Monday, October 17, 2011

No Middle Road

Books are divided into genres, as we all know. But books written for those under the age of adulthood are also divided by age group. It's a weird and messed-up system in my opinion. Yes, I agree it should be in place. We need to know that a book is for ages 3 to 5 vs. ages 10 to 12. The problem lies when those guidelines aren't used the same way by different publishers and retailers. It makes it confusing. Which ages actually fall into juvenile, middle grade, young adult, tween, and teen? Ask two different writers, agents, or publishers and you are likely to get two different answers.

I started off labeling Finding Angel as "young adult" because the main character, Angel, is 13 when the book starts, and I'd read that YA is for ages 12-18. Awesome. Until, after a number of rejections, I finally got a response from an agent that said it should be labeled "middle grade." Because of Angel's age, partly, as kids "read up." In other words, they apparently don't read about kids their own age, but rather kids a couple of years older. That's not always true as kids get older--it seems to me that 14 yr olds and 17 yr olds read the same books, which are teen and YA, and adult. But apparently my target audience, because Angel is 13 (turns 14 in the novel), would be 11-12 yr olds (which is younger than the audience I intended).

Here's the problem--labeling Finding Angel as middle grade was terrifying for me. You see, it was already long for a YA book. So dropping it down to MG would make it waaaaaaaaay too long. Which meant reducing even further my chances of finding an agent and/or publisher.

Fortunately, small presses tend to be less stringent with word count. So Splashdown Books wasn't as concerned about Finding Angel being long for its target audience. We went ahead and kept the MG label just to be proper.


I went to Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million the other day to browse around. Guess what? There is NO middle grade section. There is "young readers"--which includes books for kids from 3rd grade through 6th grade. And then it jumps right to "teen."

No in-between. No middle road. Where do middle grade books belong then?

For Finding Angel, if I were to actually be able to get my book on the shelf of a big chain, the answer is obvious. I originally had it labeled YA and I'd stick to that now. Finding Angel is definitely NOT for 3rd through 6th graders. Some 6th graders, yes. The ones who'd read Harry Potter and Fablehaven and Inkheart. But it mainly appeals to teens (young teen and older teen alike).

You see, Angel is 13/14, but she is essentially the youngest character. Everyone around her is either an older teen or an adult. And Angel is mature for her age and a bit of a brain. BUT--when you visit the teen section, the shelves are completely overrun with paranormal romance and dystopian novels. Sure, there is Eragon. But the other books Finding Angel can be compared to are all plunked in the kiddie section.

Needless to say, I left rather frustrated. Well, because of all this AND the fact that NEITHER bookstore had the book I was looking for. Yep. much as the bookstores gripe about Amazon, guess what? I *have* to buy through Amazon because B&N and B-a-M are too cluttered with toys, calendars, desk trinkets, and other "stuff" to actually carry the book I want. (Sigh....I suppose that is a post for another time....)

So where am I going with this? I don't know. Just griping I suppose. Not very professional of me, I admit. But honestly--why so many labels for books that target tweens and teens if they are all going to be lumped together? Why do I need to call my book MG if it's not really? If someday, when Finding Angel makes it onto the shelves, there's not going to be a proper place to put it anyway?

I think I need to relabel Finding Angel. Maybe even make up my own classification. Not middle grade, not young adult, not teen. Something that encompasses all of those, and the adults that love it too. Who's got a suggestion?


Robynn Tolbert said...

You could just call it a good book and people will muddle it out on their own. *grin*

Kat Heckenbach said...

Hehe--good idea, Robynn :).

Jeff Chapman said...

Kat, Kat, Kat. You did it all backwards. You're supposed to write books that fit into one of the predefined marketing pigeon holes. Oh well, at least you're in good company. Moby Dick and Ulysses did not fit into any pigeon holes either.

I'm working on that novella project, by the way. I'll catch up with you next week on my progress.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Aha! And he comes out of hiding.... :D

Malcolm R. Campbell said...

I've run into problems with the Y/A classification. Traditionally, it was restricted to books without profanity, erotic scenes, overly gory scenes, etc. I wrote my first novel within those guidelines. But now, Y/A has turned gritty and, perhaps, more over-the-edge than some adult novels.

So, there I was with a teenaged protagonist in a TRADITIONAL Y/A type book that doesn't fit with Y/A from the perspective of today's teens.

I see similarities with your issue here, and I wish I could say there was an easy way of resolving it. A bit of consistency across the board would help. As is, I finally scrapped the age classification and now simply call it Fiction / Fantasy / Contemporary.


Kat Heckenbach said...

What you say is so true, Malcolm. YA/teen fiction has gotten really gritty. I don't have an issue with that (most of the time) except for the fact that it's making it harder to classify "teen" fiction that isn't romantic or dystopian. My novel definitely has some dark elements, but it's not filled with profanity or sex. I'm essentially telling people when I talk about my book that it's "labelled" MG, but it's really for ages 12 to 120 :).