Monday, 11 June 2012

"My book is suitable for children of all ages"

In other words, you haven't a clue about the needs of specific groups of readers and you have no sense of what sort of book you've written. You need to get reading, get learning, get analysing. Become an expert. It shouldn't be too difficult because you are, are you not, a passionate reader of the sort of books you write? (If you aren't, notice my most crabbit expression looming over you.)

If you make this claim for your book, you set up two virtually simultaneous reactions in the agent or publisher:
  1. Of feckity feck, here comes another one.
  2. Where's my delete button?
The main problem with this claim is that it tells the agent or publisher nothing about your book. It's a woolly statement, which indicates your lack of knowledge about your genre or intended age group and pretty much everything to do with children's writing.

You should pitch a children's book as aimed at a specific age range spanning no more than three years (eg 9-11), although you can say "pre-school" or "teenage" or "young adult" if that's what you're writing.

Note this: if we say our book is aimed at children of 9-11, we are not saying that a child of eight or a teenager of 13 or a grandparent of 65 wouldn't enjoy or appreciate it. We are simply trying to say something relevant and focused about our core reader and something about what sort of book this is and what, most importantly, it is not. A book aimed at an eight-year-old is a very different kettle of fish from one aimed at a fourteen-year-old, or even an eleven-year-old, and you need to have a strong sense of what works and what doesn't, what is allowed and what is not, before you can confidently write for them.

So, whoever might happen to enjoy them, children's books do need to be aimed at a particular age group and the expert children's writer knows how to make correct judgements about content, theme, vocabulary and style. In exceptional circumstances, a book is genuinely worth marketing at a wider age group than the "7-9", "8-10", "teenage" etc groups, but this is really not for you to judge, and not at this stage. So, if you harbour a feeling that your book is going to be one of those Coraline-type stories that a publisher decides transcends all age limitations, keep this ambition to yourself. Pitch your book at the age for which it is most "suitable". And if you don't know, then you don't know your market, your genre, the sort of book your book is.

And that's bad.

Next Monday, I will be blogging about the dreaded claim that your novel is a cross-over... *makes sign of cross*


Vanessa Harbour said...

Oh I cringed as I read this. I have had this said to me several times. The same people look at me as if I am mad when I say that's not possible. It needs more of a focus. Thank you for reminding me that I am slightly more sane than some people think I am

Laura Mary said...

Oh boo. I feel properly told off now! I cannot decide if mine is 9-11 or YA... Depends on my mood and what else I've been reading at the time.
Most certainly not suitable for all ages though, I know that much!

Nicola Morgan said...

Laura Mary - the first question is: what age is your MC? (Mind you, if you've got that wrong, the voice and everything may not match the content or whatever. But Anyway, how old is MC? And what is his/her problem/goal etc? What are the dark things that happen and who contributes to solving the problem?

9-11 is VERY different from YA...

Laura Mary said...

Well I started out thinking it was YA Fantasy… then I read lots of things about ‘knowing your target audience’ and got very confused!
The two MCs are 12 and 13 - I think that was what first made me think it should be '9-11' – however, (current) length of novel is waaaay too long for 9-11 genre. Also there are a few deaths and other nasty things that happen along the way!
However I don’t think it ticks all the boxes for a teen book either – the characters may be too young, there’s no ‘teen angst’, no real romance…

Have just had a look through some old posts of yours Nicola, specifically about safety nets. Would describe mine as deceptively moth-eaten!
I think I am back into YA territory. I clearly need to decide on this now before I head back in for re-write number three!

Nicola Morgan said...

Could you make the MCs 14/15?

Laura Mary said...

Possibly. I have thought of doing that before, but my 12 yr old is very much 12! I think he'd be very different two years on.

Are there any examples of teen/YA books where the characters are that much younger?

Only one I can think of is Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, where Lyra & Will are only 12/13. Although I see that book on both the teen and 8-12 shelf so that's probably a whole new can of worms!

