Ready for Middle Grade Novels?

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons and Andy Carter

We’re constantly told to write what we love to read. Easier
said than done, because I find that most writers read a wide range of genres.
But I had a long discussion with myself late last year and was forced to admit
that I love YA novels, even the contemporary, nearly romantic ones.

But it didn’t end there. I think somewhere around the time I
read Moon Over Manifest, I realized
the frightening truth.
I’m a middle-grade geek.
Here’s the other cold hard truth I realized: actual
middle-graders who love to read are honest to the point of cruelty and don’t
give second chances.
Mind you, middle-grade covers a wide range of reading
levels. The silly Diary of a Wimpy Kid
type books are a far cry from the aforementioned Moon Over Manifest, which has been equally popular among adult
readers. Both, however, are considered MG. Perhaps there are writers who can
cover that range. But I think it’s safe to say that the new MG novelist should
choose his or her narrow audience and write to that level. Middle-grade aged
children develop at a rapid rate, many will go from chapter books to adult
novels within a one year span (I was reading Stephen King at 12…my nightmares
were spectacular!).
However, there are some commonalities that cover the
accepted middle-grade range of 8 to 12, specifically differences between YA and
MG.
  • An MG character will tend to be very
    self-centered. The world revolves around 8 to 12 year-olds, as any parent can
    attest. A YA character, in her high school years, also tends to be
    self-centered, but will begin to see the world through the eyes of others. In
    fact, that’s a common character arc for a teen protagonist, from “it’s all
    about me” to “I’ll sacrifice for you.
  • MG readers want snarky humor. Even if a horde of
    zombies is about to invade his living room, the MG character will think and say
    humorous things. Dialogue, especially, will be filled with one-line zingers.
    For boys, yes, potty jokes will always be the rage (try it, say “fart” in front
    of a group of ten year old boys and watch them erupt into laughter).
  • So the drama. What adults see as minor blips in
    their day, MG characters must see as end-of-the-world scenarios. Her BFF didn’t
    “like” her Instagram photo of her first day of school outfit? Call the Marines
    and Dr. Phil.
  • A great deal of tension (and we love tension,
    right?) is gained from the clique-ish behavior of middle-school kids. Split
    your characters into groups and set them against each other. Most of us can
    remember it. Yes, it’s still that brutal.
  • MG readers are pretty darn smart. If they’re
    reading, they can handle three-syllable words. But they like a fast pace, lots
    of action, and–shall I mention it again?–humor.  Of course, action is easy when every little
    thing in the MG world is high drama.
  • Adults can be present, and even major characters,
    but they cannot solve the protagonist’s problem. Just like in adult fiction,
    your MG protagonist must be clever, smart, and move the story forward herself
    to its final conclusion. Mom cannot save the day at the end.

Those are a few of the tips I’ve picked up while delving
into MG fiction. It’s a fantastic world where we can dig deeper and release that
youthful voice that we must often restrain in our adult novels. It’s not easier
writing by far. Some of us have to reach back quite a few decades to find those
feelings we shelved on our way to adulthood.

But when you do it well, it’s magic. And when your “slightly”
older middle-grade readers latch on to a piece of their childhood through the
words you’ve written, it’s like you’ve tapped into a whole new world.
As Christian writers, of course, we have another
responsibility. Secular YA is already plagued with the world view, especially
when it comes to sexual relations. Many also included a skewed version of Christianity.
We have an opportunity to use our gifts and talents to reach children while
they’re still developing their beliefs and opinions. We can impact that for God’s
glory.
So how about you? Are you considering middle-grade for your
next novel? I’d love to hear from you.

DOES IT HAVE TO BE SO HARD?

by Cynthia Ruchti

The title could lead you to believe these are the rantings of a dissatisfied, disgruntled, worn out writer. Or parent. Or spouse. Or engineer, teacher, physician, car mechanic, tax expert, sculptor, gardener, baker…

That question scrolls across the screen of almost everyone’s mind, however frequently or infrequently. Sometimes in fine print. Sometimes, bolded and flashing with animation.

Does this have to be so hard? The amount of work seems disproportionate to the return on investment. The hours applied far outweigh the benefits. Progress inches along on the good days, retreats on the bad.

Even those who are passionate about what they do, called, devoted find themselves caught in a backwater of frustration, or a riptide that carries them so much farther out to sea than they intended to go. Paddling harder worsens the dilemma. Floating feels like resignation.

