Conference Lessons: Age Categories

readingIt’s pretty easy to tell what your age category is.  So imagine my embarrassment when, at this year’s AWG Writers Conference, I was mid-pitch and the lady stopped me to ask, “Wait- what did you say your age category is?”

“Young Adult.”

“But… how old is your main character?”

“Twenty-two.”

Her brow furrowed in concern.  “Hm.”

Twenty-two-year-olds aren’t young adults?  Apparently not!  My pitch quickly turned into a brief run-down of the upper age categories in the hunt for mine.  Then the pitch continued, and she was very gracious and asked for a partial, even though I’m clearly an idiot.

So to spare you similar mortification, let’s talk age categories!  This is a really important aspect of your book and your pitch.  In fact, pitches often start with this information right up front.  (I’m querying a MG urban fantasy about… Ochre Skies is a YA historical romance about… etc. You get the idea.)   So let’s take a look at some of the common features in each of the main age categories.

Target Audience Age Main Character Age Typical Content Word Count (varies by genre)
Board Books 0-3 Varies Simple, familiar kinds of stories of everyday life, or concept books (colors, numbers, vocabulary, etc). 0-300
Picture Books 3-8 Varies Revolving around a single character that embodies a child’s viewpoint. Can be mirrors of child’s world, or windows into how others live. 0-1000
Early Reader 5-8 6-10 Simple sentences and words. Story mainly told through action and dialog, with setting left mostly to pictures. 200-2000
Chapter Books 6-10 9-12 More complex stories and structures, and typically run in a series.  Pictures are not relied on to tell any part of the story. 10k-12k
Middle Grade 8-12 10-13 Focus on friends, family, and immediate world. Little introspection and not super dark.  Little to no pictures. 20k-55k
Young Adult 12 and up 14-18 Focus on finding place in world beyond family and friends. Profanity, violence and sexuality acceptable for older target audience. 55k-75k
Adult 18 and up 25+ Varies by genre. Profanity, violence, and sexuality acceptable. 75k-110k

As you can see from these age divisions, children tend to “read up” by about two or three years; a twelve year old tends to read about middle teens, a seven-year-old would likely read a book with a plucky pubescent protagonist, etc.  Another defining feature is the content- is there swearing? sex? violence?  Any of these features can bump a book up in category.

You may notice that I didn’t put New Adult on the chart.  This is because we were told at the conference in no uncertain terms multiple times by literary agents that this is no longer a thing, that it was a blip on the screen that quickly turned into subcategory smutty romance, and we can move on now.  Which is a little disappointing for me, because I feel like, age- and point-of-life-wise, that NA would have been perfect for my books.  (I ranted about this before years ago in Writing an Utterly Unsexy New Adult.)

As far as overarching adult themes go, there’s very little written about it, at least that I could find.  (It’s actually really hard to find anything about the adult age category  right now because it’s so drowned in all the bazillion articles about young adult or even new adult. *whines*)  But it seems to largely come down to the genre.  Each genre will have its own specific themes and goals that are expected within that classification.  If I handed you a mystery, you could probably guess what it’s about.  Likewise for a rom-com or a thriller or a western.  Speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, alt history, etc) can vary quite a bit thematically, though.  (Seriously, though trying to research this age category was like expecting to see a forest and instead finding yourself on the lip of the Grand Canyon.  This might merit a more specific tons-o’-research blog post later.)  So, while other age categories seem to have broad themes found throughout genres, adult literature seems to be more of a mixed bag.  (For reals- I’m gonna research this more, this is driving me crazy.)

There are, of course, exceptions to the generalities presented in my pretty, pretty chart.  For example, Neil Gaiman’s fabulous The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which has a seven-year-old boy as the main character, but is definitely not a children’s book.  If you think you might be one of these exceptions, remember that content and target audience usually trump character ages, and then check, and double check, and ask around for second (and third and fourth) opinions before you start flaunting your exceptionality.

So!  I’m sure you all know exactly what age category you’re writing in now so you can present a pitch that doesn’t make someone interrupt you to tell you gently that you’re an ignoramus.  In case you’re not totally sure (because this is a super basic chart about broad generalities), there are a few links at the bottom of this post with more details.  Good luck, and happy writing!

More resources:

Categories by audience age http://www.dummies.com/education/language-arts/getting-published/age-levels-for-childrens-books/

Categories by ages, pages, and content http://www.right-writing.com/genres.html

Standard wordcounts by genre and age category http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/word-count-for-novels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post

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Promotion Commotion

VendorIn case you missed it (although I’m not sure you how you possibly could have, since I’ve been screaming it at the top of my lungs for a week and a half), I am currently running a crowdfunding campaign to cover printing and shipping costs on Advice for Beginners, a book that came about when I started asking children what advice they would give newborns about living a good life. So you can understand that promoting this campaign has been on my mind lately.

