Today I’m excited to welcome middle grader author Amanda Zieba as she shares her insights into what to do when the book you love doesn’t seem to belong anywhere.
What do you do when you want to write a book that doesn’t fall neatly into a targeted market category?
Abandon the project for a more marketable, more popular, more salable story? Many would answer YES! But not me.
My most recent book, The Birthday Cache, the first in a middle grade series, is the perfect example of a book that doesn’t quite fit. I was told by countless industry insiders that belong to a specific age group, or fit neatly into the currently well-established book categories. And so, until I could get my square book to fit in the book selling machine round hole… it wasn’t worth publishing.
Make it longer they said. Add more subplots and layers of conflict they said. Up the level of suspense and tension. A middle grade novel shouldn’t, blah, blah, blah. I’m not saying they aren’t right. What I’m saying is that I still think my book has a place in the world of readers… some very specific readers.
Let me explain.
I was told by agents and editors that books for middle schoolers should not be called “chapter books”. But what if, as a reluctant reader, those massive epic fantasy novels make you want to crawl under your covers and cry?!? What if you really just want a Magic Tree House book, because reading it feels like wearing your favorite sweatshirt… because it’s comfortable and familiar. You don’t care that it is old and you’ve worn it, I mean read it, a million times. Couldn’t we maybe, just maybe, convince this reluctant reader to read something age and grade level appropriate if we called it a chapter book? If it looks short and easy like a chapter book, and has a few illustrations like a chapter book, and sort of resembles that comfortable and familiar book they love… maybe they’d be willing to try it.
As a middle school teacher I see these kids… the ones who “hate to read”. These children spend their designated free reading time staring into space, pretending to turn pages, sleeping, making faces at a kid walking past the classroom, drawing, talking to a friend, and doing anything other than reading. I watch them wander the library in search of a book that won’t kill them. A book that won’t kill their motivation, squelch their courage to try, mock their level of intelligence, or crush their individual spirit. These kids are great kids. They excel in so many pursuits other than reading. And they can succeed in reading if we only give them a chance. If we write something that doesn’t require a mental crane to lift or an Olympic level of perseverance to complete, we just might convince them that they can get through an entire book. And if we are lucky, we can convince them to like it too.
That’s why I wrote The Birthday Cache the way I did. It is a story on a high interest topic (geocaching, technology, a mysterious adventure) written at an accessible level (5.3) and of a length that doesn’t scare the pants off them (105 pages). This book is great for reluctant readers. It is an excellent choice for small group intervention/instruction groups (a packet of instruction materials is available!). Teachers could use this book as a lit circle choice book. A birthday present, an Easter basket stuffer, a read aloud on the family vacation, a gateway book to an interest in a brand new hobby (geocaching!). There are so many places this book FITS.
I know I’m biased… it is my book after all. I’m 100% certain there is a place for The Birthday Cache. And that place is in the hands of readers who have been begging for something like it for a long time.
So, if you find yourself writing something that doesn’t quite fit into mainstream book categories, ask yourself who you are hoping will read it. If you can come up with a list of people, or a large group of individuals who would love it, then write it. Write it anyway and then get that just right book into the hands of the people who have been waiting for it… waiting for probably way too long.
From one word nerd to another, happy writing,
Amanda Zieba is a teacher by day, a wife and mother always, and a writer any minute she can squeeze in. She is the author of 8 books for children and young adults, one adult novella and over 100 lifestyle articles for yahoo.com and regional magazines. She also creates and sells educational materials on TeachersPayTeachers.com. You can connect with Amanda via her website: www.amandazieba.com or by joining her free eNewsletter by clicking here: http://eepurl.com/cpXy0n
About the book:
While twelve year old Mason Miles and his parents love their nomadic lifestyle living and working across the nation in their RV, his twin sister Molly is craving a normal life and scheming to put a stop to their endless road trip. For their twelfth birthday the twins open a GPS receiver and fall in love with the sport of geocaching. When they stumble upon a mysterious puzzle cache will their travels become interesting enough to change Molly’s mind? In this first installment of the geocaching series Adventures Await, author Amanda Zieba weaves an exciting middle grade story full of geocaching adventures; geography, technology and national landmark content; and family fun. Join the Miles family for the first of many geocaching adventures to come! “Through their conflicts, adventures, and fun, the close-knit, but realistic family in this fast-paced chapter book sucked me into their world and made me care.” – Jan Fields, author of the Monster Hunter Series
Order the book here