Whatever the arena–writing, feeding a family of picky eaters, biking uphill–we can draw immense comfort from the legacy of someone for whom life could have been so much easier than it turned out. His faithfulness should have resulted in smooth going. But he was hunted, pursued, cursed, driven from his land, ridiculed, battered…

That man–the David of the Bible–inspired writers like him to pen words like these from a pilgrimage song, possibly even penned by his son:

“Let those who go out,
     crying and carrying their seed,
come home with joyful shouts,
     carrying bales of grain!”
                       Psalm 126:5-6 CEB
A dirge? No. A song of hope. And a reminder that the work of it–whatever it is–will tax our muscles, our spirits, our energies, our will at times.
But even when tears accompany our efforts, the end result can be a joy-hemmed harvest.
It’s an ancient principle. A timeless principle.
Tears and sweat aren’t necessarily evidence that we’re doing something wrong. They’re evidence that this is hard and there’s a harvest ahead worth pressing through to bale, as in gather.
Lord God, I pray today for every worker, writer, parent, ministry leader who is staring at precious little seed at the moment, and standing on what seems rock-hard soil. May their virtual tears soften the ground for the harvest yet to come. In Jesus’ Name, the Lord of the Harvest, Amen.
Award-winning author and speaker Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in hope. Her latest releases are All My Belongings (novel), When the Morning Glory Blooms (novel), and Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People’s Choices (Christian Living) from Abingdon Press. cynthiaruchti.com or www.facebook.com/CynthiaRuchtiReaderPage

Which E-book Publishers Should a Hybrid Author Consider?

Chip
MacGregor is the president of MacGregorLiterary, a full-service literary
agency on the Oregon Coast. A former publisher with Time Warner, he has worked
with authors as a literary agent for more than a dozen years, and was
previously a senior editor at two publishing houses. An Oregon native, Chip
lives in a small town on the Oregon coast. Chip is also the author of a couple
dozen books and a popular teacher on the craft of writing and marketing. Connect with him through his blog and on Twitter.
* * *
Which e-book publishers should a
hybrid author consider?
I’ve
been one of those agents encouraging writers to consider becoming hybrid
authors (that is, publishing with traditional publishers, as well as
self-publishing some titles). That has brought me this question from several
people: Which e-book publishers do I need to consider? 
There
are a number of choices for authors who want to indie-publish a book. Everybody
tends to immediately think, “I’ll just post it myself on Amazon,” but
we’ve seen countless error-filled books done on Amazon, so if you want to take
a step forward, there are some options to consider. Of course, you need to know
what you want in a publisher. For example, do you want to pay extra for
marketing help? Does your non-fiction book need photos or maps in the text?
Will you want the capability of adding an audio version of your novel? There
are a bunch of choices, so let me suggest some places to consider checking out.
1. Amazon’s
Kindle Direct Publishing
 (you’ll find them at kdp.amazon.com). This can be a great choice, since it’s quick, easy, and fast.
KDP will make sure your book is available on every Kindle and every computer or
phone with the Kindle app, it allows you to be part of their unlimited lending
program, and has some special features such as their “countdown” deal
and their free book program. KDP pays you a royalty of 35% of the list price on
most sales, with the opportunity of a 70% royalty if you follow some pricing
guidelines. They pay monthly, and can do direct deposits. It’s a great way to
go for many authors… but the big drawback is that they will have some
Amazon-only restrictions. That means people who don’t own a Kindle won’t even
be seeing your book. Still, KDP is great for reaching the Kindle crowd, which
is roughly 60% of all ebook readers.

2. Smashwords (www.smashwords.com). This is who we almost always recommend to authors who
want to reach beyond Amazon. Kindle is great, but Smashwords will get you into
the iBookstore (for readers with iPads), the Nook bookstore (for Barnes &
Noble devotees), the Kobo bookstore (which works with indie bookstores in this
country, but is a big deal overseas), and Scribd. So instead of having to
upload your titles to every company independently, Smashwords takes care of all
the non-Amazon e-tailers, and converts your text into the various formats
you’ll need. They also have nice extras such as free marketing help, and
they’ll even suggest who can help you with the required formatting. They pay
70%, will send you checks quarterly, and we’ve never had a problem with the
accounting at Smashwords. This is a company we trust, and if you do both
Smashwords and self-publish a book on Amazon, you’re reaching all the major markets.

Stay informed about what’s out there.

3. BookBaby (www.bookbaby.com). This is a fast-growing company that makes it easy for
authors. They offer three packages, charge you a flat fee, and take care of
everything — formatting, distributing to all the e-tailers, and even helping
with marketing. They have some great extra features (like an author bookstore
page, or good cover design assistance) that cost more, but the authors I’ve
spoken with have been very happy with their experiences at BookBaby. This is
more of a one-stop shopping — so while posting your book on Amazon is free,
the convenience of using BookBaby will cost you, but it might be worth it to
you. They pay 85% of net. BookBaby isn’t as fast as the others, but they have
good customer service, and offer some really nice extra features (that you’ll
have to pay for, of course). We think they’re a good option for the right
authors.

