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Why don't people want middle grade high fantasies?

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By people, of course, I mean agents and editors.  As a teacher I know that my students who read at the beginning and middle middle-grade level are dying for high fantasies that follow traditional form.  They beg to read books like Deltora Quest, Eragon, and even Lord of the Rings but the reading level of those books are pretty high.  So why doesn't it seem like agents and editors want to touch a high fantasy that isn't 40,000+ words and difficult to read?  Thoughts?

Stacy
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#1 - February 21, 2008, 03:58 PM
Stacy Barnett Mozer
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I'm not sure it's that they don't want them... I've heard more than one say that they've become inundated with many that aren't very good, or are too derivative, and that has perhaps turned them off. As with rhyming PBs. The good ones still sell.
#2 - February 21, 2008, 05:19 PM
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I agree with Joni -- I suppose that the short answer is: "Harry Potter" (and all the flood that resulted shortly thereafter) and the long answer is: "too much of a pretty good thing is still too much" UNLESS it stands out and then the writing will still sell a good story.

As a fantasy writer, I both loved the attention Harry Potter brought to the genre and age category, but suddenly felt nervous when everyone started shouting "Stop!" I have to believe it raised the bar for quality and will affect this subject in a good way overall.
#3 - February 21, 2008, 06:27 PM

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High fantasy, like sword-and sorcery, is probably the most overdone fantasy subgenre out there.  There's a ton of it, most of it in the vein of Lord of the Rings (read: cheap knock-offs), and since there's a ton of it, that also means statistically that there's going to be a lot of crap.  So yes, it's important to stand out more than ever thanks to some things like Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and others.  The bar is high, and while the market isn't saturated and there will always, ALWAYS be a place for high fantasy, there is loads of competition, so bring your A game. 

One way I think that can automatically help anybody writing High Fantasy to stand out is to get away from Tolkien.  LotR is a great series, but it's been done and it's time to move on.  High Fantasy doesn't always require elves and dwarves and dark wizards.  I thin kthe reason most HF authors probably get turned down is because so many of them are just cheap Tolkien wannabe clones.
#4 - February 22, 2008, 04:38 PM

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I agree that there is a ton of it.  I completely disagree when it comes to books written that target ages 7 - 9.  Books seem to jump from mass market chapter book high-fantasy (which there isn't even a lot of either) straight up to the upper middle grade, YA level.  What I want to know is why there is nothing in between.  With this flood that you speak of, shouldn't we see high-fantasy at all age groups? 

Stacy
#5 - February 22, 2008, 05:46 PM
Stacy Barnett Mozer
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Isn't Middle Grade more like 8-12, though?

7-9 is younger.  I would just call that "children's"

and there are lots of lovely fantasy books for this age range from Narnia, to Oz to E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, to the Princess and Curdie and Madeleine L'Engle and all sorts of things.  I agree though, that the bar is high and since HP no. 1 -3 3 at least were middle grade, the market must be saturated.  But how exciting to think of the possible gems that will go on to be classics that might be in a slush pile (or laptop) somewhere....
#6 - February 22, 2008, 05:51 PM
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I do want to point out that Harry Potter isn't high fantasy. HF is alternate world (although yes, they do share wizards and dragons). I think the glut of HF is STILL Tolkein fallout. And in some ways there's not that much of a gap between HF fairy tales, which have of course been around much longer.

If it's going to work, it's got to have a very different spin than what's been flooding the market since Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm--or at least since Tolkein.
#7 - February 22, 2008, 10:04 PM

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II completely disagree when it comes to books written that target ages 7 - 9. 

Well, "7" is still listed as a PB age group for many books (4-7). You're almost talking more early reader/chapter book than MG.  Still, practically everything Bruce Coville writes is for this "youngish to middle" middle grade range, and he's got a ton of books I would consider HF, at least loosely (e.g., dragons, magic, unicorns....).

One factor is that the story has to be long enough to be able to develop at least a little of the complexity of HF -- what the magic is, or who the elf/dwarf/unicorn types are, how the magic sword works, or whatever. It could be (I'm just thinking aloud) that there may not be so many really young MG fantasies because there's just not an adequate number of pages/words to really develop a story that doesn't take place in a "real" world (that therefore needs more elucidation and setting).

Also, I heard at some conference or another (forget where) that fantasy readers tend to "read up" age-wise more than contemporary story readers -- so perhaps the fantasy buffs learn early on to start reading stuff aimed more at 10-12, and there's therefore too small a market for the younger set exclusively (because if you can sell the same book to 8-14, instead of 1 book to 8-10 and another to 10-12, it's more economical/profitable).

Just speculating.
#8 - February 22, 2008, 11:24 PM
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Well, "7" is still listed as a PB age group for many books (4-7). You're almost talking more early reader/chapter book than MG.  Still, practically everything Bruce Coville writes is for this "youngish to middle" middle grade range, and he's got a ton of books I would consider HF, at least loosely (e.g., dragons, magic, unicorns....).

Also, I heard at some conference or another (forget where) that fantasy readers tend to "read up" age-wise more than contemporary story readers -- so perhaps the fantasy buffs learn early on to start reading stuff aimed more at 10-12, and there's therefore too small a market for the younger set exclusively (because if you can sell the same book to 8-14, instead of 1 book to 8-10 and another to 10-12, it's more economical/profitable).

Just speculating.

I agree about Bruce Coville.  He is one of the few I can find.  Emily Rodda's Fairy and Rowan series are another.  But I think fantasy readers read up because they have to.  And as a fantasy buff, it breaks my heart when they can't ie. no matter how hard they try their reading skills aren't up for the experience.  Obviously this is from my own personal experience in the classroom and maybe it's not universal.  The thing is that if the book is written well and the story is exciting, it will appeal to older readers but it would be great if publishers would publish more that strugglers who have gone beyond chapters and are reading at the level of books like the school stories of Andrew Clements also had high-fantasies they could find.

