Children’s Writers (MG, picture books)
(reprised from an epic comment I made below)
I often simply say “indie MG doesn’t sell” and that’s true. It’s also true that MG tradpub doesn’t sell either – the market is just really small. In fact, I’d say there are far more children’s book writers than there is a market for MG books (see dream-killing graph in the comments). Whereas there generally aren’t enough (good) writers of romance relative to the size of that market, which is huge. Supply and demand – it happens in the book market too.
But just saying that doesn’t illuminate what MG authors face (a tradpub system that locks up reviews, discoverability, and distribution, in spite of the fact that more kids read ebooks these days). And it doesn’t speak to what MG authors go through in the discovery of that information.
First, if you’re determined to publish indie MG, either do it solely For Love (and expect to take a loss or, at best, break even) or find a successful indie and go hard after that market, writing your books inside and out to capture it. It’s actually very HARD to find succefull indie MG writers, but Galen Foy is a good example. Super smart marketing but I bet the books are keen on the MG reader as well as well-crafted – it’s a husband/wife team where one is a teacher, the other a writer.
This is what you should be striving for:
But most people can’t (or don’t want to) write in a way that captures the MG market (I didn’t). So, here’s my observation of the camps I see MG writers fall into:
1 – people who write MG because they think it’s “safe” or perhaps “easy”. They start with children’s books because they want to write and how hard can children’s books be? Truth is that they’re the HARDEST books to write well. YA is harder to hit right than adult. MG is harder than YA. Picture books are basically poetry and hardest of all. So there’s a strong mismatch between perception and reality. Often those writers, once they get their legs, will move into adult genres and do better – because they’re better writers, but also because they’ve overcome what’s held them back.
2 – people who have a natural instinct for MG style or voice but no instinct for the market itself. These writers have great stories or voice, but don’t have a sense of what style children actually enjoy reading. These are people who loved Harry Potter or were inspired by some great YA and wanted to become writers because of that. Sometimes they can develop the story chops to deliver a great MG story with time. Sometimes they stay stuck in trying to write stories for children when they really should be writing something else, even if they have an ear for MG voice or are inspired by Percy Jackson.
3 – people who nail the MG style, voice, story, and market. Either by studious design or natural instinct (teachers often fall into this category – they are immersed in kid culture and “get it” – parents think they do, but we have too small a sample size with just our kids and their friends). These people would be seriously unhappy writing anything but MG. In fact, they probably wouldn’t do it very well, because they carry their MG voice with them wherever they go. These are the people who “never grow up” in the best possible way – they’ve got that child-like innocence and alive-ness trapped and encoded in their DNA. I steer these people toward tradpub where their talent is most likely to reach the audience it’s intended for. There are very rare instances of these people succeeding as indies – see examples above of the ones who do. Most don’t…both because they MUST have killer marketing as well as MG skills, but also because the market is so small that even if you do everything right, it’s hard to make a living at it.
I fall into category 2 (somewhat) – although I quickly learned via feedback from my own children what children actually enjoy reading. Even so, my MG stories were really YA in disguise – or rather young YA – which I eventually figured out (after writing two MG stories) and (mostly) have kept my focus on YA since (or adult). It’s not that I *couldn’t* write MG, but the combination of having to do it *really well* and having my passion actually lie elsewhere (along with the small market of MG) convinced me I would be happier writing YA and adult. I did eventually publish my second MG novel just because I loved it so much, but it’s not something I tried to build a career on. It’s truly a For Love novel.
None of these may describe you. Or you may be some combination of the above. But I’ve met a LOT of children’s writers over the years, and they roughly fall into these camps. Where are they now? Some are still pursuing tradpub and I truly wish they eventually land that contract. Some have indie published MG for a while, building up a catalog, but it’s just really hard to break even on that. Some have moved on to other genres. I’m sharing this to let you know what I’ve seen… maybe you’ll recognize yourself somewhere in here.
I hope this helps with your journey!