SCBWI Austin Meeting – Middle Grade or Bust!

I finally attended my first regional SCBWI meeting. Yahoo!

I didn’t really have any expectations going in, other than being excited to attend. (Thank you to my official sponsor, Afrin, for making today’s trip possible. Thanks are also extended to both Infant Advil and Children’s Advil, for teething and RSV relief, respectively.)

The meeting today focused on Middle Grade books and included a panel of three MG writers:

Cory Putman Oakes (Dinosaur Boy)

Jo Whittemore (Confidentially Yours Series)

Mari Mancusi (Golden Girl)

Read on for my notes from the meeting:

Here are my general notes; hopefully they’ll be helpful to anyone not able to attend or for folks looking for information on writing Middle Grade books:

Challenges of Writing Middle Grade:

  • There is a sweet spot, age-wise. People think middle grade = middle school but that’s not necessarily true. It may skew younger (3rd-5th grade).
  • There are also other categorizations: upper MG (tween) and lower MG (about 9 years old). In lower MG there is no romance at all.
  • MG – all about how the world effects ME. YA is all about how I effect the world. MG helps kids discover who they are – so be really aware of the messages you’re including in your writing.

Marketing

  • Marketing in MG isn’t directly to consumers (the MG kids) because that would be weird. In MG you’re marketing to the gatekeepers – the teachers, librarians, adults who will pass the books on to the kids.
  • You wouldn’t want to self-publish MG because the audience isn’t really on social media and as a result wouldn’t find your book.

How to Find MG Voice

  • Listen, watch, observe kids
  • Internet is a good resource to see what kids are like on their own. Check out YouTube videos.
  • The problems kids face are the same as always – the technology and the way they experience those problems has changed.
  • Don’t write down to MG audience.
  • Take your character out of the story and examine them. It helps you get to know them better.

Things to Avoid

  • Characters too adult (unless there is a good reason for it)
    • They might say mature things but they aren’t mature enough to really understand it
  • The image most of us have in our heads of what a 10 year old is like is way more mature than they are in real life.
  • Protagonist should be identifiable, relatable and like-able – for your audience (MG readers).
  • Be careful that the parent isn’t telling the story/driving the story.
  • How to deal with the parent problem in MG – they’re often dead or missing (!) or you can focus the story on places parents aren’t around (like at school) or state that the parents trust the kid.

Good MG Books Recommended By Panel:

I thought this was an outstanding panel – highly engaging and they provided useful information. I can see how they would be wonderful speakers at school events.

So there you have it, I hope you found my notes useful. In the meantime, I’m already looking forward to my next SCBWI meeting!

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