Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Difference Between Young Adult and Middle Grade Books

Have you, as an author, ever wondered what the difference is between a young adult book and a middle grade book? Well ask ten people and you will likely collect ten different answers based on a myriad of criteria to meet. Figuring where to classify your book is a lot easier than you think. At Pants On Fire Press, we distinguish genre by age. For instance, Middle Grade is 9 years old and up while young adult is either 11 or 14 years old and up.

Are you surprised I didn't mention word count right out the gate? Well don't be surprised and do yourself a favor and forget word count all together for now. In your novel think about your child protagonist and the situation they face. Is it an adult experience they have never faced –albeit negative or positive and do they lose their childhood spectacles in the process? If so, then you are writing a young adult novel. Think of your character crossing a threshold as they leave innocence, never to return. The Bridge to Terabithia is a perfect example of this. Now, if the child faces a situation but is unaffected and is therefore smarter and continues to see the world through a child's eyes, you are writing a middle grade book.

Now, let's talk work count. A Bridge to Terabithia is roughly 33,000 words. At Pants On Fire Press we like our middle grade books to be somewhere between 10,000-35,000 words while the young adult book can run somewhere between 40,000-80,000. These are really guidelines. That is not to say that we will not publish a young adult book in the 20,000 - 30,000 word count rage. In fact we have a contract out on a young adult book that is right at 20,000 words. It's a book about a girl who, after witnessing the death of her sister, journals her time spent in a psychiatric ward. The protagonist makes profound observations in her attempt to define insanity.

I hope my explanation helps to clear some of the mud.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Teen Son Doesn't Read Anymore -- It's Girly

My teen son doesn't read anymore. He thinks it's girly. This is what a mom said to me the other day. Her son read in elementary school but now refuses to touch a book on his "free time". Fact is most male teens these days do not read books for entertainment. Have educators, parents, authors, and even publishers lost touch with the male teen? Are we capable of relating to them? And what in the world are these teens doing with their "free time"? Considering almost all American teens have played video games, and a majority play video games regularly, drink these statistics in before you answer:

  • Teenage Involvement: Approximately 90% of teens have played video games at least once, with a majority of teens playing regularly.(1).
  • Availability: 83 percent of young people aged 8 to 18 have access to a game player in their own home. 31 percent have 3 or more game players in their own home. About half of all teens have a video game system in their own bedroom (7).
  • Gender Differences: According to video game industry sources, at least 90 percent of American boys -between the ages of 8 to 18 years- and 40% of American girls play video games. Boys play much more frequently, and for much longer periods of time than do girls. 33% of female gamers report that they only play video games once per month. That’s compared to about 10% of male gamers.
  • Significant Time Use: According to a Harris Poll, the average teenager spends 13 hours per week playing video games.
  • Opportunity Costs: On average, kids who play video games regularly, spend 30% less time reading and 34% less time doing homework than the average non-gamer.(10)
  • Frequency of Violence: As early as 2001, the Children Now Organization found that 89% of all video games contained violence. That’s not to say that all teens play the hyper-violent games, but nine of the top ten video games of 2009 were rated mature.
  • Evidence of Addictive Behaviors: Many video game players report that the activity creates a feeling of entertainment, relaxation, recreation, and enjoyment. However, about 8% reported that their game playing made them feel dominated by the demands of the game, made them seek increased levels of stimulation to continue playing, caused them to experience withdrawal symptoms when they were unable to play, brought them into conflict with other individuals, and had reported that they were unable to quit playing the games. Boys were four times more likely to report this feeling than girls. (2)
  • Parental Supervision: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about one in five game players have parents who set rules about which games are allowed to be played. 17% reported that their parents check warning labels or ratings on their games, and 12% stated they routinely played games they knew their parents  do not want them to play . (3). In 2000, a United States Senate hearing heard testimony that as much as 90% of parents either didn’t check, or didn’t understand the video game ratings displayed on the package. (4) Polling data reveals that most parents cannot name their own 3rd to 5th grader’s favorite game. (5) And nearly 70% of parents surveyed say they do not play video games with their children. (6)
  • Huge Industry: In 2011 the monetary volume of video game sales in the United States was $17 billion (8) . The yearly revenue for video gaming in the US is currently 3 times the combined revenues of the NFL and NASCAR.

Still not convinced by the statistics? Try this: Locate your average high school male gamer and tell him that there is this book titled Scar and that you think he’ll like it. If he’s like the majority of male teens I know, he’ll snicker and say that unless it’s about a real SCAR, a Special Forces Combat Assault Rifle, like the one he uses in his Modern Warfare 3 video game, he’s not interested. Educators, parents, authors, and even publishers, it’s sad but we have lost touch with the male teen because he is likely a gamer. But this doesn't mean you can't relate to them. If you want the video-gaming-digital-native male teen to read for entertainment you can't be afraid to get into the ring with him. Adjust your taboo meter to low and approach the subject of guns, war and violence. These kids are drawn to it like a moth to light. Parents, educators and librarians, pickup a copy of these gaming magazines: iGamer Magazine, PC Gamer, PlayStation: The Official Magazine and The Official Xbox Magazine. Authors and publishers do the same but take it a step further. Play some of the popular games, and then start writing for these kids. Produce what they want and they will read it.

