Three practices have helped me as an author writing for the eight-to-twelve audience: Reading MG novels, reviewing MG books, and personally connecting with middle graders.
1. Writers are often told to read in the genre they write. This is especially true when writing MG novels. Reading MG lit is a peek into the varied and ever-changing world of that age group. But reading well-written books in your genre provides enhanced understanding of the art and craft of writing for your target readers. These books are the shining examples of what you are aiming for. They can inspire you, when you are searching for that missing element in your own work, and they are clear reminders that rewriting and polishing counts – reminders of why you should never settle for anything less than your best work.
2. I review books for The Children’s Books Review, an award-winning online review site. Reviewing books provides an additional layer of appreciation for the craft. It’s basically one half of the interaction that occurs in a good writing group. In writing groups, we benefit from insights of other readers, but we benefit as much from insights that develop while critiquing their works. Analyzing someone else’s writing to see what works (and what doesn’t) requires an objectivity we lack when revising our own work. When we can identify strengths and weaknesses in another’s writing – in story structure, characterization, theme, imagery, and setting, etc. – we more easily spot strengths and weaknesses in our own writing. Our storytelling improves.
3. The third practice – having personal familiarity with your target readers – can be achieved in many
I make school visits. School visits aren’t always about your published work. During revisions, I’ve read unfinished books to middle grade classes purely for student input. Teachers welcome opportunities to expose their students to authors, and students love to help you out. After listening to a scene from The Fourth Wish, a sixth grader said, “Mrs. Varadan, we don’t say it like that.” “How do you say it?” I asked. When I came back later and read the same scene, reflecting his input, students nodded their approval. You can’t put something like that in a query letter, I know, but your payoff is in better writing. I’ve been told my ‘kid talk’ in The Fourth Wish is authentic.
When Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls was still in the submission stage, I visited three schools to interview students regarding their feelings about historical fiction. I worried this might be the kind of fiction teachers appreciated more than students. But students in all three classes loved historical fiction – especially historical mysteries. One fifth- grader explained she liked the fact that detectives in the “olden days” (her words) had to use their brain to figure things out instead of relying on technology. (This from the techie generation!) And most of the students in all three classes liked Sherlock Holmes – good news for me, since Sherlock figures strongly in Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls.
There are other ways to connect with young people. Read to children at a library branch. Donate your time in an after school program at a community center. Become a big brother or sister, a Scout den leader. Kids are at their most natural in such settings. If you have a hobby, volunteer to teach it. It’s a refreshing break from sitting hunched over a computer all week, and it’s another way to break a block. (My hobby is art, so I volunteer-teach an art class at a community center once a week. As it turns out, this dovetails nicely with the book reviewing, because I can give them free books when the class ends.)
So – read, review, and connect – three ways to stay in the loop with your target readers.
Elizabeth Varadan is a former elementary school teacher. She taught most elementary grades, but her favorites were the middle grades, and she now writes middle grade fiction. She and her husband live in Midtown Sacramento. Her children’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Ladybug, Friends, and Skipping Stones Magazine. Her middle grade fantasy, The Fourth Wish, was self-published in 2008. Her new middle grade mystery, Imogene an the Case of the Missing Pearls, will be released by MX Publishing June 15, 2015.
Elizabeth has generously offered a copy of IMOGENE AND THE CASE OF THE MISSING PEARLS to one lucky winner. To enter, you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through June 13th. I’ll announce the winner on June 15th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is for U.S. residents.
Here's what's coming up:
I'll be off on Monday June 1st to get ready for my daughter's graduation and will be offline all week because I'm having family visiting to help celebrate our happy event.
On Monday, June 8th, I'll have an interview with debut author Sarah McGuire and a giveaway of her MG fantasy VALIANT.
The following Monday I have a guest post with agent Mandy Hubbard and debut author Carolyn Lee Adams and a giveaway of her YA suspense/thriller RUTHLESS. There may also be a query critique giveaway.
Wednesday that week I have a guest post with agent Tina Wexler and Jessica Lawson and a query critique giveaway by Tina Wexler and a giveaway of Jessica's new MG mystery NOOKS AND CRANNIES.
The following Monday I have an interview with debut author Virginia Boecker and a giveaway of her YA historical fiction THE WITCH HUNTER.
Hope to see you on Monday, June 8th!