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Middle Grade, Young Adult, Confused Gen Xer

Yesterday was a big day for me. I completed all the edits on my Untitled Steampunk (yes, I know) and considered it ready to shop to agents. It’s been about a year since I last shopped out my Blood of a Godkiller manuscript to agents and I’m ready to get back to actively trying to sell a book. The elation, the pride, the self-satisfaction. I had a solid, worthy manuscript on hand.

For about 10 minutes.

Some little brain worm burrowed itself into my grey matter within moments of giving myself an internalized huzzah. The completed manuscript is 43,504 words. Prior to really getting involved in writing this story, I reread some of the books I read growing up. I needed a little experiential instruction on the YA format, so I read these familiar stories with a different eye. I looked more closely at character development, pacing, and content. I even looked at word counts. I felt confident. So where had this insatiable brainworm come from and why was it siphoning off this newfound confidence with such gusto?

Careful dissection of the nefarious beast revealed two things. First, is this manuscript intended to be YA (Young Adult) or MG (Middle Grade)? Second, does the admittedly sparse word count greatly affect which category this manuscript can be considered for? See, I’m not overly familiar with the MG classification as I had intended this story to fall into YA. Now that I wasn’t so certain, I had to do a little research.

According to Colleen Lindsay at the swivet, my manuscript falls just shy of expectations at the lowest end of YA (45k) and just over the highest end for MG (40k). Okay, that isn’t entirely disconcerting. It is acceptable to have some variation, I’m sure.
Well, then I read at www.fromthemixedupfiles.com that  YA generally starts around 55k words. Even so, they still classify MG as topping out around 40k, so there must be some shady grey area where anything between the two resides.

Naturally word count is hardly the defining factor in classifying a book. The writer at The Mixed-Up Files and Michelle Schusterman at YA Highway take a closer look at content as the dividing factor. Subject matter, naturally tops the list. The overarching theme in my Untitled Steampunk manuscript is self-discovery which, in both cases, seems to best fit into the MG category. However, being an American Steampunk tale, there are issues of ethnicity, class, and politics that are largely linked to the Civil War and Reconstruction. Someone dies. So, unfortunately, I fear that this particular designation is a bit murky as well.
Romance is quite disparate in MG and YA. In MG it would typically involve hand-holding and maybe a first kiss. In YA it can go so far as intercourse and could potentially deal with such subjects as rape and abandonment. Well, I’m not much for romance as a reader or, really, as a writer. Even so, I did include an unspoken adoration between two of the three protagonists. As it is neither central to the theme nor important to the story, it never progresses beyond furtive glances, lingering touches, and the like. So, does this mean it falls squarely within MG?

Finally, and most easily adjusted to suit my needs, is intended readership. While an 8 year-old would not be put off reading about a 13 year-old, it might be less likely that a 13 year-old would read about an 8 year-old protagonist. At present, my protagonists are 11, 11, and 12. Technically, that would place the book into the MG category. If I (or an agent or publisher) felt more keenly that the book should fall into the YA category, I could probably push the characters into the 13 and 14 range, but not much further. I wrote them to be independent and worldly and they are self-sufficient with little interaction with their parents. If I push the 1878 setting to 1880, I may have to change some of the historically accurate names and realign the timeline in reference to events, but I don’t think the characters would be forced to change much. It had always been my intention to give them more responsibility, freedom, and capability than might be expected of children.

So, yeah. I am somewhat deflated in comparison to my brief joy at having completed edits because it seems more work may need to be done. “More work” could include adding another 30-40k words if I decide the manuscript does not easily fit into the YA category.

I think I’ll go ahead and put together a query letter and let the responses I receive determine how much more work I may need to put into it, if any.

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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Recent Reads

I try not to read much when I’m writing because I fear accidental inclusion of someone else’s ideas in my own writing. The last thing I need is to throw myself into editing and find out I’ve incorporated a hobbit or a warrior polar bear into my story line without realizing it.

That being said, while I work on edits I’m less likely to incorporate new components into the manuscript, so I read. I’ve been an avid reader all my life, so I take to these opportunities as if the only sustenance that will keep my withered heart beating is book after book after book.

Much like everyone else that was not currently in the know, I read The Hunger Games trilogy. I haven’t put much effort into reading other reviews, however, because I have plans to see the movie on Wednesday. Since one wrong Google could lead me to a movie review, I feel safer in waiting until I’ve seen it to see how other readers received the books.

For my part, I was initially very put off by the first person, present tense narrative. I get this feeling that someone, somewhere decided this was a good idea and I couldn’t agree less. Even so, I thought the book was very well written, the characters easy to love or hate as required, and the world so easy to envision that I almost suspect our own world tip-toes a fine line with that conjured up version.

The second and third books were good and I didn’t find myself liking the characters any more or less than I had, but the change from personal story to epic struggle was less endearing to me. I love a good epic adventure tale, but the stark shift from one life to all lives in balance created a bit of discord in the series for me.

Afterward, I tore through Shelley Adina’s first two novels in her Magnificent Devices series. Lady of Devices and Her Own Devices are available now and the third, Magnificent Devices, is expected this year. I found these books to be the best sort of thing to satisfy an afternoon with little else to do. They read very quickly.

Unlike the American Steampunk that I’ve been gravitating to more recently, these are unapologetically British. True, the third promises to take place in the Canadas and the States, but most traditional Steampunk fans will be pleased with the class structure, ever-present bustles and corsets, and a power struggle between the Wits (educated class) and Bloods (nobility). If you lean more toward the gritty and dystopian brand of Steampunk, there is an almost cartoonish underworld of crime central to the story. It isn’t exactly believable, but it didn’t diminish what was really just a fun read anyway.

 All in all, I do not count the time spent reading either series as time wasted. I expect that I will not purchase another NOOKbook until I have completed a short story or two to submit somewhere, but I am thankful for the respite they gave me.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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