Nicola Morgan said...

Also a waste of time to use exceptions (eg Pulman) as examples... You really do need to get the age of MC right and (as you already know, i can tell) make it a tiny bit older than readers. OK, so why not make the book 10-12? That's quite different from 9-11. However, still v diff from YA. My highwayman books are 10-12. It's very very unusual (and hard to see how it would work) to have 12yo MC in YA book.

Laura Mary said...

All very good points! (That's why I come here!)I can see I have some long hard thinking to do on this. Am now wondering if MC age and overal themes match up. Argh, pick at one thread and it all unravels! Still better now than later!

I better go do some more reading then(always such a chore!)

Thanks for the mini tutorial!

Aldrea Alien said...

Children of all ages? How I forget the books below adult are broken into further groups. (am I excused since I don’t write in it?)

I'm having trouble deciding if my current story (that has a 17 yr old MC) is YA or still Adult like the rest of the stuff I've written.

Then I start wondering if the last story I wrote is maybe YA too as she's 18, but then the other character, whom she shares pov with, is 63 (though technically a teen) ... and I'm back to believing it's an adult fantasy with a young MC.
Or is it NA? (Bah! I’m still doing it!)

At least I know where my first story stands (and the next after). Square on the shoulders of Adult. ^_^

Becky Black said...

Excellent use of the phrase "feckity feck." :D

I don't write children's books, but I heard this same advice on a creative writing course. The different age groups vary so much in the concepts they can understand, or are interested in, so it's madness to claim your book is suitable for all of them. Unless the plan is that it should be printed on chocolate so they can eat it.

It's like claiming your book is suitable for readers of all languages. Unless it's entirely picture, that's not going to work.

Nicola Morgan said...

Laura MAry - "better now than later" - oh yes indeedy!

Aidrea - the age of MC is not the only determinant. Also, very importantly, many many books for adults have younger MCs, even young children as MCs. If the book is adult, there's no rule about MC age. Only if i's for younger people.

Becky - I d rather like feckity feck on occasion :) Chocolate paper - now there's an idea.

Aldrea Alien said...

"If the book is adult, there's no rule about MC age. Only if it's for younger people."

I get so many people asking if they're YA because of the age. But this clears up so much.
They are both adult works. ^_^

Ebony McKenna. said...

I have the word "Focus" in large text, stuck to the side of my monitor. I think it's helping.

Laura Mary said...

I have the words 'feckity feck' stuck to mine...


Miriam said...


Just wanted to express moral support for Laura Mary as I recently went through the same thing with my book. I realised the level of difficulty I was writing at was too advanced for my target audience (9-11) and had to decide whether to make my MC older or do a complete rewrite simplifying my plot and style! I went for the latter. It feels much better when you're back on the right track.

Also, question for Nicola - is it bad if your target age group falls between the 7-9 and 9-11 ranges, i.e. 8-10? Do agents and publishers dislike things aimed at 8-10 year olds because of the way shelves are organised in bookshops?


Nicola Morgan said...

Miriam - no way! I'm writing a book for 8-10 myself! It's entirely as appropriate a range as 5-7, 6-8, 7-9, 9-11. The only problem arises with 11-13, which then does need to go in either teenage or below teenage (which in shops will be either called 8-12 or 9-12). I had that prob with my highwayman books, which are loved by many 10s and many 13/14s. But I had to make a choice and I chose NOT teen. That suited the type of content I wanted - adventure and danger and lots of emotion and action but less of the sex/relationships/adolescent issues.

Hope that helps. It's up to you to name your range, and the publisher to confirm that and the bookseller to shelve it where the heck he or she wishes :)

Laura Mary said...

Miriam – Thanks for the support! That is exactly the decision I need to make now – age up or simplify down!

Really not sure which way it’s going to go at the moment, but I’m hoping once I decide the rest will all fall in to place.

I hope!