Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writing for Different Ages

From The Simpson's, hosted at Librarified
So, ever since I was asked to join Project Mayhem (was it over a year ago? wow) I always wondered: why me? No, I'm kidding. I know I'm awesome, of course they'd love me.

But there is that thing. It's about content. I'm not published. I'm not agented. And the only two manuscripts I've completed are both (I think, I'm no marketing guru) Young Adult Literature.

So why am I part of a Middle Grade blog?

Well the good news is that I do have a project in the works. It's an ambitious one. I'm happy to say it will be a Middle Grade book (or hopefully a series of them), but unfortunately, it's a bit of a secret, and that's all I can say.

However, the whole question has got me thinking: how many authors are there out there who write both YA and MG, and are not only commercially successful at it, but artistically as well?

I use the Neil Gaiman picture from the Simpson's episode, because I know I have personally enjoyed not only his adult novels, but also at least one Middle Grade novel he's written: The Graveyard Book. Yet, there are obviously very few writers out there who have his level of success.

Of course, you have series like Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling, or Percy Jackson, by Rick Riordan, which I think can both be successfully argued evolve from MG into YA by the time they end, but again, such a thing is rare.

There are some friends and darlings of the blogosphere who write both, like Laura Pauling, and Shannon Messenger, and then there are some more famous authors who I've never met, like Scott Westerfield, and Patrick Ness, but I guess my point is (more a question than a point, but bear with me here) do you think it's a viable aspiration to hope to write both?

And whether or not you do (or don't) do you know of any writers who are thriving at it that I haven't mentioned?

Either way, you never know. I haven't had success with my YA work yet, so maybe it turns out that it was never my thing, and I'll only have to worry about MG, but for the time being, I am definitely curious to hear what all our readers think.

And if you're not sure what you think, that's okay. Here are some resources of other people's opinions.

Shannon's agent Laura Rennert on writing blockbuster MG and YA fiction.

Michele Acker interviews some agents about MG and YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

Claire Legrand muses on the differences between the two for WriteOnCon.

Sally Apokedak covers the basic differences on Vonda Skelton's blog.

C. Lee McKenzie writes about how the line can be blurred at Carrie Butler's blog.

Otherwise, that's all I have for now. What do you all think?


  1. Thanks for the mention!

    Lauren Oliver does both middle grade and YA very successfully!

    YA - Before I Fall, Delirium trilogy
    MG - Liesl & PO, The Spindlers

    Laurie Halse Anderson has also found success with both and they're very different. Her YA is dark and emotional and her MG is historical fiction.

    1. Great mentions, Laura! I was actually aware of both of them, but they didn't come to mind for whatever reason. Thanks!

  2. Judy Blume! She has written MG, YA, and adult novels. And she keeps her same name for all of them!

    James Patterson has cowritten children's and YA books, also without a pseudonym.

    1. I've never read much Judy Blume, which is a tragedy, I know.

      I've read a bit of Patterson, but I really can't comprehend how one person can write ten books every year.

  3. I was thinking of Clare's WriteOnCon post while I read this. It was a really interesting break down of how MG and YA books differ and how, as an author, to approach them.

  4. It used to be much, much more commonplace, even expected, to write across age levels and formats.

    Look to your more established significant voices, those who've survived the test of time--Kathi Appelt, Jane Yolen, Tim Wynne-Jones, Rita Williams-Garcia, Walter Dean Myers...I could go on and on.

    I'm published in the picture book, chapter book, MG short, tween novel, YA short, and YA novel.

    Writing across age levels and formats informs all of your projects, establishes you as a more global contributor to the body of literature, and opens the doors to more teaching and speaking opportunities.

    You're not a pigeon, you don't need to be stuck in one hole. S-t-r-e-t-ch.

    1. It's always an honor to have you drop by here, Cynthia. Thanks so much!

    2. Preach it, Cyn! You inspire me. xo

  5. I do think authors can write in both genres. Like Laura said, Lauren Oliver is an author who is very successful in both MG and YA. One thing I've noticed is that it seems easier to get a debut book deal as a YA author than a MG one. I just notice in the debut author lists I scour for authors to interview on my blog that there are way more YA ones.

    My first manuscript that I hope to query next year is MG, but I decided to write my next project as a YA one because it may be easier to get an agent and book deal and the book will work well that way. Can't wait to hear about your project Matt.

    1. I wonder if it's different for boy-centric books than girl-centric ones? I hate the whole concept of trying to genderize literature, but I've been told by agents: "There's no market for this kind of book. Make the protagonist a girl, or make him young enough for MG, or I can't sell it."

  6. Personally, I hate the whole MG/YA thing. Those aren't genres, yet they are being treated as such. But that's probably a different story...

    I would consider The House on the Corner fantasy in the same way that the Narnia books are fantasy. Sure, they (now) fall into the MG category, but they didn't used to. They used to just be fantasy.
    The House books will get a lot darker than the Narnia books, though, so they'll slip into YA, although I still just call them fantasy.

    Shadow Spinner is more decidedly MG. I don't know if there will be another book about Tib after that one. I don't have another story in that universe right now.

    I have several adult novels in the planning stages.

    Of course, I'm not successful (yet), either.

    1. I hear you, Andrew, and I mostly agree. I never set out to write children's books, I just happened to write about young people, because that's when the most exciting things in my own life happened.

  7. I recently submitted a manuscript to my agent which I thought was YA. She loved it, but said she thought it ought to be MG. I agreed with her reasons and revised the manuscript, taking out anything I wouldn't read to my own fifth grade class. I was surprised by how little that was!

    The line is blurry between the two sometimes, and I think it depends on the approach, the medium, the genre. Death by magic wand is a different thing than death by handgun. I'm still learning, but I hope to explore this further!

  8. Interesting observations, guys. I think the line is even blurrier between upper MG (which I write) and YA.

    Phyllis Reynolds Naylor--whom I really like--is another successful author who writes both MG (Boys Against the Girls series) and YA (Please Don't Be True.)

  9. If the books have large enough print(HUGE in MG) and a lack of bad words and sexual situations, young adult books are well received in middle school. I think that the writers who are commercially successful listen to what readers in their demographic actually WANT to read-- there are so many MG fantasies out there, and I have about a dozen readers who are interested. Sigh.

    1. I don't read much fantasy myself. I have to believe, though, that there are kids that read the things we produce. Maybe not a vast number, but there is an audience for all books.

    2. My eleven-year-old has started reading YA novels. I think most kids read up. I certainly did.

      As her father I don't have a problem with it, as long as I am familiar with the book, and think she can handle it.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!