought the house down. Take THAT! :)

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  15. Great post--so true that it's painfully funny! I have experienced many of the same myself. Thanks for sharing!

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  16. Good for you, Lee! Unfortunately, he'll probably never realize he's a pompous ass...

    All of these are hilarious, but #7 really irks me, since I spent 10 years working in the Children's dept of a very large indie bookstore. The best books are for kids. Children are way more important than adults, because if you can't reach a kid and make her (or him) into a reader, you won't HAVE adult readers.

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  17. I'd really love to hear what you've decided through the years as a tactful reply to most of these stupid remarks. I get #2 ALL the time. And how about, "Will you ever try to write a 'real' novel someday?"
    Grrrr

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    1. It depends on my mood and the circumstances. If people seem to have made the less-than-tactful comment in all innocence, and they are genuinely interested in the genre and what I do, I will often talk openly (and at great length - - yeah, I'm a motormouth) about children's literature. I'm happy to explain that a children's book - - whether a novel or a picture book - - has all the same elements as an adult book: a grabber opening, three-dimensional characters, a logical plot, riveting conflict, suspense, dialogue, a satisfying conclusion, etc. The books are just, um, 'shorter'.

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  18. Lol! That's hilarious. (Although probably less hilarious when said questioner is standing in front of you.) ;)

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  19. The last time I spoke, a young girl came up to me and told me she was going to be writer and go to college in California to study writing. Apparently she plans ahead because she was only 11. ;) Anyway, I said she could email me anytime with writer questions. And she replied, "What's your phone number? I'll call you when I get to California." :)

    HILARIOUS POST, LEE!

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    1. Thanks, Hilary! Please don't tell the young girl that I live in California. Ha. :)

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  20. Hysterical! #5 was my favorite.

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  21. The comment that bothers me the most, though, is when people ask me if I've written a particular book or know the author of said book. I won't name the book because people never feel lukewarm about it. You either love it with a passion or feel terminally nauseated by it. I fall into the latter category. So, in the past, when people have said: 'Oh, my fav book is X. Did you write it?', I will, if feeling grumpy, tell them exactly what I think about it! Needless to say, I am sometimes standing alone at cocktail parties because of that...

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  22. These are great, Lee. #10 happened to me as recently as . . . yesterday. Only he hadn't written it yet. What I get a lot is, "Oh, you write for kids? That must be so FUN!" I've taken to saying, "Sometimes." Which usually stops the conversation.

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    1. I've had that one too, Joyce. Yeah, 'sometimes'. :)

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  23. Groan...3 and 6-10 are all too familiar. But that's what makes this list fun. :)

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  24. I'm with you guys! I guess Lee could have told the ENT that, if she had the time, she'd stick things up other people's noses.

    THANKS, LEE!

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  25. I'm with you guys! I guess Lee could have told the ENT that, if she had the time, she'd stick things up other people's noses.

    THANKS, LEE!

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  26. WOW. Just-wow. James Mihaley's "Hilariously heartbreaking" comment above sums it up very nicely.

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  27. As a YA writer, I can totally relate.

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!