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Are Chapter Books a Hard Sell? (I've heard this more than once)

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Hi BB's,

I'm in the querying process and today I get a response e-mail from an agent that bascially says that he's "incredibly selective" when it comes to representing chapter books and that he already has an author who works in that genre and is having trouble selling her projects so ultimately he's not looking to take on more chapter books at this point. He would like to see my YA novels, though.

I've been querying my chapter book, which I think is my strongest work, and have noticed very few takers. Has anyone recently found an agent with their chapter book or did you get them through your YA ms and then sell your chapter book?

Curious.

Thanks
#1 - December 07, 2009, 07:36 AM

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I am interested in hearing people's thoughts on this, as well.  My agent and I recently parted ways because he was having a difficult time selling my chapter book (it had been out on one round of submissions), and he felt that I would be better served with an agent who has a little more insight into the chapter book market.  It is just really hard to pinpoint agents who accept chapter books--most only refer to MG and YA (and sometimes PBs) in their guidelines.

Sorry I do not have anything concrete to add, Anon.  I have heard that it is sometimes easier to hook an agent with an "older" work, and then present a chapter book for consideration.  Good luck deciding what to do! 

 :smile  Becky   
#2 - December 07, 2009, 08:14 AM
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It was my middle grade novel that I queried my agent with -- I was actually working on the chapter book at the time -- but when I signed with her, I knew she was open to other genres.  She ended up selling the chapter book as a series to Scholastic.  That may be part of the issue you're running into right now - I don't think there's much of a market for stand-alone chapter books, from what I've heard.
#3 - December 07, 2009, 03:09 PM
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I'll ditto what the previous poster has said.  I was reading on some agents blog the other day, can't remember which one, sorry, who said basically the same thing.  Most chapter books run in series.  It's easier for the parents buying the books because they know what they're getting, and it's easier on the kids, who are just beginning to read on their own because again, they know what they're getting. 
#4 - December 08, 2009, 09:19 PM

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All of the above concurs with what I've heard. Easy readers are another tough sell; in fact, tougher than picture books, I've heard. It really does seem that you need either a MG or YA novel to become agented, and then maybe the agent can or will sell other things that have special market considerations...or not.

Of course, we may well ask what is not a tough sell. 
#5 - December 09, 2009, 06:56 AM
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Yes, chapter books are difficult for many reaons.  One of the biggest is that it costs more money to create a book with illustrations and text than it does a straight MG or YA.  Also, publishers cannot recoup the cost as easily because they cannot possibly sell a paperback chapter book for picture book prices. 

It's a tough, but worthwhile genre.  It is one that I love and have so far been unsuccessful in selling.  Yet there are good publishers out there willing to take on new and interesting series.

Don't give up.
#6 - December 15, 2009, 12:56 PM

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Yep, I've heard this one, too. I don't think there are very many stand-alone chapter books...mostly series created by publishers or packagers (and if you write one, it's gonna be work-for-hire), as far as I can tell.
#7 - December 18, 2009, 01:04 AM

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One option may be to submit to publishing houses rather than agents.  If you get an interested editor, you may have more luck snagging an agent.  Of course, that comes down to the egg or the  :chickendance
#8 - December 30, 2009, 12:21 PM

Last year I heard an editor at conference challenging people to learn to write chapter books.  Unfortunately, the window has closed that she was offering for unagented subs.  Besides great, age-appropriate writing, the key, she said, was an irresistable main character (Junie B. Jones) or "thinner" characters with an incredible hook (Magic Tree House.)

It might be a good thing to visit conferences where editors often offer windows for conferees to sub unagented.  Just a thought.
#9 - December 30, 2009, 01:47 PM

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As an elementary school librarian, I can tell you it is very difficult to find the chapter books I need to order.  I have a lot of first and second graders who need books on the Magic Tree House and Junie B Jones level, but I can't find them!  Series like Bailey School Kids are too high, and they all WANT to read Goosebumps, but are unable to yet.  I wish there were a lot more of the beginning chapter book series.  (I have 2 copies of every MTH and JBJ book, and those shelves were literally empty when we left for the holiday break!)
#10 - December 30, 2009, 04:20 PM

Series like Bailey School Kids are too high, and they all WANT to read Goosebumps, but are unable to yet. 

