It is no secret that I switched my writing gears with my latest release. My first book (The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society) is a middle grade novel, geared towards 8-13 year-olds. My upcoming book (Help Wanted, Must Love Books) is a picture book geared towards 4-7 year-olds.
Because of that change, I am often asked if I still write older books, how easy it is to switch back and forth between writing picture books, and writing middle grade books, and how different is it writing in those two genres. So today I’m going to talk about that.
First, yes! I definitely still write middle grade books. I love the long story form, and being able to tell more. I love reading those books, too, and I still have a lot of stories in me. In fact, I’m working on one now, that I’m not going to tell you anything about (aren’t I mean??!), but I’m on the second draft, so that is a good sign. Hopefully, in the future, you will see more published middle grade books from me.
Here is the thing, when I sent the draft of Help Wanted, Must Love Books to my agent, we had a little chat. She loved it, but she wanted me to understand that if I decided to go that direction, I needed to spend some time working on picture books. Focusing on writing more books, and spending some time (years probably) building up my author cred as a picture book author.
So that is what I have been doing these past couple of years (only recently have I begun working on middle grade again). I feel incredibly fortunate that my book sold. It is not the first picture book I’ve ever written, but it IS the first one I’ve gone on submission with (for all you non-authors, going on submission means that my agent sent it to editors in hopes they would want to publish it). The trick is to repeat that, now!
Now for the question about difficulty. Switching back and forth is do-able, but difficult. The two formats are extremely different. In middle grade, I have space to say all the things. And while I want my writing to be crisp, and only say things it needs to say, it feels incredibly freeing to have SO MANY WORDS with which to write my story.
Picture books are mind-numbing projects where every word on the page has been scrutinized many, many times. Every word must be essential if I want to keep it. Every word must being working hard and expressing as much as possible. And even then, I need to make sure that the word really needs to be said. Because if pictures already express that idea, then it is the chopping block for those words.
With my middle grade, once I signed with my agent, I had a couple of back and forths to fix things, before going on submission, and then a couple more back and forths to fix things with my editor (not to minimize the changes, some of those changes were BIG!), still, once I sent in the final copy, it was final.
With my picture book, we were making changes every step of the way.
We made changes right up until they sent it to print and we could no longer make changes.
It has been fascinating to watch and participate in the process. And despite the whole mind-numbing thing, I love, love, love writing picture books. It is an incredible thing to be able to say so much with so few words, and I feel like my writing is stronger for having learned and studied the craft of picture book writing (and please note, I am still learning, and probably will be forever). I will definitely be in this genre for a long time to come because I love it so much.
So for you authors, do you find it difficult to switch genres in your writing? And for you non-authors, what do you think when an author that you love in one genre switches to write in another? Do you read those books, too?