Something new I learned in the very last event of WriteOnCon this year. Apparently there’s a gap between the middle grade (8 to 12) age group and the young adult (14 to 18) age group. Nobody wants books about twelve- to fourteen-year-olds.
The reason given? Bookstores don’t know where to shelve such books. The main characters are too old for middle grade readers and too young for young adult readers. It seems like a pretty thin reason to ignore an entire group of readers. Makes me think that online bookstores, like Amazon, are a very good idea. It’s no big deal to create a new category in the database and nobody has to move bookshelves or books.
Plus, of course, that skips over the difficult period called puberty, which strikes me as just cowardly. Admittedly, it’s been a few years, but there are parts of that time that are indelibly etched on your memory. Not only is it a time just rife with conflicts, which we all know make good stories, it’s also a time when reading about others going through some of the same embarrassing, confusing things might be more than usually beneficial. But, there’s no space on the shelves for it.
It also makes me wonder about something else. The standard wisdom that you’ll see quoted around the internet by industry professionals is that girls graduate from middle grade to young adult, while boys, if they keep reading, graduate straight to the adult section. I have to wonder if at least a part of the reason for this is that the romance element of just about all young adult stories satisfies at least a part of the needs of pubescent girls. On the other hand, the young adult stories in which the boy is almost always older, hot, and at least socially adept enough to ask a girl out without blushing maybe just don’t address the needs of pubescent boys, so they turn elsewhere.
Part of me wants to say that this is an under-served audience just waiting for the right books. On the other hand, I can wonder and even rant about this as much as I want, but one fact remains: getting started in this business is an uphill battle as it is. Making it any steeper than it has to be is akin to banging your head against the wall because it feels so good when you stop. An established author with a great track record might be able to write these books successfully. A debut author–or a writer hoping to be a debut author–just hasn’t got the horsepower to get up that hill.
Rats! And I’d started MAGIC’S FOOL with the MC at age thirteen. I’m shelving that one and the sequel, MAGIC’S APPRENTICE, while I decide what to do. Make the MC younger? That complicates the plot of MAGIC’S APPRENTICE enormously. Make him older and take this story to the younger side of young adult? It’s ironic that he was fifteen in the original version of this story. In that case, I’m going to have to weave in a subplot or two or else change the central conflict to expand the story–a rewrite, either way. Otherwise, at less than 50,000 words it’s just too short for a young adult novel. Hmm. I already have at least one idea for a subplot, though.
It’s not all bad, though. I got a couple of really good ideas on how to improve MAGE STORM and make it even better before I start sending it out again. That will probably be my next project after I finish the first draft of THE BARD’S GIFT.