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Chapter Book Demand? Vs MG?

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Hello.

I have several picture book manuscripts that are fully polished, thanks to my mentorship (as a result of the Picture Book with the Stars Contest) and my picture book course course with Anastasia Suen. However, even with my strongest manuscript (which has repeatedly been revised, critiqued and edited by both my mentor and teacher, and run past beta readers) , as I'm sure many know, querying with picture books has been pretty brutal.

Something both my mentor and my teacher wisely suggested is that I consider turning my latest picture book (which I've been told is highly marketable and has tons of series potential) into a chapter book due to my voice and humor, and the plot (I originally had a lot of plot that had to be cut, which is another reason why they said I could turn this into a chapter book).

I've done my research; however, I'm not finding enough information about chapter books out there. I see on #MSWL that many agents want mg and ya. But I found maybe three at most (after filtering the results) who requested chapter books. And only 10 agents listed on the #MSWL website are listed as repping chapter books (and only six of those agents are currently open to queries). Are chapter books as equally desirable (or even close) as mg? Or will I find myself struggling just as hard querying with a chapter book as I would with a pb? My mentor said chapter books are a harder sell to publishers, but what about when querying agents?
#1 - April 21, 2018, 04:57 PM
« Last Edit: April 21, 2018, 06:21 PM by justin-colon »

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Getting an agent is a struggle no matter what you're trying to sell. Chapter books are almost always sold as a series. That's something to have in mind. Chapter books also have the same audience as picture books age wise, ages 4-8. But they are for kids who are reading on their own. The themes and topics are therefore less sophisticated than those for middle grade novels. They're also shorter, topping out at about 10,000 words and starting as short as 5,000. The popular ones are very popular and kids are loyal to them. It's best to have one written fully and another two outlined in full with ideas for more. These series go deep.

Anything that is a harder sell to publishers will be a harder sell to agents because the agents still have to sell it too.

That's all I know about chapter books. Sorry ican't get further into the agent aspect.
#2 - April 21, 2018, 06:05 PM
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Hi, Debbie. Thanks for offering your insight.

That's what I've gathered from my research as well, and I agree with everything you've said. I'm just trying to figure (based upon people's experience or insight) as to whether chapter books are much harder to get agents to bite with (and if so, are they a lot harder, like picture books). I've exhausted my agent list with picture books, so I'm looking to move onto a chapter book or an mg and then present my picture books once I sign with an agent based upon the manuscript I queried with. But I would hate to write a chapter book and then discover it's just as tough a sell as picture books. While writing a chapter book would be an enjoyable experience (that I'm up to), I also want to make sure I'm not setting myself up for an uphill battle with picture books and chapter books (versus a mg to accompany my pbs).


I already spoke with my mentor and teacher, and both agree my concept has strong series potential. I would keep this between 6,000 - 10,000 words. And it would be geared toward kids 6-8 yo. As for the theme, it's "less sophisticated" than my mg, like chapter books tend to be (Captain Underpants comes to mind). But it's very fun and does have a subtle, non-didactic message.

No need for an apology. I appreciate the response and your willingness to help.

Enjoy your weekend.

Best,

Justin
#3 - April 21, 2018, 06:18 PM
« Last Edit: April 21, 2018, 06:25 PM by justin-colon »

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Justin,

In my experience, getting an agent with a chapter book would be far more difficult than getting an agent with a PB. When I queried agents, I had several PB manuscripts as well as a chapter book. I led with my picture books every single time. And in fact my agent STILL hasn't seen my chapter book.

I feel like chapter books are something more easily done by established authors after getting an agent with a novel or picture books. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. But generally, chapter books are something agents will do for their authors, but thy aren't something they are really seeking when taking on new clients.

So, write the book for sure, but you might want to develop different manuscripts to land an agent if you don't feel like the books you have right now are working as picture books.

If it takes you a lot of time, there's no harm in that. I spent four years learning, honing my craft, and writing before I queried agents. Yes, it can take that long to build up a body of work.

Hope that helps!

Kirsten
#4 - April 22, 2018, 06:17 AM
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From what I've seen and heard editors (and so, editors) are looking hard for MG.  If you can up the age of your MC (assuming it's very young right now) to 10-12, and adjust the voice accordingly, keep the humor, and make sure the significant plot is significant enough, going MG might work. It is, for sure, very appealing to agents and editors. The fact that you think you could make it a series tells me that you probably have enough for a couple of good subplots in a MG.

Many agents don't work with picture books because the advances aren't there, and they're still a lot of work. Chapter books are the same . . . but you can make either work if you have a concept that will stand out in the market and an agent recognizes this. There are plenty of authors here who have done well with both.

