Ask Daphne! What to do?

April 29th, 2009 • Kate

leafshoesA fantastical shoe1 for Christine, who writes with a doozy:

We have written and published (through a small, indie publisher) a MG fantasy book. When we wrote it, we though it was YA, but now I understand there is a significant difference between the two. Our protagonist is a 12-yr-old boy who is possessed by a 1400-yr-old wizard. They are actually dual protagonists, as there is the story of the kids and the story of the adults. It was meant to be a cross-over (YA/adult), and that’s what we say. Adults have enjoyed it as much as kids.

We’re about to start the query process for what was intended to be the sequel; however, I’ve been advised by a YA literary agent to start the story with the forthcoming sequel as the first book and start from scratch. I’ve also been advised to rewrite it so it’s from only the 12-yr-old’s POV rather than complete omniscient. This agent said she’d be interested if it was YA, but she doesn’t do MG. Our story is about the boy, but it’s also about the wizard that possesses him and the wizard’s wife. It’s a magical adventure tale and a tragic love story.

Is there such a category as a MG crossover? Would I state that in my query rather than straight MG? Should I rework it to be a straight MG w/12-year-old protagonist POV? Should I keep the complete omniscient and market it as a fantasy for adults that kids would also like?

Let’s get the easy questions out of the way, ok? Is there such a thing as MG crossover? Sure! Have you heard of a little series called Harry Potter?

The rest of your questions are harder. I can’t tell you what to do with your book. I can tell you what might work for me, as one agent, but another agent may have a completely different perspective.

For the most part, for me, what I want in middle grade fiction are characters around the age of their readers. Sure, adult characters can be included, but they shouldn’t take the story away from the younger characters. I think of the term “deus ex machina” which as Wikipedia tells us means “literally god from the machine [and] is a plot device in which a person or thing appears out of the blue and solves, usually (seemingly) insolvable, difficulty.” Too often in bad middle grade fiction, the adult characters act as deus ex machinas and take the solution of the problem out of the hands of the kids. I’m of course not saying that yours is a bad novel, but that that’s something to be aware of.

You may find, if you wish to market your book as adult fiction, that the adult SF/F market may be more forgiving of characters with different ages. But this goes to the heart of the debate about YA or MG fiction in the genre right now. Material being marketed for kids is looked down at my writers of “adult” fiction, even though it’s winning awards. Laini Taylor adds her two cents, and notes John Scalzi’s recent post:

Yes, how horrible it is that some of what’s being hailed as the best science fiction and fantasy written today is in a literary category designed to encourage millions of young people to read for the rest of their natural lives. Because God knows the last thing science fiction and fantasy publishing needs right now is whole generation of new and enthusiastic readers who might actually get hooked into the genre until they die. It’s a goddamn tragedy, it is.

And the fact is, young readers are going beyond their bookshelves to seek out great books, no matter where they’re shelved, while most adults won’t do the same.

So you have to ask yourself — which readership do you want? And which book do you want to write? Those are the important questions.

Answer those first, then find a way to make your sequel something that stands alone, wherever it’s shelved. Good luck!


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2 Responses to “Ask Daphne! What to do?”

  1. Sam Says:

    I have to deal with a similar dilemma for my YA fantasy, in that my teen protagonist/narrator grows up (emotionally and physically) during the course of the novel and is an adult by the end.

    I couldn't figure out if I should just pick one or the other and change the story to reflect it.

    I decided that the journey was the important part (probably the most important part), and that teens, and hopefully adults, would go on that journey with her and accept when she grew up. Don't know if it was the right decision, but I made it. Now it's just a matter of finding the right team to get it out there.

    Good luck, Christine!

  2. dust Says:

    The first book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy has two narrators – Nathaniel (a kid) and Bartimaeus (a millennial-old demon). It works. However, Bartie is not a mature adult, demon or otherwise, which may be part of the reason.