Whenever a new writer comes to critique group, I ask, “What do you write?”
Can I say, without giving offense, that it is off-putting if they can’t tell me? Too often the answer is “children’s stories” or “books for children.” That’s too broad and it makes me think that you don’t know the answer in contemporary publishing jargon.
Hey, wait! Aren’t writers supposed to think outside of the box?
You are, but if you don’t know what the heck you’re writing, you don’t know what box to avoid. If you are just starting to write for children and teens, here are some categories to know.
Fiction vs nonfiction. It’s basic but I understand some of the confusion. If you are writing a story about growing a garden and framing it as the experience of fictional Adam, what is it? Fiction or nonfiction? Without reading it, my guess would be fact based fiction.
Picture book. A picture book is an illustrated book in which the text and the art equally tell the story. These books give readers the info they need to learn about the world in general. The recent Newbery Last Stop on Market Street is a picture book. Adults read these books to young readers.
Audience: Toddler to early grade school.
Length: Up to 3 manuscript pages.
Beginning or early reader. The purpose behind these books is for new readers to be able to read them independently. That meanst that vocabulary and sentence structure are simple. Illustrations don’t expand on the story but provide contextual clues for the reader. Look at beginning readers and you’ll see lables like “level 1.” Levels vary from publisher to publisher. Elephant and Piggy.
Audience: 1st and 2nd grade.
Length: Up to 20 manuscript pages.
Chapter books. These books may contains some illustrations but they are for confident readers who aren’t intimidated by a lack of pictures. That said, these are still newish readers and the books tend to have a main plot line and no subplots. Often published in series. Magic Tree House.
Audience: 1st to 3rd grade.
Length: 40 – 60 manuscript pages.
Middle grade novels. These readers can handle at least one subplot. Characters are discovering their place in the world so stories are frequently about family, friends, and school. It is rare for these books to include extreme violence, drug use or sex. Some romance, very light, is okay. Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Audience: 3rd to 6th grade.
Length: 100 – 250 manuscript pages.
Young adult novels. Middle schoolers read some of these books and these are the books with less extreme content. Books for high schoolers can include, but don’t have to focus on sex, drugs, etc. These are kids who are challenging the world although they may still be looking for their place in it. Graceling.
Audience: 7th grade and up.
Length: 200 – 350 manuscript pages.