re: Are Series Giving Way to Stand-Alones in MG Fiction?

in Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am wondering: Have series fallen into disfavor? Is it currently better to write a stand-alone book when writing middle grade fiction? From your recent post and your state of the market keynote at the SCBWI Summer Conference last month, I would guess that our current tight market, although showing signs of improvement, would favor stand-alone books. Is this correct? I would love to have your opinion on this.

Thanks!
Pauline

Dear Pauline…

It’s more accurate to say that the current middle grade fiction market is more open to stand-alone books than it’s been in recent years. I interviewed seventeen industry insiders to create that market keynote you’re referring to, including agents, editors, sales and marketing managers in both the trade and the school & library markets, independent marketing experts, and experts in digital books. I asked every one of them about the state of series in each of the various children’s book categories. I came away from those interviews understanding that the inclination toward trilogies and series in MG and YA fiction in recent years seems to be shifting a bit, with agents and editors more actively seeking stand-alone books that can stand out thanks to distinct, marketable concepts and that can hold up thanks to strong craft.

Happy writing!
The Editor

5 Comments

  1. Interesting question and answer! I currently have no plans for writing a series, so this trend doesn’t affect me much. However, I was wondering, Deborah, if you could please elaborate a little on the “distinct, marketable concepts” comment. Maybe give us an example or two from what’s on the shelves right now? Thank you!

    • Sure, Teresa: P.J. Palacio’s bestselling debut WONDER is a stand-alone MG about a boy with an extreme facial abnormality who is bullied when he enters school after years of home-schooling. Bullying is a marketable theme, then Palacio pops it out of the crowd with the boy’s extreme abnormality (the details of which are revealed gradually through the story). Palacio’s craft skills (highlighted by her excellent use of multiple POVs) make the facial disfigurement aspect emotionally resonant rather than gimmicky or exploitative. Katherine Applegate’s Newbery Medal-winning THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is a stand-alone MG featuring a complacent, tv-watching gorilla who has lived on display in a down-and-out circus-themed mall for years, only to be awakened to the need to embrace life when a baby elephant is added to the mall. The concept is distinct, and adding themes of friendship, hope, and art to that unusual concept gives the book many marketing angles. Applegate’s storytelling skill sends the story straight into your heart, giving it the ability to stick with readers.

  2. Very good answer, Deborah. I think it’s really all about marketability, isn’t it? Plus, if pubbers buy a standalone, there’s no reason it can’t be expended into a series later (unless all the characters die and their world blows up). lol

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