The real issue is that it's not just about what is more marketable . It's about who YOU are as a writer, and the voice that comes through in your manuscripts. So whatever you decide, read a ton of current books in that age group/genre so that you get a feel for what IS selling. And there's no shame in putting what you have aside and starting fresh with something new. I think we all have "practice" manuscripts shoved under the bed -- but they were important. Writing them taught us things nobody could tell us, and that we'd never grasp if we hadn't done the work.

Good luck!!
#5 - April 22, 2018, 06:40 AM
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Thanks for the response, Kirsten. It was extremely helpful.

You're advice is spot on. I read mary Kole's blog earlier as well as an SCBWI thread, both about chapter books. The consensus was that chapter books are an extremely difficult sell. Like you said, I read they're better for established authors, which I'm not. And I read they almost always have to be pitched as a series.

I'm extremely confident in my body and work. Without bragging, I recently won the Picture Book with the Stars Mentorship. I spent the last three months working with a published author/editor who critiqued and helped me edit all of my manuscripts as well as my new manuscripts. And I completed a pb course in which my manuscript was also critiqued and edited and given the greenlight. Even before these opportunities, I was working with an editor to polish my manuscripts. I've gone through dozens of revisions, and my work is very polished, so is my query letter. y first round of submissions was a mess (query wasn't strong enough and the manuscripts were really rough and lacked any structure). But now I can say they're A level. Unfortunately, many agents want author-illustrators, and I don't illustrate professionally. On top of that, (though I'm a Hispanic writer) my stories are fiction and are not STEM and aren't diverse tbh.  So they're especially hard to get an agent with.

I really appreciate your response. It confirmed my decision not to query with a pb. I'm going to focus on mg. I'll write that chapter book when I already have an agent.

And I hope one day your agent sees your chapter book !

Best,

Justin
#6 - April 22, 2018, 06:42 AM

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Thanks for the response, Mrs. Jones. Unfortunately, my picture book story is really great for a chapter book but not so much for a middle grade. Right now I have several pb manuscripts, and I know two are very marketable. Unfortunately, pbs are a hard sell. The advances and royalties are not there, like you said.  But yes, I have those practice manuscripts hidden away too ; ) I'm working on an mg now, so I'll just continue and lead with that instead of pbs (or even a chapter book). I agree, voice is key. Really appreciate the response!

From what I've seen and heard editors (and so, editors) are looking hard for MG.  If you can up the age of your MC (assuming it's very young right now) to 10-12, and adjust the voice accordingly, keep the humor, and make sure the significant plot is significant enough, going MG might work. It is, for sure, very appealing to agents and editors. The fact that you think you could make it a series tells me that you probably have enough for a couple of good subplots in a MG.

Many agents don't work with picture books because the advances aren't there, and they're still a lot of work. Chapter books are the same . . . but you can make either work if you have a concept that will stand out in the market and an agent recognizes this. There are plenty of authors here who have done well with both.

The real issue is that it's not just about what is more marketable . It's about who YOU are as a writer, and the voice that comes through in your manuscripts. So whatever you decide, read a ton of current books in that age group/genre so that you get a feel for what IS selling. And there's no shame in putting what you have aside and starting fresh with something new. I think we all have "practice" manuscripts shoved under the bed -- but they were important. Writing them taught us things nobody could tell us, and that we'd never grasp if we hadn't done the work.

Good luck!!

#7 - April 22, 2018, 06:46 AM

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Just want to say thank you to everyone. It's really helpful hearing from those who are more experienced than me. Enjoy your weekend.
#8 - April 22, 2018, 06:51 AM

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I just want to ask a couple of questions: have you queried more than a hundred picture books agents? Is your heart in that middle grade?

If the answer to the first question is no, you might not be out of luck there. If the answer to the second question is no, you might be shooting yourself in the foot. Novels take far longer to write than picture books. Just because MG is hot now, doesn't mean it will be when you're done.

Good luck as you go forward.
#9 - April 22, 2018, 05:51 PM
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Justin, you've obviously put in the work. It can still be--and usually is--a really hard slog to get published. I lost my first agent (for a MG) when she left the business unexpectedly before we subbed. She loved that book, and said she thought I'd find another agent in three weeks.

It took twenty-seven months. And two new books.

It isn't just whether your work is ready. It's also that agent's list, and whether you overlap with someone they've already signed, and the current trends, and just what they like.... There really is some randomness to it. That doesn't mean that successful authors haven't earned that success, just that it takes a break or two to make it.

My advice is to keep writing. By all means, diversify. Write a MG if you have a plot for one. Write more PBs and a chapter book. Just keep going, because it sounds like your work is ready, and when you do find an agent, having several other mss can't hurt.

