BooksWriting a novel is a lot of hard work. Selling a novel is harder still. But there’s an intermediate step that I’m struggling with right now. I have a completed and polished manuscript ready to send to prospective publishers but I don’t know what type of book it is, exactly. The stumbling block- -I’m not sure if it’s for Middle Grades (ages 8-12) or Young Adults (13 to whenever one feels like an Old Adult).

Why is this important? Because I have to confidently proclaim the book’s intended audience in order to make my sales pitch.

This thought was not foremost in my mind when I wrote Mary Benton, a western historical novel with a female protagonist. She’s 10 at the start of the book and 16 at the end. Available guidance suggests the protagonist should be at the upper end of the intended audience’s age bracket- -someone the reader can identify with as well as look up to. Is there no room for a protagonist who evolves from a child to a young adult within the confines of a single book?

Plots for Middle Grade readers can include scary things, but not overtly violent or bloody things. Romance should be limited to hand holding and the “first kiss”, if it enters the story at all. Young Adult plots may have violence and bloodshed, as well as some scenes involving sex (but very low-key sex). Where to rate the things that happen to Mary Benton- -assisting in a difficult childbirth, a kiss from a boy she doesn’t like, a young man who loved her getting killed in the Rogue River Indian War?

The writing- -vocabulary, sentence-length, etc.- -should be appropriate for the intended audience. Is it some sort of mistake that I wrote, instead, in consideration of the age, background and circumstances of my protagonist?

These “rules” are my starting place. To gain an appreciation for how Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction appears in actual published works, I’m reading many new titles from both classifications. Based on what I’ve read so far, I’m guessing Mary Benton straddles the two groups. Hopefully all this reading will turn up some “comps”- -competitive (or, according to some sources, comparative) titles that my book is “like”. Agents, editors and publishers love this type of information because it suggests how the book, if published, might be marketed. So far, I’ve had no luck on this front and I’m sorely tempted to state, “Mary Benton is like a cross between Little House on the Prairie and Jane Eyre.” At least a potential publisher wouldn’t think I was short on confidence!

All of this inquiry and agonizing has made me a bit chicken-hearted about sending out my novel, but I’ve challenged myself to submit Mary Benton to one or more publishers by the end of June 2015. I’m still working on my Middle Grade and Young Adult reading stack, thanks to our well-stocked rural library system (though I’m skeptical about the “comps” thing). If, in a couple of years you read a book review that claims, “She’s Laura Ingalls Wilder and Charlotte Bronte rolled into one!” it’s probably me.

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