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Commercial??

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1. How would you define "commercial" for this age group?


2. What are some examples of "commercial" books for this age group?



3. What are some examples of literary books with a "commercial" edge for this age group?


4. Who else here writes literary middle grade? Are you finding this a difficult market?  Are you riding it out? Trying to be more commercial? Taking to getting up in the middle of the night to eat strawberry ice cream? What?





Thank you.    
#1 - July 31, 2010, 01:33 AM
« Last Edit: July 31, 2010, 01:41 AM by lillian »
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Okay, I found this thread.
http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php?topic=41894.0

Yes, I did search last night ... but the terms "high concept" or "hook" did not come to mind .. I was just searching under commercial.

But if you have anything to add here, that would be cool.

So there is a realm between literary and commercial, then? It's not an either/or?
#2 - July 31, 2010, 06:40 AM
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1. Commercial? A book where Stuff Happens (as opposed to maybe a more slice of life approach).

2. I'd say most fantasies (esp. series) are commercial, although there are certainly contemporary books that are, too.  I don't think commercial vs. literary is a quality spectrum; you can have well written books in both camps, and plenty all along the middle. Some commercial MG titles I've read recently (given that I'm not really a MG reader) that my kids seemed to like:

The True Meaning of Smekday, Adam Rex
the Pals in Peril series by MT Anderson (Whales on Stilts, The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, and Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware)
the Alcatraz series (Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians) by Brandon Sanderson
Savvy, Ingrid Law
the Lemony Snicket books (the intrusive narrator didn't do it for me, but many kids like these)
The Star of Kazan, Eva Ibbotson
Schooled, Gordon Korman (the MC is a little older, but it definitely has a MG tone)
Leepike Ridge, ND Wilson
Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, RJ Anderson (marketed as MG in the US, but it's more tween/lower YA to me)
Ellie McDoodle, Have Pen, Will Travel, Ruth McNally Barshaw
The Magic Thief, Sarah Prineas
The Doom Machine, Mark Teague
Angie Sage's Septimus Heap books
Nathaniel Fludd:Beastologist, RL Lafevers
The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan
Brandon Mull's Fablehaven series (I haven't read them but my MG kids love them)
Princess for Hire, Lindsey Leavitt (tween)
And a few more series I haven't read parts of all of that my kids like: 39 Clues, Pseudonymous Bosch, Artemis Fowl, etc.

Yes, they're mostly fantasy. My boys like SF, too. The girls like princess books. I think aside from genre, the link between all of these is a slightly wacky premise and kids who get a little power and the fate of something important depends on them. (Which is so often not the case in real life...) My kids aren't terribly into straight mysteries, and I think in that they sort of mirror the general population. Sure, there is still a market for mysteries, but there are more fantasy books out right now that carry that element of MG kid saves the day that they're looking for. With humor. Humor seems to be an important feature my kids look for.

3. As far as literary with a commercial edge, I'd suggest these:

Flipped, Wendelin van Draanen
Al Capone Does My Shirts, Gennifer Choldenko
Lisa Yee's books. All of them. They are a bit more slice of life, but the humor carries them into commercial territory.
Wendy Maas's stuff. Again, the stakes are not huge, but there's good storytelling that makes you want to find out what happens next.
Likewise, the Casson family books by Hilary McKay
The Storm in the Barn, Matt Phelan. It's about the Dust Bowl, but cast as a boy-against-monster nature book.
Mudville, Kurtis Scaletta
The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall. Okay, I lie. I think this is totally literary. But since it's kind of retro-literary (like Little Women, only in Modern Speak), that's its hook.

Um, can't help you with #4, but I can say that one agent/editor's not-commercial-enough book is another's sweet-spot-in-the-market book. An agent who falls in love with a book makes it commercial. One who doesn't connect with it will never have the drive to make it so. For every bestselling commercial book, someone else out there said, nah, it'll never sell. And it wouldn't have if they'd repped it. So, everything is definitely relative!!


#3 - July 31, 2010, 07:51 AM

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Rose, that's an awesome list ... thank you.

#4 - July 31, 2010, 08:05 AM
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Look at FSG's list. They pride themselves on "only" producing literary work, but anything that has been much of a big seller is by definition (well, my definition, anyway) commercial, so titles on it you recognize would probably be considered both.
#5 - July 31, 2010, 08:15 AM
The Farwalker Trilogy
The Humming of Numbers
Reality Leak

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I write literary middle grade. As far as a difficult market, what's not? I'm getting really weary of that phrase. And literaries, or those with a commercial edge, are the ones that win the awards, so they won't really be going away. (For my money, SAVVY isn't totally commercial.)

So I guess it's pretty significant that I've read and liked more of the books and authors on olmue's #3 list than her #2. :) That said, I don't care for a literary in which "nothing happens." I think more happens in The Penderwicks, for example (I LOVE LOVE LOVE The Penderwicks!), than in the Casson family books, which are too slow for me.

To me, a literary book fails when I'm going, "What's this all about? So what?" Voice only carries me so far.

