Meet Nancy Rue!

Today I’d like to introduce a dear friend Nancy Rue. Nancy is the author of more than 100 books that span from tween to YA to adult. Finding out how successful authors tackle books for children can help you grow as well!

6a00e553baf6ba883400e554013b578833-150wi1Q. You have several series that are geared for girls in the 8-12 age range. What draws you to that age group?

What draws me to the 8 to 12 age group is the fact that they are no longer those sweet little baby girlfriends, but they haven’t lost their minds yet and become teenagers. This is the time to lay a foundation for them – a basis for making their own decisions and standing up for themselves and others and Jesus as they get older. They still love to play and be ridiculous (two of my favorite things to do), but they can also understand the importance of their choices in things like relationships. If we wait until they’re teens to do all this stuff, it’s almost too late.

Q. Where did you get your start in writing for kids?

I got started writing for kids probably because I was a high school teacher for 16 years. When I was called to write, they seemed like the natural audience, though as I got more into it, I discovered the above and took on writing for tweens as well

Q. What do you see as some of the key elements that distinguish middle-grade fiction?

The key elements in middle-grade fiction are REAL characters readers can totally relate to emotionally, REAL plots that involve the kinds of problems they themselves are facing, and the opportunity for them to learn some life basics from the story without being preached at. Plus, it has to be fun and written with a certain rich literary quality – no talking down to them

Q. What are the best kinds of protagonists for 8-12 readers?

The best kinds of protagonists – kids at the upper end of the age range who are not too perfect, who are trying to be better and having a hard time with it! They need to be REAL – not how we wish kids were but how they really are.

Q. What are the struggles of this age group that you try to tap into as you create plots?

The struggles of this age group – for girls at least – always involve girl politics; relationships are HUGE for them right now, and the BFF is, like, the prophet Isaiah or something! They’re also concerned about fitting in without having to be something they’re not – and the changes in their bodies also cause them some concern. With those general things in mind, I’ve written about jealousy, competition, boys (also known as absurd little creeps), family issues, conflicts with teachers, peer pressure – all that stuff.

Q. How do you approach dialogue for your tween books?

When it comes to dialogue, I listen a lot to the way kids talk and I’m constantly making notes. Then I get to know my own characters individually by having them write in a journal in their own voice (I know – it sounds crazy). Once I have that voice in my head, it isn’t that hard to write dialogue. Again, I don’t try to make it sound the way we wished kids talked; I go for how they really do talk, only leaving out a lot of the “likes” and “ums” and random thoughts.

Q. What do you hope your readers take-away from your books?

I hope my readers finish reading my books and see some way that they can be closer to God, and thus closer to who they really are, and as a result closer to the people they love. That’s the theme of every one of my books in some way.

Q. What do you see as the biggest difference between writing for teens and writing for the 8-12 set?

The biggest difference between writing for tweens and writing for teens is probably depth. The problems of teens are tougher, potentially more life-changing, and lonelier. They require more research before I try to put them on the page. My soon to be released RL books, for example, deal with such issues as ADHD in adolescent girls, relationship abuse, steroid use among athletes, and racial conflict. I obviously don’t go there with tweens, though I have written about parental abuse (a friend whose dad hits her), a friend suffering from leukemia, a mom dying, a dad who’s blind. But I treat all of those things the way I would treat a tween girl who came to me personally with that problem.

Q. Any common mistakes you see new writers making when trying to write for this age group?

I think a lot of new writers trying to write for the tween age group tend to either write down to the audience, thinking they have to spell everything out and then hit them over the head with it, or writing in a style that’s too adult. If a novice knows the audience, he or she can hit a homerun, but without a deep understanding of who they are and what they care about, it’s practically impossible to write for them.

Q. Would you like to share with us about your latest work?

My latest work. For tweens that is the Lucy series of novels, in which 11 (and later 12) year old Lucy Rooney wrestles with some tough stuff. She lives with her blind father, her mother having been killed in the same explosion that took his sight. They reside in a tiny town in rural New Mexico, where there is no soccer program – and Lucy LOVES soccer (because her mom played). She doesn’t do well in school – her best friend is a boy because she doesn’t relate well to girly-girls, and her aunt visits periodically and tries to turn Lucy into one. She’s one of my favorite characters ever. I have a year-long devotional book coming out this summer for the girls, too. For teens, the first in my four-book series called RL (Real Life) will be out in the spring. It’s exciting!