Wow! I figured a popular series like Goosebumps would be all over the place.
#11 - December 30, 2009, 04:39 PM
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It's too high a level for most first or second graders to read.  I am supposed to encourage them to get books that challenge them a slight bit but that they can read on their own.  It actually is a mid-third to fourth grade reading level.
#12 - December 30, 2009, 04:42 PM

Oh. Thanks for clarifying. I thought you meant they were unable to read them because they weren't available.
#13 - December 30, 2009, 05:05 PM
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No problem.  I have had two teachers ask me why we have them because these teachers do not see any "value" to them.  (I responded that any book a child will sit down and read for an hour and not want to stop has value.)  We have two entire shelves dedicated to R.L. Stine.  I constantly have to dust that shelf because it is bare wood!  (Fourth graders hand the books to the next person in the class when they bring them back!)
#14 - December 30, 2009, 07:06 PM

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2nd-3rd graders adore them. I wish publishers paid attention.

To my mind, these are the first true books kids read*, not MG.

Isn't everything a hard-sell?


*I write mostly PBs, so this is not posted in self-interest.
#15 - December 31, 2009, 09:15 AM
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Quote
I've heard. It really does seem that you need either a MG or YA novel to become agented, and then maybe the agent can or will sell other things that have special market considerations

This is the advice I've been given by several people, including an agent.
#16 - February 08, 2010, 02:57 AM

As an elementary school librarian, I can tell you it is very difficult to find the chapter books I need to order.  I have a lot of first and second graders who need books on the Magic Tree House and Junie B Jones level, but I can't find them!  Series like Bailey School Kids are too high, and they all WANT to read Goosebumps, but are unable to yet.  I wish there were a lot more of the beginning chapter book series.  (I have 2 copies of every MTH and JBJ book, and those shelves were literally empty when we left for the holiday break!)

You and I both wish the same thing. Publishers are going to have to forgive me but I don't think they are taking full advantage of the market in chapter books. When both of my daughters were growing up you can't imagine what a hard time I had getting these type of books. The children at that stage are beginning to read and they WANT TO, yet publishers don't get out there enough books. For boys there are even less choices. It's very sad that children that want, and are eager, to read can't find good choices. These books are the reason why I started writing. My kids would read too fast and I couldn't find books fast enough. In the end I ended up making stories for them just to satisfy their reading thirst. Sorry for the rant, but this is a subject that really gets to me. This is the stage where good books should be in tons so kids can pick up the reading habit. Instead you have parents fighting book lots on ebay and running from bookstore to bookstore trying to find enough books. Maybe I was the only one with a problem like that, since my kids are voracious readers, and in my country libraries are not good at all. However, I thought it was bizarre that a stage that is supposed to encourage reading had so very little choices.
#17 - February 08, 2010, 06:41 AM

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My six year old is at the early chapter book stage right and she ploughs through about a dozen or so of these books each week (YES there is a market for these books!). Thankfully, our library is very well stocked with 'Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew', 'Magic Treehouse', 'Petsitter's Club', 'Junie B. Jones' and many more.

As far as getting an early chapter book published, it's tough but not impossible. I was able to sell my ecb series on my own (first volume out this spring) but like Kate, I signed with my agent with an upper middle grade book.
#18 - February 08, 2010, 07:37 AM
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You and I both wish the same thing. Publishers are going to have to forgive me but I don't think they are taking full advantage of the market in chapter books. When both of my daughters were growing up you can't imagine what a hard time I had getting these type of books. The children at that stage are beginning to read and they WANT TO, yet publishers don't get out there enough books. For boys there are even less choices. It's very sad that children that want, and are eager, to read can't find good choices. These books are the reason why I started writing. My kids would read too fast and I couldn't find books fast enough. In the end I ended up making stories for them just to satisfy their reading thirst. Sorry for the rant, but this is a subject that really gets to me. This is the stage where good books should be in tons so kids can pick up the reading habit. Instead you have parents fighting book lots on ebay and running from bookstore to bookstore trying to find enough books. Maybe I was the only one with a problem like that, since my kids are voracious readers, and in my country libraries are not good at all. However, I thought it was bizarre that a stage that is supposed to encourage reading had so very little choices.