To answer your #4, I interrupted work on a historical tween novel that I'm still madly in love with to work on a more commercial idea that just came into my mind one day. It's still pretty literary, but definitely higher concept.

Now, here's where I threaten to  :hijacked. You had an agent decline to rep you because she didn't like BOOK TWO and it's only IN PROGRESS?  :gaah What -- do we have to have an entire lineup of ready-to-go novels now before we seek an agent, and they all have to be just the right choices for debut, #2, etc.? I'm sorry this happened, Lillian. Ouch! I'm already thinking about which of my other two WIPs I should go to after I finish this one (probably not the historical, since my present WIP isn't), but it sounds like we hardly dare "guess" wrong... Maybe I'm just cranky because there's been a gap in my career, and in the 90s my then-agent took me on based on ONE ms. and my track record. Well, end of whine. :)
#6 - July 31, 2010, 08:52 AM
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Reader, reader, reader...
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Rose's list is wonderful :)  I don't have much to add to it, since I don't read MG much, but I've had similar challenges writing for YA (even though there are many literary YA books) -- I think those of us who have a literary style but more of a commercial plot bent (um, that might just be me) aren't easy to peg by agents/editors.  At least, that's the impression I've gotten from both agents' and editors' comments in the past.
#7 - July 31, 2010, 09:03 AM
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 :redflower :hug :redflower :hug
#8 - July 31, 2010, 09:09 AM
Adventures of Jenna V. Series
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Thank you muchly, Marcia. I love the smilies. 


#9 - July 31, 2010, 09:14 AM
« Last Edit: July 31, 2010, 09:18 AM by lillian »
Making metaphors out of molehills for over thirty years.

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Rose's list is wonderful :)  I don't have much to add to it, since I don't read MG much, but I've had similar challenges writing for YA (even though there are many literary YA books) -- I think those of us who have a literary style but more of a commercial plot bent (um, that might just be me) aren't easy to peg by agents/editors.  At least, that's the impression I've gotten from both agents' and editors' comments in the past.

Robin, we're writing the same books!
#10 - July 31, 2010, 09:25 AM

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Personally I think there's much less of a divide between commercial and literary in kids' books. In adult it seems that they're often either commercial (Stuff Happens, but the writing quality gets shoved aside) or literary (Nothing Happens Whatsoever, but the prose is nice). I think in general, kidlit just has a higher literary standard across the board, and it's perfectly easy to have novels that are both literary and commercial.
#11 - July 31, 2010, 09:48 AM

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Is there then a discernible difference between high concept and commercial?
#12 - July 31, 2010, 09:50 AM
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Well I asked my sons what they thought of Novel #2 becoming more errrr Percy Jackson-like and the answer I got was, "Mom, I like big explosive things, but I like Novel #2 the way it is. I can't see it as a big explosive story."

Out of the mouth of babes. :)

Unfortunately, the reality is that there's a disconnect between what kids/teens will read (not just seek out) and what agents/editors will publish (ie, bring value) and what parents will buy. It's a matter of risk management for the latter groups, whereas the only real risk for kids to pick up a book and start reading it is that they'll be bored or labeled if seen associated with something outside the mainstream.

I write literary MG/YA. Why? because as stated above, I think these books have staying power (and, truthfully, I love reading good writing). I've heard the siren song of the commercial and have considered trying my hand at it. The struggle is how to balance those two dynamics, our ideals and realities.
#13 - July 31, 2010, 09:54 AM

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Well said pengwinz.

At a recent agent's workshop .. he said due to schools and libraries having reduced funding, the market is now being more consumer driven ... book buying power is with the parents ... and after a certain age .. with the kids themselves.

I still haven't made it out the door to the library. In my city, the public libraries are usually connected to a public school .. meaning actually part of or adjacent to the school building .. on the same property. Collections are small, and usually part of the collection is sectioned off for the school only. I've lived in a lot of places, and have never seen libraries set up this way. But I am taking note of what gets selected for these limited collections. I'm seeing a lot of new books from blue boarders pop up.

#14 - July 31, 2010, 10:10 AM
« Last Edit: July 31, 2010, 10:14 AM by lillian »
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Lill I just want to give you a big hug for your bad week.

I write literary middle grade and so far so good but many of the editors who love literary middle grade were laid off in the big publisher cuts in 2008. It's tough out there. Still I honestly believe there will always be a place for books written for kids who love to read. Publishing can't survive on reluctant readers and lights reads alone. There's a place on the shelf for all of us. Libraries and librarians may not have the clout they had twenty years ago but they are still taste makers. There will always be fourth grade bookworms. 

I've been looking at the twitter feed from SCBWI LA today and a big time agent just said "Timeless will always be timely."  Timeless means literary fiction.
#15 - July 31, 2010, 02:08 PM

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Thanks, Tami!  Your words mean a lot to me.

#16 - July 31, 2010, 02:15 PM
« Last Edit: December 15, 2010, 06:39 AM by lillian »
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Not a single one? They are very popular books...like bestsellers. Award winners. Ones with in-production movies. I am sad for your library! Hopefully you can find some on the second page that printed out??