1. Rainie: Pew Internet and American Life Project
2. Douglas Gentile, Iowa State University
3. Roberts, Foeher, and Rideout,: Kaiser family Foundation
4. Walsh, Testimony to the United States Senate, 2000
5. Funk, Hagan, and Schimming
6. Lenhart: Pew Internet and American Life Project
7. Roberts, Foeher, and Rideout
8. NPD Group, Inc.
9. CNET News
10. The Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. Smith, Jeremy A; Playing the Name Game.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Winning Query Letter

Below is the query letter that peaked our interest in Tracy's Paranormal Properties script and ultimately lead to us signing her. 

Dear Acquisitions Editor:

Jake Weir is not like the other kids in Dusk, North Carolina. Then again, Dusk, North Carolina is not like other towns. Known as “The Third Most Haunted Town in America,” (behind Salem, Massachusetts and Las Vegas, Nevada, of course), Dusk is ground zero for Jake’s ghost hunting parents.

The Weir family has arrived in Dusk eager to scope out some of the town’s 127 reported “paranormal properties,” which just happens to be the name of their own ghost hunting show: Paranormal Properties

What Jake doesn’t know, and what his parents could never imagine, is that Jake can see ghosts! And hear them. And talk back to them! This talent comes in handy when he runs into Dusk’s oldest, most famous ghost: one Frank Barrone, a one-time lounge singer made famous by his booze-soaked ballad, “Barroom Eyes.”

Frank was gunned down by a local mobster in 1951 and has been searching for his killer – and his final resting place – ever since. When he learns that Jake can see and hear him, Frank makes young Jake a deal: if Jake will help Frank find his killer, Frank will help his parents find a ghost to film for their upcoming Halloween Special on Public Access Channel #319.

Jake enlists the only friend he’s made in Dusk, an overweight tomboy nicknamed “Tank,” to help him track down Frank’s killer. As clues emerge and old leads heat up, Frank and Jake learn they make quite a team. But will Jake find Frank’s final resting place? And will Frank find a real haunted house in time for Halloween? 

My name is Tracy Lane and I am an avid ghost hunter watcher! It has been my lifelong dream to write a book about a young boy in a ghost hunting family who can actually see ghosts, and I think Paranormal Properties is a great beginning to a long series of MG/YA adventures starring Jake and Frank as they wind across the country, finding – and helping – ghosts with all kinds of great back stories and adventures. I hope you agree! 

Paranormal Properties is complete at 40,000-words and available at your convenience, as are several sample chapters and a complete synopsis. Thanks in advance and I look forward to hearing from you.


Tracy Lane

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Canadian Author

A Canadian author sent us her script. In short, we really liked it and wanted to sign her. Being a small press and in the process of finalizing our 2013 lists (finally!), she was apprehensive and had questions. Here is her original email and our reply follows below. Remember that she is in Canada.

I am interested, but as a lawyer I tend to nitpick details! How do you get the book into libraries, etc? Would I be responsible for that? I do believe the industry is undergoing a shift to ePublishing, but a lot of young adults still read books in physical formats and I would like to see my book at libraries and bookstores, at least in Canada. The Catching Santa book is not in the Toronto Public Library system, for example.

Can you send me all the information? 
Sure, no worries. We are very transparent and nitpick too. Okay, our title is on Indigo as an eBook. Just search for Catching Santa in ebooks. As for the print version, that was an executive decision to not sell it in Canada. If you end up working with us your title will be available in Canada through Ingram International and available to consumers to order from:
  • Chapters/Indigo
  • Amazon Canada
  • Canadian general market segments including wholesalers, chain retailers, Internet stores, independent retailers, library suppliers and university college book stores
A book getting shelf-time in a bookstore is not a given, no matter the publisher. The Indigo buyer makes the decision and they base that on industry buzz. This is why a title isn't announced to the trade until we have created a buzz-- win awards, receive stellar reviews and so on. The book would obviously sell in the US and UK too. You are not responsible for selling your book but it helps to market and get the word out. Our preferred library vendor is Follett Library Resources. They sell to Canadian schools and libraries. We would advertise in their Canadian title wave magazine. Again, Santa is not in the Toronto Library system by choice. It will eventually be available after it gets a new cover.

Being that we are in the children's book business most of our marketing is directed at teachers and librarians. They are book evangelists. We were very successful in selling Santa to US schools and have a repeatable marketing process in place. We are positioned and established with Accelerated Reader. They create tests for our books. Children read the book and take the test for points. Unfortunately many US kids will not read a book unless it's an AR book. Hmm, what else? Fairs! We attend the ALA and the Miami Book Fair. We have attended BEA and other fairs but the two previously mentioned are profitable for us.

Just know that if you go with another press, no one will come close to the beauty and quality of our cover -- unless they are one of the big 6. Covers get the book noticed. The story sells it. We spend hours developing covers. We feel our illustrators are the best. Another thing, we are very of the cuff and as I said, very transparent. There are no secrets with us. We will tell you like it is. An authors success is our success. We are very pro author. We are here to build and protect a brand, start author careers and create long lasting relationships.

Anyway, take your time and definitely see what other offers come your way. I'll have to check with Becca but I think the window for the 2013 Fall list closes August 31, 2012. Keep in touch and let us know if and when we are out of the running. Write anytime.