Q. What are your hopes for your future writing? Anything on your “dream list”?

I always have a dream list! I would love to add to the Lucy series, and have devotional books to go with them. We need to sell a lot more of the current titles before that can happen, though. I want the RL books to be a success, because I would also love to do a devotional program to go along with them which I can’t exactly describe because I don’t want to give away the secret inherent in the series. I also want to do a book on boys for young teens. I just finished the Moms Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World, which will have an accompanying book for dads, and I dream of that being a big enough success to warrant some teaching packages.

Q. Any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring writers who want to write for kids and/or teens?

I would tell aspiring kids’ writers that they’d better absolutely love their audience and know exactly what kind of difference they want to make in their lives, because they aren’t going to make a ton of money or land on the New York Times Bestseller List writing for this audience. They have to do it for the joy of it, and because they’re called and feel committed. It’s hard work, but in my view, it’s the best job out there.

Thanks for being with us Nancy! You can find out more about Nancy and her books at her website.

On Thursday: A Marketing Perspective on Children’s Books from Tommy Nelson

Middle-Grade Novels

Take a trip to your local bookstore and browse the shelves of this category – usually called “independent reader”. Among the books here you’ll find practically every genre represented. There are action novels, fantasy novels, boy books, girl books, classics and contemporary. It is a place where little boys can ride to faraway lands or a twelve year old can deal with their parent’s divorce. It’s where a young boy or girl gets to live vicariously through the story.

Writing for the 8-12 age range goes by many names, “independent reader” being only one. Sometimes you’ll hear it referred to as “juvenile”, “tween” or even just labeled as “9-12”.

That’s why your main character is probably the single most important part of a middle-grade novel. The hero or heroine of the story must be “uniquely familiar”. On one hand, they must be relatable and feel “real”. But there must also be something within that character that inspires the child to want to hang out with them.

In addition, the main character must be the center of the story – it is their experience of the story events that is important. When you work with fantasy or adventure novels, the story world is an imagined one. Kids in this age group are becoming more involved with peer groups in addition to the family structures. They are learning how they operate in their own world so many of their struggles are internal as they adjust to what this new and unique world will require of them.

Word lengths in this category vary but typically fall between 30,000-50,000. When you take that trip to the bookstore (and I highly recommend that you do!) take a look at the back of the novel and read the blurb. Ask yourself:

What is the appeal (or hook) of this book?

What about the story or the character is unique or compelling?

Why would a kid of this age group be interested in this story?

Keep in mind that in this age group, buying decisions are made by both parents and the child. Tweens have the most disposable income than any other age group out there. They read a lot of books, so it’s a great market. But you must be compelling. they can sniff out a fake a mile away. It must have characters that feel real. It must stand out from the crowd. Not an easy task – but one that you can accomplish. Just like with picture books, read a bunch of these types of novels, especially in the genre you’d like to write in. You’ll get a feel for the balance of action and description. You’ll see how they manage scenes and move the story forward. you’ll get a sense of the quicker pacing, yet the depth of the internal struggles that these books can have.

Some common middle-grade mistakes:

1 – Parents (or some other Wise Person) swoop in and solves the problem(s) and/or gives the answer that solves the problem.

Don’t do this! Your characters must make their own decisions and deal with the consequences of those decisions. That doesn’t mean you have to have completely absent parents. They can still be grounded for behavior, they can still be told things or given advice, but there should be conflicting advice. The main character must weight it all and come to his/her own conclusions. An older, wiser person cannot solve the problems for them.

2 – Trying to create a “moral” to the story.

Don’t preach at them. Don’t hammer them over the head with a lesson. Don’t try to fix them. Tell them an honest story, with honest struggles and honest growth.

3 – Not understanding tween-agers.

Often, writers “speak down” to this age group, assuming them to be younger than they are. The average 10 year old out there is way savvier than you were at that age. They know a lot about the world, and they have deep questions. They have struggles that are not easily solved. So allow your characters to wrestle in ways that are true.

Next up: An interview with The Tween Queen herself: Meet Nancy Rue

Meet the Voices–Jessica Bertrand

tnMeet the Voices presents Jessica Bertrand.
Jessica lives in Colorado and teaches at a private Christian school. Teaching is her primary mission field at the moment, her passion is to take her students to new creative heights. She has had two experiences of serving in people outside of the United States. Jessica’s first mission trip was to Canada to help out painting the outside of a 3 – 4 story church in 2006. Her next trip took her farther from home. She helped a fellow missionary friend in Niamey, Niger, Africa. Both experiences were life changing for her. Jessica is glad that God has given her the many gifts that she has and hopes to further His kingdom with them.

What is the biggest writing challenge you’ve encountered this past year – craft, career, writing life, etc?