Barring that, I'd maybe study the new releases shelf for MG (if they have one). Or ask the librarian for the most popular, asked-for MG books in the past year? That would give you some idea of what kids are looking for. Or study the shelves they're wheeling around when they are putting returned books back on the shelf?
#17 - July 31, 2010, 02:19 PM

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Rose, they'd have the authors .. but not the newer books .. 39 clues was there .. but I just browsed shelves .. I didn't go to the card catalog .. this particular branch hardly ever has the newer books but since it's connected to the high school .. it has a bigger YA section. The library closer to me is connected to the middle school ... there are about 10-12 low library shelves that are ONLY for the school .. and I've never peeked over there  --- it's very clearly marked for the students only. Their YA selection at that branch is extremely limited.

#18 - August 01, 2010, 05:23 AM
Making metaphors out of molehills for over thirty years.

Thanks to all the above for this discussion thread. I have just finished my first novel, MG adventure, and didn't really realize as I was writing it that it was not "commercial," but "literary." Sure, stuff happens, but it's not flashy stuff. My husband says it's a bit square. But actually, that's what *I* am as a writer, mainly because I am a middle school teacher, and am writing something I would read to my students.  In fact a few of my students have read the first few chapters and have liked it. My classroom is all about people like Graham Salisbury, Jerry Spinelli, PG Polaccio, and the commercial is what kids read on their own time.
So, who knows if an agent will ever like it...
The distinctions in the above thread are helping me understand where I fall better.
#19 - April 12, 2015, 07:29 AM

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Glad it helps. Wow, this thread was from so long ago. It surprised me when it popped up.
#20 - April 12, 2015, 04:12 PM
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Yes, almost 5 years ago! But some of these "old" conversations on blueboard are still so helpful, especially to people just getting started.
#21 - April 12, 2015, 06:00 PM

Well my definition of commercial is intent to write anything with wide mainstream appeal.

For this reason, I would my work lends closer to the art spectrum than commercial. Though I'm still hesitant to really describe my work as literary middle grade, in that my approach is not writing about a genre so much as writing about the culture that the genre has inspired: about cyberpunks rather than being cyberpunk. The distinction is subtle, but it's there.

A commercial book that comes to mind are the Magic Tree House and Harry Potter books. Though while fantastic, those tend to have more wide mainstream appeal. As suppose to say Great Gilly Hopkins, which is more literary.
#22 - April 27, 2015, 04:23 PM
You can find my stuff at: uggc://plorephyg.bet/~fnenu/oybt.ugzy

A distinction I tend to make as a teacher of middle grade English is whether a book is one I would teach as a whole-class novel (literary) or lit. circle (possibly more commercial), or a read aloud (perhaps the only time I choose commercial, if at all.)
My husband's definitions for literary is "square." My book fits that category. He means it with affection-- he's an English prof.
#23 - May 04, 2015, 03:13 PM

So how a kidlit book gets deemed literary is different from how adult fiction gets deemed literary? In adult fiction, a work is called literary if so labeled by academia. (Or is that a long and widely circulated fib?)
#24 - May 05, 2015, 06:20 AM
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To me, commercial is plot or concept driven. The Magic Tree House books are a good example of plot driven books. The characters never really change. I haven't read them, but I'm guessing Captain Underpants is driven by it's concept (hook). The titles kind of say it all.

Literary fiction is more likely to be character driven. It digs deeper into emotions. It doesn't hold your attention because of outrageous antics, threats to survival, or wall to wall action. It holds your attention because it has made you care about this otherwise ordinary human (or not human) who happens to be your main character, maybe because you see a little of yourself in that character.

I have an answer to question four. I'm writing the best dang book I can. The rest is out of my control.
#25 - May 05, 2015, 06:56 AM
« Last Edit: May 10, 2015, 09:16 PM by Debbie Vilardi »
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I think that in kidlit, there is maybe a higher percentage of books that are both literary AND commercial than in adult. I do agree that something like Magic Treehouse (or really, any number of series with essentially static characters that are perhaps written as a syndicate--Nancy Drew, Babysitters Club, etc.) are commercial. But you can have kid books that have strong plots and lots of cool things in them that still have lovely writing and powerful character changes. Actually, a very large bulk of kid books do have that very combination of elements. It seems much more stratified in adult books, where you have academics praising highly literary books on one hand, and a strong push for big splash commercial hits on the other.
#26 - May 05, 2015, 07:10 AM

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I asked this question, whether an MG novel can be both literary and commercial, on my blog years ago, and someone mentioned Harry Potter as an example of a series that is both. It has broad kid appeal and is exceptionally well written.

Don't worry about classifying your book when querying. An agent can slant his/her pitch either way, as necessary.
#27 - May 05, 2015, 09:18 AM
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My problem is with the definition of commercial vs. literary, in the same distinction between to escape and to understand. I write fiction that seeks to aid in understanding through carefully applied escape. That is, I find that a little bit of commercial aspects, like a bit of far out or fantastic entertainment can have a great potential for understanding ourselves and others.

Thus I would consider myself both, as they are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

I hope this helps.
#28 - May 16, 2015, 09:22 AM
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