I have heard recently from three different editors that they are not looking for, nor accepting, “tween” books…If your protagonist is 13, they advise either making him or her 12, and therefore middle grade, or 15, and therefore young adult.
I’m here to tell you that I think the editors are wrong.
We all know that kids read up. So for a true middle grade child, someone who’s around nine or ten, they want to read about a 12-year-old. And for a young teen, someone who’s 14 or 15, they’ll want to read about someone who’s 16 and up.
I hate to break it to you, but there is such a thing as a 11, 12, and 13-year old tween. And they like to read. And they’d love it if there were books for them.
Believe me, I know more than anyone what the problem is. There isn’t a place to shelve these kinds of books. And libraries and bookstores aren’t going to build a section for them…at least not until a huge blockbuster comes along that forces them to do so.
But in the meantime, half of the books are in the middle grade section and half of them are in young adult. The trend I’ve seen is that normally, the tween boy books are kept in middle grade (Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan, Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, Bartimaeous Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud) while the tween girl books are shelved in young adult (Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter, Frog Princess by E.D. Baker, Once Upon a Time series by various authors.)
The root of this discrepancy, I think, is what I discussed in my last post: The fact that there are plenty of older middle grade books for boys, but a shocking lack of choices in young adult. The reverse is also true. There are not very many books available for older middle grade girls, but an incredible oversaturation of girly young adult books.
I think it’s time to change this. What will it take? A new S.E. Hinton (who is usually credited with creating the young adult genre.) We need an author that will take the tween world by storm.
Now the hard part is just writing it. Here are some pointers for what tweens are looking for:
1) Content: The content must still be just as squeaky clean as middle grade. These parents do not want their kids exposed to the “teen” world just yet. I recommend no swearing (no, not even a little!) and no mention of sex. If it’s a girly book, a few chaste kisses are fine.
2) Subplots: Include them. Normally there is a main plot and one subplot in middle grade, and there can be up to four subplots in teen (though four is really pushing it.) I would have two or three in a tween book. These kids are smart. They can handle it.
3) Character arcs: This is an essential. Most of middle grade has nice, friendly characters that tend to accomplish a life goal rather than change their actual personality. It works, because younger kids need to like the characters right away. In young adult, however, you often have characters that change so drastically that you can barely tell it’s the same voice. This works too, considering that teens change their personalities as often as they change clothes. But tweens? They’re still figuring out who they are, even more than teens. They don’t even know which “clique” they belong to yet. A character that reflects that uncertainty—and finds a way to resolve it—will find the respect of that crowd.
4) Humor: Quite frankly, I would not try to do anything edgy with this group. Someday, somewhere, I’m sure someone will pull it off. But for right now, I would try to steer clear and instead try to make them laugh. Tweens love sarcasm. That’s why the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books are still popular with them, even though that series is on a third grade reading level. I think appealing to their funny bone is a brilliant marketing move.
5) Action: And let me say it again: ACTION. This is not the place to get bogged down with pretty descriptions and detailed theme analyses. You are competing with the internet (which they probably just recently gained access to) and video games (many are now allowed to start buying the games rated “Teen.”) Your story has to be more compelling than either of those.
Now, does this give you an excuse to call your editor and tell her she’s an idiot for making you change than age of your protagonist? NO. Unfortunately, they probably still can’t sell your tween manuscript. But here’s hoping that someday soon someone will figure out a brilliant marketing move that will make Tween a legitimate genre.