Middle Grade…and beyond!

A warning: should you find yourself compelled to write Young Adult fiction, you will soon find yourself compelled to write Middle Grade fiction, and then chapter books, until you finally find yourself attempting the most difficult 400 words you’ll ever write: picture books.

Don’t laugh. A recent study conducted at the Estrada Institute of Fictitious Studies revealed that 98.6% of authors who take a hit of the gateway drug known as YA soon find themselves immersed in a world of talking pigs, purple crayons, and words of their own invention.

No, I have not attempted a picture book yet. I cannot draw, but most picture book writers can’t. They have publishers who have magical powers and the ability to connect with a strange form of life known as an “illustrator.” Few people have actually seen an illustrator. I understand they are often removed from their homes as children and shipped off to a small island in the Pacific where all the houses are crooked and the cats wear hats. Or so I’ve been told.

I have, however, written my first middle grade, which is only a short step from a YA. And only last night I muttered the words of the truly addicted: “I think I’d like to write a chapter book.”

It’s too late for me, my friends. Save yourselves. Do it before you fork over the $90 member fee to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI…your first test will be to memorize the acronym) and find yourself critiquing something called “Mr. Salamander’s Bad Day.”

Of course, if you heed my advice and run, you will also be passing on the opportunity to inspire a new generation while they’re still inspire-able. There’s something thrilling in the knowledge that you’ve made a young boy or girl smile, think, or believe that he or she can accomplish anything. And if you consider the fact that young minds are being shaped by a very secular stable of children’s writers, you may just find a new calling placed on your heart.

Before you take the leap into the world of children’s books (which hear means picture books through YA, though I suspect the average teen would bristle at the “children” label), understand that it is not an easy way to write. If anything, it is much more difficult than writing for adults. Adults are forgiving. Children are brutally honest.

You still have to be able to tell a complete story, one complete with intrigue, thrills, mystery, a bit of romance (for the YA crowd), and probably a lot more humor than you’re used to. But you’ve got to do it in fewer words. Those of you’ve who’ve written short stories or flash fiction know that fewer words make fiction more difficult.

But if you still insist on trying, check out the SCBWI. They have very active state and regional chapters as well as regional and national conferences. You may even spot an illustrator. Be sure to compliment them on their purple porcupines and dancing daisies.

Ron Estrada is the author of the Cherry Hill Young Adult series and is currently working on his Navy Brat Middle Grade series, which he intends to traditionally publish. You can find out what he’s up to at RonEstradaBooks.com.