Having never run a crowdfunding campaign, or even tried to sell anything more interesting than peach pies with rugby ball crusts and “bruise” jam (‘Cause black- and blue-berries. Get it? Ha!), I wasn’t sure how to go about this. My presence on Twitter was fairly steady, but my Facebook page has been known to go neglected. Suddenly bombarding both with desperate, hourly pleas to throw money at me didn’t seem particularly classy. Fortunately for me, I surround myself with wise friends. After much brain pickin’s, I reached the following conclusions about that all important question:

How much is too much?

The general consensus seemed to be that two, maybe three, a day is the sweet spot. Once a day is fine, but won’t be seen by many. More than that just gets annoying.

Bookmark

This is a bookmark I made to hand to random people everywhere I go. So I can hassle folks in real life, too!

But between those few promo tweets (or posts, or whatever, depending on your venue of choice), be sure to reemphasize that you’re a living breathing person who isn’t there just to shove your product at anybody with a nickel. In a world where people are increasingly skilled at ignoring advertisements, interaction keeps you on people’s minds in a positive way. (You know, assuming positive interactions. Now may not be the time to go pick a fight with the rival team.)

Another thing that will make you less likely to be written off as annoying and tacky is perceived usefulness. Usefulness can be straight up utility, whether for the consumer or for the good cause you’re trying to support, but it can also be entertainment. Figure out exactly what it is that makes your product special- it will change lives, it will make you a better cook, it will keep your dog safe in a car wreck, you will laugh until you pee your pants- and center your pitch around that. If you can’t come up with what makes your product special, or don’t have it front and center in your pitch, then don’t expect anybody to bite.

Ideally, your promotions will be so wonderful, so interesting, so genius, that you can get others to spread them around for you. Retweets, mentions, shares, etc, are gold, spreading your reach to new audiences. You trumping your own horn is alright in small doses. Getting others to toot it for you is worlds better.

A few other things to consider:

Vary your pitch. Sending out the same ad, over and over and over, isn’t going to catch anyone’s attention. Sending out slightly different ads are more likely to pique the interest of a broader audience. Another thing to vary? Timing. Try to spread your promos over multiple time zones. Even though you live in Guatemala, there may be someone in Australia just dying for what you’re trying to sell.

Go easy on the hashtags. Nothing will make your tweets look more like irritating spam than a solid block of blue. Hashtags can be useful tools for specific searches, but nobody I talked to used them regularly, and then only when they knew exactly what they were searching for. Although one or two thoughtful and accurate hashtags can broaden the audience of the promo, an excess of hashtags tends to do more harm than good. (Same goes for all caps. Less is more.)

Be clear. This should go without saying, but if it isn’t crystal clear what the link leads to, people aren’t going to click on it. Make sure that it is perfectly obvious what you are promoting and where the link will take people, and for pity’s sake, no bait and switch.

Use images. 120 characters only gives you so much room to play. Add a link and you come up even shorter. But a picture says a thousand words. Even on platforms that don’t limit your posts, try attaching pictures, images of text excerpts, videos- anything that gets your message across in an engaging, easily digestible way.

Follow these tips and, at the end of your promotional campaign, you just might have a few friends left! Haha, but do remember that I’m no expert. If you can think of any tips that I’ve left off the list, please let us know in the comments below. Sharing is caring! And happy writing!

Writer’s Conscience (and an Announcement!)

Conscience
Sorry we’re up a bit late today. (And what a day! Hardly nine in the morning and I’ve been super busy- no spoilers for now, but more on that later.)

I have a pair of quick announcements for you!

Since Pitch Party was so popular, I thought it might be fun to try a similar fête from a different angle: Bio Bash! Although arguably less important than a pitch, your author bio can nevertheless take a query letter from interesting to I’ve-gotta-get-this-person-on-the-phone lickety split! But for me at least, bios are probably harder to writer than the pitch- probably because I can’t just make things up and bragging feels so… blech. So get your friends to help you brag effectively! Like the original Pitch Party, Bio Bash will have a short version and a long. Short versions take place on twitter (Date and time TBA shortly), and long versions will be posted here on the blog by February 16th. All participants will help critique one another’s bios, with happy happy postcards sent out for the best short bio, best long bio, and most helpful critiques. Come join the fun and spiff up your query letter!

