Frequently Asked Questions

I got an email today that made me realize that I really do get asked a number of questions that would be best served to answer in public, as I get these questions periodically in various permutations.
So, I’m starting an infrequent series today I’ll be labelling in the tags as FAQs. Here we go with #1, with of course identifying information removed.

My novel, the first of a proposed 7-book chapter series, uses children as the lead characters in a detailed fantasy world. It floats between the line of the more adult Wizards of the Coast readers, and the younger Mirrorstone audience. Categorically, it can belong to either, and maybe even both.
With that said, since the protagonists are children (and the wording is at the 7th grade level), would it be more prudent to submit it to Mirrorstone, or to Wizards? Is it possible to submit it to both imprints?
I just wanted to make sure I submitted it to the appropriate imprint. I wrote this initially as a young reader’s book, and the tone and verbiage corresponds to that age. But its detail and rich character devel
opment is making me wonder a bit.

There are a lot of good questions in here that a lot of aspiring authors would be interested in. Editors use very specific definitions for different types of books, and knowing what those definitions are and how to use them will make your query letters stand out.
When someone says to a children’s book editor that they have a chapter book series they’d like to propose, the editor thinks “early reader” for kids who have just learned to read, generally ages 6-8. Think Time Spies or Magic Treehouse or Junie B. Jones or Spiderwick.
So, let’s get some clear definitions of the terms we use, so that everyone will be on the same page. Since I work with fiction, I’m just going to refer to novels, but this applies to nonfiction, anthologies, short stories, and other categories as well.
Chapter book–ages 6-8, a short story written with care taken for vocabulary, generally printed in a larger font and containing several illustrations. Not as dependent on illustrations as a picture book, but still quite a few. Broken up into short chapters to help new readers get used to the format of a regular novel, compared to the more word-sparse picture book.
Middle grade–novels written for ages 8-12. Pretty much anything in the young readers section at the bookstore–Harry Potter (Sorcerer’s Stone, at least), Charlotte’s Web, all those longer storybooks generally are considered middle grade, aimed at kids who are fluent independent readers who like a longer story. Genres abound in this section–mystery, realism, fantasy, science fiction, and many crossovers between classifications.
Young adult, or YA–novels written for teens ages 12-18. Again, pretty much anything in the bookstore in the teen section. You’ll probably notice some crossover between stuff written for the older middle grade crowd and the younger YA crowd–Harry Potter is a great example of how the maturity level of the intended reader increases as the series is published–and some books are shelved in both sections. Again, genres in this category abound–fantasy especially is hot right now. And you’ll also notice that some books in the teen section have once been published for adults. Lord of the Rings, for example, is published in many versions, one of which you’ll find in the teen section. A lot of crossover between the older YA crowd and books published for adults, because teens tend to “read up,” meaning that they read books meant for a slightly older audience. Great examples of YA fantasy include Holly Black’s Tithe, Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty, most books by Tamora Pierce, the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix, Shannon Hale’s Goose Girl, and Charles de Lint’s The Blue Girl. There are so many more out there, too. And Hallowmere, the first volume of which, In the Serpent’s Coils by Tiffany Trent, will debut next fall, will be the first YA series to be published by Mirrorstone.
If you’ve written a story you think will appeal to teens, by all means, it’s something to propose to Mirrorstone. And don’t shy away from rich characterization and detail! The best YA writers use both (read Robin McKinley!)–plot is important, but should grow from great characters and their motivations. Generally, plots for younger readers (and here I mean anything under 18) tend to be more linear than plots in books for adults, but even so, that’s just a generalization. Twists and turns are welcome, and we actively seek characters we want to care about.
The best way to judge whether it would appeal to Mirrorstone as opposed to Wizards of the Coast, which is our imprint for adults, is to go into a bookstore’s teen section and see what’s on the shelf. If your book would fit in better in the teen section than the fantasy section of the bookstore, then you know you’re targeting Mirrorstone. If you’d rather see it in the fantasy section for adults, then the WotC imprint is
probably a better fit.
That said, you have to be aware that the WotC imprint is only open for submissions from Sept. to Dec. every year, and is looking for very specific kinds of books. Follow the guidelines with exactness, and don’t submit anything unless the website says that they’re open for submissions. Do not submit to both imprints at once. It’s much less confusing that way.
Now, if you’re still not sure whether your book should be for teens or adults, the next thing to do is to get together with a critique group or other group of people familiar with children’s literature, YA specifically. Contact your local chapter of SCBWI to find a critique group, or take a class in children’s literature, or go to a writing conference. If you want to write for a market, you need to be informed within the market, so however you learn, do your research before pitching your manuscript.
If you don’t know where your manuscript fits, it’ll be that much harder for me to know if it’s right for us. The manuscripts that stand out, in addition to the number one criteria of being well-crafted, are written by authors who know the children’s book market and how it differs from the adult market.
Good luck!