Kids Stories, Books, and the YA Market
A MARKETING TALE
Once upon a time I had a great idea for a book series …
Rolling hills, the mists of time, medieval imagery – and the adventures of the kids of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Robin and Maid Marianne would have a 12-year of son – I named him Pip – and he, along with the Will Scarlett’s son, Harold, and Little John’s daughter, Lucy, were going to frolic across England into literary stardom, stealing from the poor and giving to the rich just like their parents. Pip would struggle to find himself out from under the burden of being the son of such a famous person.
Sounds good so far? I went ahead and wrote the first manuscript, about 30,000 words worth, and submitted it to a publisher. The editor liked the idea and submitted it for review to the marketing department.
And that’s where my dream died a sudden, unpleasant, and brutal death – almost medieval, really.
The verdict from my publisher was unanimous: sons and daughters of famous people don’t sell.
But what about Percy Jackson and the Olympians I hear you cry? For those of you unfamiliar with that mega-hit series, Percy Jackson is a boy who discovers he is actually the demigod son of Poseidon, god of the sea. In the first book, The Lightning Thief, Percy and his companions, Athena’s daughter and a satyr, race to recover Zeus’s lightning bolt before a major war breaks out among the Gods.
Here’s where I learned a lesson about marketing: publishers want books that resemble blockbusters, but your story gets no credit for any such resemblance. It’s a classic catch-22: you need similarities to other books to prove there’s a market for your book; then you’re told those similarities are not important; but no one will publish the book unless there’s a proven market for it.
You can rail against it – or roll with it.
So I rolled – and have been rolling ever since. I changed the story from the children of Robin Hood and his Merry Men to three kids who idolize Robin Hood and his Merry Men. No longer Robin Hood’s actual son, the main character now must come to terms with the fact that his real father, a wool merchant, doesn’t measure up to the mythical Robin Hood. The wild and crazy medieval adventure remains, they kids still steal from the rich to give to the poor, only the kids of famous people idea has given way to kids trying to find their own identity in a difficult world.
The manuscript is done – undergoing its final edit – before I resubmit to some lucky publisher (self-evident projection with the word lucky). It came in at about the same word count (35,000). Interestingly, although the plot changed dramatically, in terms of character and voice the two stories are really fundamentally the same.
The difference is marketing – finding that potential audience – and that connection to a publisher. It’s a difficult balancing act, because I’m not necessarily convinced publishers can find an audience any better than the writer – they just have more chances at it.
Have you had a similar experience?
– You got contradictory advice from different readers/editors.
– You rewrote a story based on feedback – and now the story is rewritten and great things about the book were lost.
– You wanted to smash your head onto a table in frustration with your story (I think I’m projecting again).
No shame in answering yes to all three, and unless you’re J.L. Rowlings it’s probably inevitable. My rule of thumb: if it’s plot, I’ll change it. If it’s character, then we have to talk. I’ll work on my character if the criticism is valid, however. I’ll trust the publisher if they feel the story is not marketable – because that’s their job and their area of expertise, not mine.
The Band of Merry Kids is about to be submitted – maybe another few hours to finish my edits. Then I wait the usual six months for a response. Over that time I’ll keep you informed about how things are going, so come on back to my blog if you’re interested in the publishing process. I’d also love to hear your own publishing stories, so send in a comment.
Next week I’m going to switch things up and go on a rant about why kids don’t read as much as they used to – the reasons may surprise you. Spoiler Alert: I blame technology and go so far as to claim (some may say outrageously) that technology has also lowered the skill level of writers themselves.
Until then – happy reading!