Who are you writing for?
Writing for children can be trickier than writing for adults because as children develop so does their reading ability. Parents can also be gatekeepers to children’s books, which means it’s important that topics are age-appropriate while, especially for a teen audience, not patronising.
Below is a rough guide when it comes to considering your audience.
Age categories and word counts
Picture Books (PBs): for early readers. Word count: Between 300-1000.
Chapter Books (CB): 6-9 years old. Word count: less than 10,000
Middle Grade (MG): 9-12 years old (Sometimes categorized as Lower Middle Grade and Upper Middle Grade). Word count: 40,000 words.
Teen Fiction: 12-15 years old. Word count: Less than 70,000 (with the exception of fantasy or sci-fi)
Young Adult (YA): 60,000-80,000 (with the exception of fantasy or sci-fi where it can be up to 100,000 words).
These age categories are for submitting to agents and publishers. They show you know your market and your readership and where your book would sit on a shelf in a bookshop. But books can be read by many different ages (often called cross-over books) and children have different reading ages that may not match up to their actual age.
Like adult novels, children’s fiction can explore a mishmash of genres, and genres can be adapted depending on the age group of your audience. It’s important to know the tropes of your genre – both so you can keep to them, but also break them.
If you want to write a commercial book, it’s important to keep to some conventions of your genre. However, agents and publishers will be looking for an original take on a genre e.g. spies but make them all children.
Horror: What goes bump in the night? Horror isn’t just for older readers, but tread carefully with lower age groups.
Mystery/Adventure: Often there’s a secret to unearth, a problem to be solved, or a journey to embark upon.
Contemporary: Real-life settings, real-life scenarios. A great genre to explore personal and social issues.
Romance: A great genre to explore – and put to the test – different types of relationships, but usually reserved for older age groups.
Fantasy: Magical, supernatural and fantastical elements. Set in a completely different world to ours, or our own world with the fantasy element sitting side-by-side. A great genre for explaining complex or difficult issues in a more understandable or less direct way.
Historical: Based on past events. Often contain big adventures and a fun way for children to learn about history.
Funny: Humour is easy and fun to read but often hard to write – but an increasingly popular genre, particularly for younger readers.
Science Fiction: Set in the near or distant future. Focus on science and technology. Characters can inspire a love of STEM in young readers.
Within these genres, there are so many themes to explore. But the most powerful books are ones that contain universal, human themes such as love, hate, grief, joy, forgiveness, and so on. These are the books that, regardless of genre, will appeal to the broadest readership and are most likely to endure.
TOP TIP: If you’re struggling with getting your head around age categories, genres, topics and audiences, go to your local bookshop and peruse the shelves. Even better, read around your age group and genre. This will give you the best idea of what authors are writing about, what language they use depending on the audience, and what topics are appropriate.
Next Topic: IDEAS
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