Passing the Gatekeepers

In my previous post, I discussed how a degree in school library science and the writing courses I have taken with the late Dave Farland, have shown me that fantasy fiction – or wonder literature – is a great choice for the middle-grade (MG) reader.

There’s something you need to consider though when writing for the MG reader… 

The Gatekeepers!

Who are they? They are the adults that purchase and hold the key to your book reaching its target audience. They are the agents, editors, publishers, critics, parents, teachers and librarians you have to persuade that your book is good enough, before it reaches the intended MG reader.

Farland calls this the Dual Audience Problem:

“You have to write to impress the MG reader and the adult gatekeepers that decide which books kids will have access to. You have to write to entertain and engage the child, but also beautifully with style, with voice to impress an editor, the critics, the teachers and the parents.”

In addition to this there are certain “criteria” your writing should conform to if you want to appeal to both the gatekeepers and the MG reader:

  • Avoid long-winded sentences and unfamiliar vocabulary – something to challenge the reader is always a plus but writing far above their level will only work against you.
  • Avoid switching viewpoints between multiple MC’s.
  • Flash backs, flash forwards or out of sequence storytelling may confuse the reader and make it harder for them to enjoy the story – keep it simple and clear.
  • Avoid sexuality and profanity – anything at all can be risky.
  • Avoid graphic or even vague allusions to violence – the gatekeepers don’t particularly want kids reading it or the MG character doing it. If you do decide to have this kind of content, it will be considered Upper MG or YA.
  • Keep the horror age-appropriate and remember that a little goes a long way.

In other words, tread carefully and follow the “rules” and your story may just have what it takes to pass the gatekeepers.

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