Who I am, and why I write

Welcome! My name is Erin Manning, and I write clean Young Adult fiction for ages 12 and up. I'm an avid reader and I've been...

Monday, September 16, 2019

Major changes ahead

This past Friday I got some wonderful advice about my books, and the most important piece of that advice is this: my books really aren't middle grade fiction. While they share some elements with books that are written for the older end of the MG fiction age range, they are a better fit for the young adult category.

I didn't think I was writing YA fiction because I tend to think of YA as always edgy, dark, and pushing the envelope in terms of sexual and violent content along with some other adult elements. But there are writers today whose books are classified as "clean teen" or "clean YA," and that's where my books belong. I have older protagonists; I write complex, multi-layered plots (not always well, but I do write them); I do not avoid all serious topics or difficult situations. What I do avoid are just three things: actual swear words, explicit sex, and gory or gratuitous violence. These are the same three things most writers of clean YA also avoid adding to their novels; you can see a list of examples below:

Goodreads List of Popular Clean Teen Books

I spent some time looking at some of the middle grade fiction books on sale at a couple of different bookstores this weekend, and the more I looked at them, the more I realized that trying to sell my books as middle grade just wasn't going to work. The majority of the books are written at or below a sixth-grade reading level. Paragraphs are short, and vocabulary is simple. Books are kept quite short too for the most part, with a few notable exceptions.

My books really do fit better with the YA books, and that means I need to do some work to reach that market. I'll be sharing those changes here as I make them, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

On age categories for books

I'm still working on editing my current book series--the good news is I'm finally making progress.

I started wondering the other day: what age range should this series be for?

If you don't already know this, most US publishers consider Middle Grade Fiction (MG for short) to be suitable for kids ages 8 to 12. These books are, generally speaking, a little harder to read than the earliest "chapter books" for younger readers, but not yet as challenging as many books for young adults. But the content of the books is important, too: a book may be written simply enough for a younger reader, but if it contains content that is very edgy, dark, sexual, graphically violent, or disturbing it will be put in the Young Adult (ages 12 and up) category instead.

What's hard about some of this is that the lines often get blurred. There has been a push by many MG publishers to include more and more envelope-pushing content in books aimed at younger readers. At the same time, some writers have begun to use the word "clean" to signify that even in their YA or adult fiction works there will be no explicit sexual content. I think this is necessary because some of the target YA readers, especially those ages 12 to 15, are not really ready for overt sexual content in their books even if they are ready for more complex language and sentence structure, more difficult plots, and more sensitive topics.

As the United States continues to be a nation of great diversity I think this simplistic labeling of books by targeted age range is going to become more and more problematic. There are child readers today who have personally experienced violent traumas including abuse, abandonment, physical and sexual assault, and so on. Too much graphic content in the "older MG/younger YA" books might end up being painful to kids who've had these experiences, if they come across it unawares.

At the same time, there are children being raised in religious homes--Christian, Orthodox Jewish, and some branches of Islam--who do not want certain types of sexual content in books they are reading for fun because of their religious faith and its teachings. If we really promote the idea of sensitivity and respect for other cultures, we ought to think carefully about more specific labeling of some books written for children under age 15.

I don't really know what the answer to this question is, but I have begun to think that the current age range categories are not specific enough to help children and parents choose books. Perhaps adopting something more like the MPAA's categories of G, PG, and R, with similar guidelines as to content that would lead to those ratings, would be helpful. I would support a system of optional ratings for writers and publishers, meant to serve as a guide and to help young people and their parents choose appropriate books.

I would probably rate my current series PG for thematic violence; there is no sexual content and no cursing in any of it. Since that kind of rating system is not yet an option for writers, I am thinking about marketing them specifically as "Older Middle Grade--ages 10 and up."