Any fellow writing bloggers, this one’s for you! I’m putting together a collaboration/idea-generator/get-to-know-each-other’s-blogs/get-more-people-to-your-own-blog thing that can be found here. If you’re interested in participating, dust off the archives and find your most popular post (or posts- the more the merrier!) to share.

Party like a Pitchstar

Some time ago on this blog, I hosted what we lovingly dubbed the First Annual Pitch Party. ‘Annual’ turned out to be a bit of a lie, since we’ve had like four since then and it’s been less than a year. I guess we’re just impatient.

The most recent Pitch Party happened last week, hosted over at The Write Hobby under the careful hostessing of the ever-lovely Melanie Francisco (@blacklily_f). (Seriously, you should go check it out to read some awesome pitches and critiques.) Like its previous incarnations, participants were allotted a hundred words or less to pitch their manuscript, and then the whole pack descended like wolves to tear each other’s tender pitches to shreds. The best pitch critiques I have ever received always come from these advisory free-for-alls.

In the midst of all these glorious Pitch Parties, I find certain elements usually worm their way into the pitches. Those that don’t have all these elements don’t usually win. (Spoiler alert: I never win. *sad trombone*) What are these elements, you ask? Let me tell you.

Protagonist Who’s eyes are we seeing through? Who are we rooting for? Who are we piggy-backing on this wild adventure?

Situation What’s going on with the protagonist at the beginning of the story? What’s his/her cozy little situation that we’re about to blow up? (Not that he/she should necessarily be happy in this situation- just that it is. We’ll be sure to make it better by the end of the story, after dragging the protagonist through all the horrible garbage in between.)

Disaster What changes the initial situation? What awful thing forces our hero to leave the cozy situation and ply the deeper waters?

Motivation What is the hero’s objective? What is he/she willing to take up arms for?

Antagonist Who (or what) stands in the way of the hero achieving his/her goals? Who is going to make life miserable?

Conflict What happens as the hero opposes the antagonist in pursuit of his/her goals?

That may seem like a pretty long list for a pretty short pitch, but all of these elements are vital to a full-bodied pitch, and really don’t take up all that much space. Here’s my hundred word pitch as an example:

Dying is a terrible way to start an adventure. Not that Timmy (protagonist) had much choice. One moment, he was enjoying a quiet life of avoiding responsibility, and the next, he’d been assigned a Haunting- whatever that meant (situation). But Timmy’s plan to ignore the assignment derails when he discovers a disease of undying (disaster), with his duplicitous family at its core (antagonist). Harassed by a wise-cracking opportunist, an angelic caseworker, Death himself, and, worst of all, his conscience, Timmy takes action for the first time in his unlife. But saving the world (motivation) is tricky business, especially when victory could cost his very existence (conflict).

See? Not so bad, eh? Okay, maybe the pitch is, but cramming all that stuff in there wasn’t so difficult. I bet you could do an even better job. All these elements, taken together with a solid hook and some snazzy linguistic wizardry, just might help you stitch together a handsome little pitch. And that pitch just might snag the eye of an agent/editor/reader.

UPDATE: Oh my goodness, I actually won the thing this time around! Woo-hoo! Now if I could just snag some internet good enough to allow me to post my comments on the other pitches, we’d really be onto something…

A Year in Review

Back in February 2013, and at the gentle urging of my much beloved NaNoWriMo, I purchased my very own copy of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published at just over ten dollars. With it came the right to a twenty minute session with the authors to discuss my pitch. I mark that moment as the first upping of my game.

Another such moment came when I signed up for Twitter, which I had been resisting for years, mostly for pride’s sake, and began connecting with a larger writing community. Almost immediately, I tumbled headlong into the loving arms of what would become my core cadre. These folks, most of whose names have appeared on this blog multiple times, began wheedling, cajoling, teasing, and threatening me into taking the next step. And I owe them endless thanks.

I finished a final draft (for reals this time) of my book, finally embracing the idea that eventually, a baby must grow up and go out in the world to seek its fortune. I set aside the red pen that had been semi-permanently affixed to my right hand and started writing the second book. Meanwhile, I secured and regaled a group of fantastic beta readers to tell me everything that was wrong with my book. Then I wrote a novella. And finished another novel. And another one.

But my focus didn’t stay fixed on just writing novels. I started a writing blog. (And here you are. Hello!) I filled it with all my wishes, tips, and crazy adventures in the literary world. Hopefully, readers were able to find something of value on here (and I’m always open to questions and suggestions). I wrote bunches of short stories and, full of terrified misgivings, even sold a few. I began entering writing competitions. I even went to a writing convention.

Then I queried agents. (Gasp.)