And know you're not alone. It's a brutal process.  :hug
#10 - April 22, 2018, 07:30 PM
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You've already gotten great advice here but I wanted to add that I currently have an early reader out on submission that started out as a PB. Yes, my agent is very aware that early readers are a hard sell as well, but she loves the book as much as I do. We also have a CB (which my agent also loves) that is in line next to go out so I am hopeful that the market is there for these type of books because I have really enjoyed writing them. I guess we'll see.

My advice is much of what you've already gotten. Write what makes you happy. If you want to turn your PB into a CB and the voice works for a CB, then go for it!

But you mention you have many PBs polished and ready to go. If they are that, then I don't see a reason why you should have to wait to submit the PBs while you're growing your body of works.

You also mention this:

Right now I have several pb manuscripts, and I know two are very marketable. Unfortunately, pbs are a hard sell. The advances and royalties are not there, like you said. 

I can attest to if you have a marketable PB, then the advances and royalties ARE there for your books. It's a matter of landing them in the right place. In my opinion, PBs are being bought consistently. If you look at PW, PBs are there right alongside of MG and YA. Maybe research PW and see what's being acquired most and then query widely with your most marketable one.

And mostly keep  :parrot and  :goodluck
#11 - April 22, 2018, 08:36 PM
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Hi, Debbie.

In short, I have not queried 100 (I've heard of the "rule" though). I'm up to about 40. A good amount of agents who rep pbs are currently closed to queries. And then many are not accepting fiction,at least not fiction by non-illustrators. And I also need to find an agent who reps mg and is strong it it because (to answer your second question) I really do want to write an mg series. Not looking to jump on something because it's hot or a trend - otherwise I'd jump into contemporary YA! But that's not my thing. I won't write something if I'm not extremely passionate about it. Essentially, I'd love to tackle pbs, mg, and YA (later down the road). My current goal is to focus on pbs and MG. I've been writing an mg and have enjoyed the process. I've used Query Tracker, Publishers Marketplace, and lots of other sites to help me with the agent hunt (and my pb and mg research). I just sent out a batch of queries about a week ago, so we'll see. I'll keep you updated.

And thanks again for the help.

Getting an agent is a struggle no matter what you're trying to sell. Chapter books are almost always sold as a series. That's something to have in mind. Chapter books also have the same audience as picture books age wise, ages 4-8. But they are for kids who are reading on their own. The themes and topics are therefore less sophisticated than those for middle grade novels. They're also shorter, topping out at about 10,000 words and starting as short as 5,000. The popular ones are very popular and kids are loyal to them. It's best to have one written fully and another two outlined in full with ideas for more. These series go deep.

Anything that is a harder sell to publishers will be a harder sell to agents because the agents still have to sell it too.

That's all I know about chapter books. Sorry ican't get further into the agent aspect.

#12 - April 23, 2018, 03:56 AM

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Thanks for this awesome response. It's motivating. Sorry to hear about your agent loss, but I also know it's part of the pat. I hope you're happy with your new agent! As an actor (who's gone through agents), I know the feeling.

That randomness you speak of can be tough, but that's a given. At the same time, it's motivating. All we can do is keep writing!

Thanks again and enjoy your week.



Justin, you've obviously put in the work. It can still be--and usually is--a really hard slog to get published. I lost my first agent (for a MG) when she left the business unexpectedly before we subbed. She loved that book, and said she thought I'd find another agent in three weeks.

It took twenty-seven months. And two new books.

It isn't just whether your work is ready. It's also that agent's list, and whether you overlap with someone they've already signed, and the current trends, and just what they like.... There really is some randomness to it. That doesn't mean that successful authors haven't earned that success, just that it takes a break or two to make it.

My advice is to keep writing. By all means, diversify. Write a MG if you have a plot for one. Write more PBs and a chapter book. Just keep going, because it sounds like your work is ready, and when you do find an agent, having several other mss can't hurt.

And know you're not alone. It's a brutal process.  :hug

#13 - April 23, 2018, 04:02 AM

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Hi, Debbie. Congrats! Wishing you the best with the early reader and cb. And don't you have a pb available for preorder right now? You're on a roll.

I began querying my pb about a week to two weeks ago, so we'll see. In the meantime, I'll keep on writing.
#14 - April 23, 2018, 04:06 AM

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Justin, you've gotten great advice already. Chapter books are a hard sell, but there is definitely a demand for them. I do quite a bit of writing-for-hire and a big staple is writing leveled readers (which fall in the CB/EZ category). It's a short window because as soon as the kids become proficient, they can read anything (hence MG will always remain a good market) but those first few years of independent reading are crucial to success. And kids remain very loyal to their favorite characters, hence series appeal.

You'd be wise to continue leading with your PBs since they are polished while developing other areas of interest. :clover :clover :clover
#15 - April 23, 2018, 09:46 AM
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