YA & Middle Grade Fiction
Stephanie Reed wrote: A fellow CBA children’s author and I heard that, because there are already so many good mainstream children’s novels, there’s not much need for CBA children’s novels. Do you agree? And if so, please tell me how great mainstream novels and great CBA novels for adults have peacefully co-existed for years. My point is, why not provide an excellent selection of CBA novels for children NOW (and believe me, we knock ourselves out to do just that), and thus have a ready-made market of loyal adult readers someday?
My thoughts: You said “novels” so I assume you mean middle-grade and YA fiction (as opposed to illustrated children’s books). I agree the market is difficult for NEW authors to break into. In my opinion, this is true for a number of reasons.
You said you were given the reason, “There are already so many good mainstream children’s novels.” What this means is that there is not a huge distinction between many of the good mainstream kids’ novels and the Christian novels… the mainstream ones are “clean” and deal with all the same topics and issues that a Christian one would, so there is not a big difference between them. CBA novels can’t be full of Christianese (the kids wouldn’t go for it), so that means they’re basically clean and have good values and good messages… like many mainstream novels.
You asked about how “mainstream novels and CBA novels for adults have peacefully co-existed for years.” Well, when you look at the entire gamut of mainstream fiction, you find copious profanity, sexual content, and supernatural themes that many Christians don’t want to read. So CBA became a safe alternative… a place where believers could be entertained as well as edified and encouraged in their Christian walk. That’s why CBA and mainstream have peacefully co-existed. CBA offered a true alternative. What you’re hearing about the kids fiction is that it’s not really an alternative, because it’s not really that different.
Another reason there is “not much need” for new authors in Christian kids’ fiction is that many publishers are coming out with YA fiction written by their authors who are already well-known and successful in adult fiction. Rather than try to break in a new, unknown author, it makes more business sense to use the “names” who are already selling books.
You asked, “why not provide an excellent selection of CBA novels for children NOW?” The publishers are doing that, to a certain extent. But the marketplace is very much driven by the consumers. They need to start buying the currently-available CBA kids fiction in higher numbers to prove there’s really more of a demand. Parents are still buying mainstream fiction for their kids, and no wonder. I have a hard time finding any Christian middle-grade fiction my kids will read. It is often too Pollyanna-ish, not to mention having badly out-of-date cover design and titles. When I do buy it, my kids leave it on the shelf in favor of mainstream books that are far more appealing. So there’s a bit of a circular problem going on; CBA children’s fiction needs to get better so that people will buy more, and people need to buy more so that publishers will produce more. (Keep in mind this is my opinion and my perspective from what I’ve seen. Others may see it differently.)
To go a bit beyond your question… I receive numerous queries from first-time writers who are writing kids fiction. The standard query tells about the author’s desire to “provide a Christian alternative” and to write “clean” fiction for their kids, and to share some kind of Biblical message. What I’ve found is that people’s heart to reach kids with positive messages is very strong, while their talent, i.e. ability to write a good book, is usually pretty weak. And with kids… maybe even more than with adults… you can’t fool them. You can’t serve up a positive message in a pretty little package that doesn’t spark their imagination and expect them to buy it. The story has to be great. The writing has to be great. As in adult fiction, the message is subservient to the story.
For those of you writing fiction for kids and teens… yes, it’s hard to break in. But rather than focus on that aspect, I’d suggest you devote yourself to studying and mastering the craft of writing for kids. It’s just as involved as writing for adults, only in some ways, harder. If you’re writing for kids because your goal is to share positive biblical messages, that’s not enough. You need the deep desire to be a writer.
P.S. If you’re interested in my statement “message is subservient to story,” I’ve expanded on it in the comments.
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.