It is SO sad.  I hear so much talk about trying to get reluctant readers to read, and it seems to me that if they're not reading what's out there now, publishers shouldn't be just dumping out more of what's already out there.  I'm sure series are easier, but the more kids you can capture at this early stage, the more kids who will be buying those MG, YA, and eventually adult books. 

And as for the young kids who already have decided they love reading -- they need so much more, too!  My oldest read all the time, and not surprisingly, all that practice had her reading at a high level.  But it was so hard to match that reading level with material that wasn't too mature for her.  It took a lot of time for me to help her find appropriate books -- I don't regret a bit of that time, I just didn't have as much as I'd like to do the project justice.  So here's a market actively looking for books to buy - where are all the books??

Amy
#19 - February 08, 2010, 08:16 AM

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Exciting topic here, sounds like there is plenty of opportunity if you can sqeak past the gate.  I have been working on a fun little PB that some people have been urging me to try as a chapter book, including an agent.  She recommended that I read Clementine which is such a joy!  So I've gone and done it.  I've written it, now I need some peeps to read it.  Anyone interested?  I'd love to swap. 
#20 - October 10, 2010, 04:31 PM

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Great thread! When I was traveling in Texas last year talking about the MAYBELLE books (the first of which was a Bluebonnet Award nominee), lots of librarians wished out loud for more and better early chapter books so young readers can make a smooth transition to MG novels.  I asked my editor why there weren't more out there (she's a seasoned veteran of the genre). Here's what she said: They tend to be small books with little shelf presence (unless they're part of a series), and it's hard to find manuscripts that are well enough written to offset that disadvantage in the marketplace. Because of the length restrictions of the genre, a writer has to pack a lot of fun into relatively few words without paring away the "voice" thing--a bit of a high wire walk.

There is a market for good chapter book manuscripts. You just need to give them your best stuff as a writer and then tighten, tighten, tighten. Finding an editor who loves them doesn't hurt either!

Maybelle
#21 - October 11, 2010, 10:24 AM

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Thanks for the encouraging perspective! 
#22 - October 12, 2010, 02:06 PM

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Funny, I just e-mailed a similar question to an agent's blog. I have a PB that I'm thinking of rewriting as a chapter book. And I was also curious if agents handle CBs. The comments here kinda confirm what I suspected.
#23 - October 14, 2010, 07:21 AM

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Studio, can you let us know here when the agent answers your question? Thanks!

I would love to have an editor give feedback on why it seems CBs are wanted so much yet are so difficult to find a home for.
#24 - October 14, 2010, 07:40 AM
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Momz--I'd be glad to report back if I get an answer. Mary Kole's blog is chock full of info. Go to www.kidlit.com and read through the archives.
Mary
#25 - October 14, 2010, 08:50 AM

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Fun website Momz.  I love the girl curled up on the couch reading.

Agreed on Kidlit.com; I've read every single post, what an education.

Melissa
#26 - October 14, 2010, 06:02 PM

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kidlitcom is a great blog!
#27 - October 15, 2010, 07:08 AM

Here's a link to an answer Steven Malk gave to my question about chapter books on Casey McCormick's blog... you have to scroll down the page; it's about 5 questions from the end.
http://caseylmccormick.blogspot.com/2010/05/q-with-steven-malk-of-writers-house_28.html

Maybelle, I stumbled across your books a few days ago when I was researching what's out there. Though I'm not a huge bug fan, I've got to say they are charming! : )    :cricket

I've worked with struggling readers for so many years, chapter books have a special place in my heart. It is hard to find an agent that's open to them, though... and, darn it, some agents who really "get" them are closed to queries. Not giving up, though--full speed ahead!   :car    (just wanted to use the little car...)
#28 - October 15, 2010, 06:35 PM

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