I guess I'm just disappointed that so many people have rejected my book because of its page length without even reading it.  I even had one agent say the book, at 24,000 words would have to be 4x as long for her to consider it a real fantasy.  But if she read the book, she would see that I have built an imagined world with dragons and adventure (no other species other than dragon and human) that is just the right length to do what it needs to but at a reading level that isn't as complicated as a Deltora Quest which also has a shorter page length by the way.

Isn't Middle Grade more like 8-12, though?

7-9 is younger.  I would just call that "children's"

and there are lots of lovely fantasy books for this age range from Narnia, to Oz to E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, to the Princess and Curdie and Madeleine L'Engle and all sorts of things.  I agree though, that the bar is high and since HP no. 1 -3 3 at least were middle grade, the market must be saturated.  But how exciting to think of the possible gems that will go on to be classics that might be in a slush pile (or laptop) somewhere....

All the ones you mentioned are a lot harder than you think.

Stacy
http://lowerfairfieldwriters.blogspot.com
#9 - February 23, 2008, 06:33 AM
Stacy Barnett Mozer
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I read those books when I was 8 and 9, though.  Maybe, because like Joni said, kids tend to read up when it comes to fantasy.

But it sounds to me like you should keep shopping around. I think it's funny that they want the book longer, when not so long ago (pre HP) they all used to say that kids couldn't read long books.  ::)

If it turns out you have something unique, then, something atypical, that I would imagine you will be able to get someone to want to rep you. Agents and Editors are often asking for the "new" thing, aren't they?

I wouldn't pay attention to that agent who said it wasn't "real fantasy" becuase it wasn't longer.  Who made that rule up?
And then with your point about Deltora Quest.... don't give up!  Someone will see it your way.
#10 - February 23, 2008, 10:27 AM
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Ditto E.G. I'd actually be suspicious of any rejection that focused solely on length... either b/c the agent may not actually know the market for that kind of thing (either the genre or the age group) so well or b/c it was an easy way to reject without getting into the "real" reason. Because there are ALWAYS exceptions to the typical lengths of things.

I mean, Gary Paulsen's books can be pretty sophisticated, and most of them are like 10 pages long, it seems.  And I write upper MG fantasies, but my agent was still a little concerned about one's 95,000 word length (though we did sell it) -- so for an agent to say a fantasy book "must" be 4 x 24K sounds pretty suspicious to me. (Particularly since one of the subsequent conversations with my editor was her saying basically, "gosh, I don't see what you can cut from this, but it IS awfully long page-count-wise, so if you can find anything to cut, please do.")

Keep submitting!
#11 - February 23, 2008, 10:39 AM
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I want to second Joni. When I first started doing agent research I'd find a lot of agents who said they repped YA (what I write). But then either I couldn't find any actual YA sales (despite them being in the biz for a long time and having sales elsewhere) or they would make public comments that indicated they were completely unfamiliar with common/popular YA books today. And then there are the comments you hear about what is the "right" length that seem way off from the books actually on the shelves that people are buying.

It sounds like you really want to target someone who is very familiar with lower midgrade books and knows the market and audience well. I'd even go so far as to focus on agents who only rep kidlit. Ones who love books you've heard of, maybe even repped some of those books. There are a few children's-only agencies out there. See who's repping books in your age range.

Good luck!
#12 - February 23, 2008, 12:05 PM

ecb

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b/c it was an easy way to reject without getting into the "real" reason.

I agree with this.  It's faster, easier, and feels more gentle to focus on something objective like length, then to go deeply into issues with the manuscript.  Editors and agents have to write a LOT of rejection notes, and I think a lot of them find it more painful than we know... and they are trying to find easy ways to let us down.

Quote
just the right length to do what it needs to but at a reading level that isn't as complicated

...And this may be why you're having trouble finding a market for it.  It sounds pretty specialized--almost a "high/low."  Editors may not feel that the market for lower reading level fantasies is large enough to take on such projects (and I know you're going to argue that it is, but all writers think there's a market for our books.  But what we know certain kids want isn't necessarily what a publisher can sell many thousands of copies of).  You might try focusing on publishers that have a tradition of high/low texts (which may mean moving toward specialized or educational pubs).

ETA:  LRM just posted a link to an SLJ blog entry about marketing chapter books (in Pro Talk), in which the reviewer said this:

Quote
The reply was that young and early reader easy chapter books don't sell as well as picture books and nonfiction. Librarians don't want to spend the $15 to purchase an easy reader so the publishers don't bother promoting them or spending money on marketing that area.

...Which may help explain some of the challenges you're facing with your project.

#13 - February 23, 2008, 12:14 PM
« Last Edit: February 23, 2008, 01:45 PM by ecb »

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Thanks everyone for the words of encouragement.    :horse 

Stacy
#14 - February 23, 2008, 07:20 PM
Stacy Barnett Mozer
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I hope it isn't too impossible. I'm working on one right now, though the protagonist is not a very typical high fantasy type hero. I did run the pitch by my agent first and she liked the sound of it. My daughter and other kids I've talked to seem to really like 'traditional' fantasy and especially dragons. I figure if my daughter likes it, it's a win sale or no.
#15 - September 12, 2013, 06:02 PM
« Last Edit: September 13, 2013, 04:07 AM by W.E. Larson »
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I seem to remember RL LaFevers first and/or second book(s) was high fantasy for younger kids.
#16 - September 13, 2013, 01:07 AM
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Just a note that the original post in this thread is five years old and may not reflect today's publishing world. :)
#17 - September 13, 2013, 04:36 AM
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