The biggest problem I have faced this year is figuring out why my story is worth telling rather than just reading someone else’s. I think it has been more of a mental challenge rather than trying to figure out what to write. Coming up with ideas isn’t the hard part. But me thinking about why someone would want to read what I’ve written is the interesting part. Also finding some time to write during the school year.

How did you solve it?

Actually my Mom was a big part in getting that figured out. She and I had a long talk about making a difference in someone’s life and it might be what they needed to hear at that moment in time. I’ve also been able to get in a little bit more writing time during the summer which is really nice.

What is the one thing you learned that you can share with other writers?

God has given each of us a Voice. We all have a purpose to glorify Him to the best of our abilities. If we write to further His kingdom then we will always have the right voice. Someone needs to hear what we have to say so let’s go out and write it!

Tell us about your current WIP.

Izumi never thought she would find herself a young widow but she did. Now she not only has to pick up the pieces of her heart, she also has to stave off her vengeful brother-in-law. But what happened to her husband and would the killer come after her next?

Keko left home after high school never to look back. Or so he thought. Logging across America meant no ties to anyone or any place. That is until he met Christ. Now he has a chance to mend some broken fences with his best friend. Only the day that he’s supposed to meet his friend, Keko ends up in the hospital. His friend is dead and only himself to blame. How could he ever go back now?

Jessica, thank you for being our featured Voice this week and sharing about your writing life. Visit the My Book Therapy forum and chat with Jessica!

Be sure to join us on Monday, December 14 at 8 pm EST/7 pm CST for a My Book Therapy chat with Jessica and our book therapists, Susan and/or Rachel. To access the chat forum:

*Log into My Book Therapy.

*Click on the forum button.

*Sign in with your username and password, if necessary.

*Click on the Chat tab.

*Your name will show up in the box on the right hand side. To comment, type in the box in the bottom under the yellow smiley face.

*In the chat room, we will abide by chat etiquette–type ? for question, type ! for comment, and type GA for go ahead after you’re completed your question or comment.

*If you have any questions, e-mail lisa@mybooktherapy.com

The Picture Book

It seems like everyone I meet wants to write a picture book. Especially moms and teachers. They tend to read these a lot and probably are thinking, “Hey! I could do this!”

Trouble is, everyone thinks that. I think picture books are probably the toughest kind of writing for children. They are short, which means every word must count. The language of picture books is subtle. Not to mention, picture books are extremely expensive to produce. Therefore, they are a bigger investment on the part of the publisher. That means stories that are bought for picture books must stand out from the crowd – they must have “heart, smarts and sparkle”.

What does “heart, smarts and sparkle” mean? Just like with most writing, it’s a bit indefinable and also a bit subjective. Your story must have heart – meaning it must touch the reader in some way as to leave an impression. When they walk away from your story, do people forget about it or does it linger, wooing them back to look at it again or think about the characters? Is it a book that a child would want read to them over and over? Smarts is about your voice and style. Is it well-done? And sparkle – is just like it sounds. Does your story sparkle? Does it have that special something that makes it rise above the hundreds and hundreds of other stories out there?

Let’s pause and get one big myth about picture books out of the way. You do not need to find an illustrator to submit a picture book!! Do not try to convince your cousin or your aunt or your best friend’s niece to illustrate it. If you do, then you’ve just increased your chances of a rejection. Why? Well, if you submit a story and illustrations, then the publisher has to love both. When you submit as a package, it is either bought or rejected as a package. So that means the story has to be excellent and the illustrations have to be excellent. So unless you are a professional illustrator yourself, don’t include them. Leave the illustrations to the art department of the publisher that buys your book. Most publishers have a stable of artists that they like to work with and if they love your story, they will find a great illustrator. Your only concern should be writing a great story.

And unlike any other type of book, picture books are meant to work on a word and visual level. So as you construct the story, you must keep the visual aspect in mind. You don’t need to make notes or suggestions about “what picture should go here”, because the key is in the story itself. Your story, and the words you use, should inspire first the editor to “see” what pictures are possible, and later an artist to draw something that complements and enhances the story.

One of the best things you can do is go to a bookstore or library and sit and read a lot of picture books. Consider it the best education you can get. But don’t read randomly – read really good ones. Read award-winning picture books. Read ones that have been published in the last 6-8 months. Read, read, read!

These lists should give you a good starting point:

The Top 100 http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/1790000379/post/540044254.html

Caldecott Winners: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/caldecottmedal/caldecotthonors/caldecottmedal.cfm

When you are reading, don’t forget to analyze the stories:

What about the story is unique?

At its core, what is the story about?

What unique language devices are used?

Why do you think this story got published?

Up next, middle grade novels. Don’t forget to throw out your questions in the comments.