4. Kobo’s
Writing Life 
(www.kobo.com). This one might be new to
you, but I mention it because it’s huge in other countries. Kobo currently says
they are the world’s second-largest e-bookstore, and that they’re doing book in
nearly 70 languages, reaching into almost 200 countries (that’s from their
website, so I’m taking their word for it). I’ve known authors who have worked
with them, and they rave about how easy it is — you upload a file, Kobo
converts it, they pay you 70%, and they’re now starting to offer some marketing
helps. But the big news is that they’re working closely with ABA bookstores,
which means all those indie bookstores will be helping you to sell your titles.
This is one of those companies you might be overlooking, so make sure to check
them out.
There are lots of options out there—it’s our job to
stay informed.
There
are certainly others. Apple has iBook Author (which people have
complained is cumbersome to use, but can be great for children’s books,
cookbooks, and projects with a lot of photos), NookPress (which
replaced PubIt, and is easy to use, but only for those who own the floundering
Nook), Vook (which can work with all the e-tailers, but works
on a different economic model than the others), eBookIt (the
competitor to BookBaby in terms of being a one-stop shop), and BookTango,
iUniverse, Trafford, 
and Lulu, who are all owned or
in partnership with the folks at AuthorSolutions. To anyone
looking at an AuthorSolutions company, I always say, “Do your
research.” There are good programs and bad programs, but understand that
AuthorSolutions is too often accused of being there to sell
services to you, as the author, not to necessarily sell books to
consumers. 
My
question to you: Which of these have you worked with, and what
are your impressions?  
Leave a note in the
“comments” section for who you liked and why (or who you didn’t, and
why not).

Chip MacGregor

8 Reasons to Write Something Right Now

Edie Melson is the author of numerous books, as well as a freelance writer and editor. Her blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains ChristianWriters Conference and the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy. She’s also the Military Family Blogger at Guideposts. Com, Social Media Director for SouthernWriters Magazine and the Senior Editor for NovelRocket.com. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

* * *


We writers tend to be an odd lot.
We writers tend
to be an odd lot. We obsess about learning to write better. We hang out with
writers online and in person. We buy books on How to Write, How to Write Better
and How to Sell What We Write.
But we do almost
anything we can to avoid the actual act of writing. Nothing shuts down a writer
quicker than a blank page and/or a blinking cursor.
We comfort our
guilt-ridden internal writer with the promise of writing when
  • That
    closet is clean.
  • The yard is mowed.
  • The
    kitchen is organized.
  • The garage is clean.
  • Facebook
    is checked one last time.
  • Groceries
    are bought.

You get the
idea.
Truthfully, the
longer we postpone sitting down and writing, the harder it gets. Avoidance
gives volume to those nasty little voices that live in a writer’s head. Voices
that say:
  • You’re not
    good enough.
  • No one
    will ever read this.
  • You’ll
    never get published.
  • No one
    will ever take you seriously.
  • You’ll
    never sell anything.

You know.
You’ve heard those voices.
Today I’d like
to share 8 reasons to write something RIGHT now.
You’re not getting any younger.
1. You’re
not getting any younger.

I know, it’s a cruel truth to begin with. But it doesn’t matter how young (or
old) you are, time marches on.
2. It won’t
get any easier
to start,
but it WILL get easier once you begin. The hurdle is the starting. And it’s a
hurdle that has to be surmounted every single day of your writing life.
Beginning rarely gets any easier.
3. If you
don’t start, you’re already a failure
and the voices have won. I hear a lot of writers say that if they
don’t start (or don’t submit) they won’t fail. That’s a lie. If you won’t
start, you’ve already failed.
4. As a
writer, NOT writing will hurt you.
I’ve seen writers deal with depression, anxiety and other issues that
immediately disappeared when they sat down and began to write.
5. Practice
makes perfect.
There’s
only so much improvement you can make by learning about writing. It’s time to
put what you know into practice.
Only writing makes you a writer.
6. Only
writing makes you a writer.
Talking/Learning
about it doesn’t really count.
7. What you
have to share through the written word matters.
Yes, this applies to everyone. We all
have things to contribute to the lives of others. The way a writer does this is
through the written word. So get on with it, someone needs to read what you
have to say.
8. If you
don’t, you’ll always regret it.
I’ve never met a writer who regretted writing, but I’ve met plenty who
regretted NOT writing.
It doesn’t
matter if I’m working on a book, a blog post, or something else. I have to
remind myself about these things almost every time I sit down to write. We all
fight the idea that we don’t have a contribution to make that’s worth the
effort.

What about you?
Please add to the list of reasons to write, RIGHT now. We’re all stronger
together.