Daily Archives: June 15, 2011

Writing Across Age Groups: friend or foe?

“What do you write?”

The question is asked often and a confusing one to answer depending on the individual receiving the info. 

The short answer is that I write for kids.  The long answer is that I write for all ages of kids.  I have manuscripts floating around in my brain–and on paper–for cute board books, quiet picture books, whimsical chapter books, mysterious middle grades and dark young adult novels.   

The general feeling in writing circles is that what you first pub in is where you’ll continue pubbing.  This advice is fine for writers of adult fiction who write by genre.  “Love what you first pub, because that’s the genre you’ll stay in for a good long time.  An entire career, maybe.”

By professional standards, it typically takes about ten years to grow a writer.  While some writers blow the covers off this theory, the timeline holds true for the majority of authors.  Like all things, it takes time to build a brand–something that is hard to do if one genre-hops before being truly well-established.

My DH and I go through this every time we shop for bathroom supplies.  He grew up with one kind of toothpaste, I grew up with another.  We’re both loyal to our brands.  Yet I’m sure Crest didn’t come on the scene in one day and become the Chosen One.  Nor did Colgate. 

Even now, these nationally recognized brands vie for market share by adding new elements.  It’s the same brand, just in cinnamon or lemon.  It’s the same refreshing goodness, but this time with baking soda and whitener. 

Which leads me to my dilemma.  I don’t write Original Crest Paste.  I write all their off-shoots.  Combined, I’m a brand.  Just parceled out a bit to smaller pockets of users. 

Is this a good thing or bad thing?

I’m not sure.  In some ways, I think it’s awesome.  I get the freedom to write what strikes my fancy.  I get the freedom to explore all avenues of lit that I grew up loving.  But it can make branding a little more difficult. 

For instance, it will be a good fifteen years before my board book audience is ready to read my dark YA.  The loyalty will not carry over unless they literally go from cutting teeth on my first books to learning to read with my chapter books to hitting puberty with my older reads.  And this can happen.   Truth be told, I want it to.    

Yet, it also poses another question: should my middle grade audience (wherefore art thou, audience?) have access to my vastly different YA material? 

I’ll just go ahead and admit.  As a mom I would be mortified if my fourth-grader brought home a steamy YA.  But it can happen if authors build their brands right and kids want to read everything ever written by Author Awesome. 

I see this happening already as traditionally adult-pubbed authors cross over to the juvenile lit arena.  My Middle Son is enthralled by Patterson’s The Dangerous Days of Daniel X series.  When he reads through all of Patterson’s kid books, he’ll want to read some of his older material–stuff that’s totally inappropriate for a ten-year-old.  Wildly inappropriate. 

So, dear readers and parents of readers, what do you think about this?  How do you feel about authors who span age groups?  Are there certain lines that can be crossed, while other lines should be firmly drawn in the sand?

And writers, do you feel boxed in by the “pick a genre” adage or does it help you focus your creative energy?  Are you a genre/age group hopper?  If so, do you fear that this will limit your natural inclination and over-all success? 

Share your experiences, as curious minds want to know.