Aug 29

Selling Middle Grade

In my last post, Writing Middle Grade, I wrote about a webinar I attended through Writer’s Digest. It was presented by literary agent Andrea Somberg and focused on writing and selling middle grade (MG). The first article is about writing MG. This article is about selling MG manuscripts.

To sell your manuscript, the manuscript itself needs to meet certain guidelines:

The first thing to be aware of is that publishers don’t want ‘trend’ books. The publishing process takes 1-2 years from contract to when the book is actually published for sale. Reader tastes can easily change within that time.

The second thing to be aware of is that the book buyers will be: parents, teachers, and librarians. This group of gate keepers don’t want sex, cursing, or graphic content in the story.

Another important element is to know your genre.

If you’re not sure whether your story is a MG or YA, or if it’s Young MG, MG, or Upper MG, figure it out before writing your query letter. You’ll also need to know whether your story is Contemporary, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Thriller, Historical, Horror, Adventure, Magical Realism, Humor, or other.

Your Opening Pages

  • Introduce your protagonist and make her sympathetic and interesting.
  • Be sure each sentence, each paragraph moves the story forward.
  • Each scene and interaction should move the story forward.
  • Every paragraph should have some tension bringing the story forward.
  • Avoid long sentences.
  • Avoid a lot of description.

The Story

Word count and pages:

  • Young MG: 15,000 to 25,000 words (approximately 64 pages).
    The age group is 8-10.
  • MG: 25,000 to 45,000 words (approximately 100 pages).
    The age group is 9-12.
  • Upper MG: 45,000 to 65,000 words (approximately 160 pages).
    The age group is 12-13.
  • Fantasy and sci-fi can go to 65,000 to 80,000 words.

More tips on the story:

  • The subject matter must be appropriate for the age group.
  • Avoid dream sequences.
  • The characters should be limited to a small group and/or family. Too many characters will make the read confusing and it will make it difficult to develop the characters enough.

Once you have a completed and polished your manuscript, the query letter is the first step in selling it.

The Query Letter – What to Include

After your middle grade manuscript is complete, you’ll need to write a query letter. While this information focuses on MG, it’s pretty much the same for any fiction manuscript.Address the agent’s name or editor’s name.

  1. Address the letter to a specific agent – use the agent’s name.

2. The first paragraph should include the title of the book; the type of book; comparable titles; and word count.

  • For the comp titles: Provide two to three comp titles that have been published with the last one to three years. Your book should be appealing to the same audience.

3. The second paragraph should be the pitch or “catalog copy” copy of your book. The ‘catalog copy’ is why the reader should buy your book. It’s the grabbing description of your book that would be in a book catalog.

  • Include the protagonist, what makes her sympathetic, what the conflict is (what are the stakes), and keep it between one and two paragraphs.
  • Read the descriptions of recently bought or published MGs. Watch how they word their descriptions. This should give you an idea of how to write yours.

4. The third paragraph is about the author. Make it pertinent – don’t include anything personal unless it’s essential to the book.

5. The fourth paragraph is the closing. You will thank the agent for their time.

Final tip on the query letter, don’t use qualifiers like engaging or hilarious. Let your description show the agent or editor that the story will be engaging and/or hilarious. They don’t want you to tell them.

What to Avoid in a Query Letter?

  1. Avoid grandiose claims
  2. No gimmicks. Keep it clear and concise
  3. Personalize the letter. Address it to the agent. Don’t cc multiple agents
  4. Don’t begin the query with a rhetorical question.
  5. Even if you have a series in mind or have started a second book, only pitch one book at a time. With that said, you can mention that the book would lend itself to a series.
  6. If you’re already published, mention the book: the title, publisher, and year.

Finding a Literary Agent

  1. Check out Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
  2. Try to get referrals from other authors.
  3. Look at the acknowledgement pages of published books similar to yours.
  4. Research agents’ websites.
  5. Watch sites like Publishers Market Place.

What to Do When Submitting

  1. Follow the agent’s submission guidelines.
  2. Only submit to one agent at a time to a particular agency.
  3. If allowed, send the opening pages of your manuscript. Don’t attach it though; put it in the body of the email.
  4. Be patient. I can take well over a month before you get a response.
  5. Submit to multiple agents simultaneously.

I hope this helps you get your middle grade manuscript in the hands of an agent and/or publisher.

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need help with ghostwriting or rewriting, let me take a look at your children’s story. Just send me an email at: Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable story today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.


A Writer’s Number One Job

Submitting to Publishers and Agents – Is There a Best Time?

4 Must-Know Tips to Writing Better Story Endings