It’s been a pretty productive year, I think, as far as productivity goes for the struggling wanna-be author without a dollar to her name. I didn’t make much money or sell any books, but I covered a lot of ground in networking, writing, and learning about the publishing game. Maybe some day I’ll make enough money at this to buy a cheeseburger. And I’ll definitely consider that a win.

As far as the upcoming year goes, my writing plans are few and simple. I want to complete at least two more books. And I plan to keep querying agents until my book finds its one true love. That is all. But really, that involves a lot, probably everything I did this year and more. And I’m very excited to continue this amazing literary odyssey I’ve set out on. Who knows where I could end up?

So how about you? What are your plans for this new year in writing? Lemme know in the comments below! Happy New Year and welcome back!

PS- Back in December, I declared January Beta Appreciation Month. Go hug a beta reader. It’s good for you.

Pitch Party Overview

For anyone who missed all the excitement this last week, a few friends and I got together and had our (First Annual?) Pitch Party! It was fantastic. We got lots of helpful feedback and had a lot of fun. And since it was so much fun, I’m doing an overview so that other people can relive the awesomeness. Lucky you!

As stated in the previous post, participants prepared two pitches. The shorter pitch could be no longer than 140 characters. The longer could be no more than 100 words. Shorter pitches were posted on Twitter, while longer pitches were posted in the comments here. But for archiving purposes, it’s been requested that I post the shorter pitches as well. Here they are, in no particular order!

PitchPartyShorts

So after the shuffle of posting both on Twitter and on this blog, we got down to brass tacks and starting the critiquing portion of the Pitch Party. I moderated and we went through each of the eight pitches and said what we particularly liked or disliked, ways they could be improved, things that were confusing, etc. All in all, I think it was pretty helpful. 140 characters isn’t a whole lot of space, but I think folks did pretty well cramming in as much information as possible.

Just for our eight short pitches, we were at it for at least an hour and a half, if I’m remembering right, so we decided to pick apart the longer format ones on our own time (since some of us were nursing sick children and on other continents and other such lame excuses). As our closing, we voted on our favorite pitch and the winner was Madison (@_vajk), who nudged out Cel Writing (@CeluthWriting) by one vote. For the longer format, Liz (@LizOnstead) snagged the prize for her elegantly crafted pitch, while Tia (@tiakall) posted the most comments by a long shot, and was also, by the way, the only participant who commented on every single pitch. Which is awesome.

As stated, each of our lovely winners will be awarded with a exceedingly nifty and finely crafted postcard which I think will get through customs.

I think I speak for all (most? some?) of us when I say this really was a blast and very helpful, and I plan to polish up the pitch a bit more and give it another go. And by the way, if any of you lovely readers have any critiques to add, PLEASE, we would love to hear them! I know I speak for all of us on that one. You can post any thoughts to the comments below about the short pitches above, or go through the longer pitches in the comments of the previous post.

Pitch Party Alert!

‘What’s this?’ you say. ‘A non-Monday update? THE MADNESS.’ But this is so important that I felt it necessary to spit in the face of tradition and put something up. (There will still be a regularly scheduled update on Monday.)

Okay, so I’m sure you all know what a pitch is. It’s your little blah blah about your book that you use to try and hook a person’s interest in your story. You need to have one if you plan on querying an agent or publisher so that they have some idea of what they’re even looking at, and it’s pretty much the blurb on a book’s back cover that you look at when you’re deciding whether or not to shell out your hard earned cash for this book. It’s what you use to convince readers that they want to read your story. So pitches are pretty important.

Unfortunately, they’re also difficult to write. (You want me to compress my 500,000 word opus into a paragraph?) So, we’re having a pitch party over on Twitter for all we of the writerly ilk to practice. It starts Friday Aug 16th at 10 pm EST and participants should have two pitches prepped and polished.

For the first round, participants use their short pitches of 140 characters or less (small enough to fit in a tweet). I know, I know, it sounds painful. SO PAINFUL.

Then everyone votes for their favorites and we settle in on the five best (unless there are five of us. Then we settle on two). The finalists then pitch their longer versions of 100 words or less. Winner gets COOL POINTS! Possible high fives as well. Maybe even a postcard. You won’t know unless you come! Use the #PitchParty hashtag so we can all keep track of each other and let the party begin! 😀

UPDATE: Okay, this party is spreading. Looks like we’re doing the short pitches over on Twitter, but don’t despair if you’re not on Twitter, because the longer format pitches will be posted in the comments of this post. Round One- twitter. Round Two- here. Everyone is welcome to pitch and to vote for a winner. Tips and suggestions are part of the party, so if you have any, please speak up!

Also, there will be postcard prizes! One for the best short pitch, one for the best long pitch, and one for the most helpful commenter. This is going to be great!