• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Writing MG Books > On being a hired gun…
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    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
    Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
    Cybils Awards announced
    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
    Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

    Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

    November 9, 2013:
    Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

    Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

    October 14, 2013:
    Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

    Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
    Read more ...

    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
    National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

    For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
    Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
    S&S and BN reach a deal
    Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

    August 6, 2013:
    NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
    NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

     
    July 2, 2013:
    Penguin & Random House Merger

    The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...

     

    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...

     

    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories, read more...

     

    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...

     

    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...

     

    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…

     

    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...

     

    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...

     

    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...

     

    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...

     

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On being a hired gun…

Writing MG Books

Pop quiz: Nancy Drew, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Sweet Valley High, The Warriors… what do these have in common?

Yes, they are all wildly popular middle grade and young adult series — but that’s not all. They were also penned by “ghostwriters.” Wait… What? my inner 11-year-old asks? Carolyn Keene was not an actual person?!?

Well, my grown-up writer self asks — then how do *I* become Carolyn Keene?

The answer: writing work-for-hire.

Recently, I signed on to write a 3-book MG work-for-hire project with the fantastic London-based book packager Working Partners Ltd. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share what I’ve learned so far about WFH with my fellow writers and readers:

  1. Not all work-for-hire is created equal:  You don’t have to look much farther than the whole James Frey “fiction-factory” thing to recognize this. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t good opportunities out there. Work-for-hire projects run the gamut — some pay only a flat fee, others offer royalties; some give credit, others don’t. It’s important to weigh your options and make sure any project you take on is worth your time and effort (whether financially or as an experience to grow as a writer). I really like Working Partners because they do offer advances, royalties and credit. Plus, I am working with an incredibly talented team of editors who are all published children’s authors in their own right.
  2. Work-for-hire is not for everyone:  Just as not every job is the same, it takes a certain type of writer to succeed at (and enjoy!) writing work-for-hire. You need to like working collaboratively. You also have to enjoy working within the confines of someone else’s idea/plot/characters. While some writers find this limiting, for me, it’s actually kind of freeing. Instead of worrying about what is going to happen, I get to think about how it happens and focus on voice, character development and dialogue, which I love. Also, if you are a fast writer, work-for-hire is a great way to fill the gaps between your own projects (and get paid for it!).

So how do I sign up, you ask? Well, there are a few different ways to break in to WFH. My agent connected me with my current job; however, there are packagers and publishers who work with unagented writers, as well (Working Partners is one). The process usually looks something like this:

  1. The sample:  Typically, book packagers or publishers will ask interested authors to provide a writing sample to see if you are a fit with any current or future projects. This is the Working Partners sample submission page. Capstone Books also does MG and other work-for-hire. And here’s a great round-up of WFH links from blogger/writer Chandler Marie Craig.
  2. The audition:  If the packager or publisher decides you might be a good fit for a project, they will ask you to “audition.” This generally consists of writing a portion of the proposed project (for my current MG work I was asked to write the first three chapters of the first book). Typically, other authors will be asked to try out as well. The packager and/or publisher then selects the author they think captures the story best.
  3. Writing the project:  If you win the audition (yay!), now it’s time to get writing. Generally you’ll be given a story line, complete with characters and often with a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of how the action should play out. Turnaround times on work-for-hire projects are typically short. My latest project, a 20,000 word MG novel, was due in seven weeks. I now have a two-week window to edit and revise. Once that’s turned in, I’ll get the story line for the next book in the series — and another seven weeks to crank that out.
  4. Publication! (double-yay!)

As with all things in the publishing world, there are ups and downs writing work-for-hire. But all in all, I have found it a great way to gain writing experience, work with some amazingly talented people, and do what I love to do — write.

If you have any work-for-hire experiences, suggestions or links you’d like to share, please do so in the comments below. Or, if you have any questions about the process, feel free to post them and I will answer as best I can. And Happy Thanksgiving, everyone — hope this year has given you much to be thankful for!

Jan Gangsei is in the process of revising her second book for a really cool new MG series from Working Partners, Ltd., but she will be taking some time off tomorrow to stuff her face with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy :).

12 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Jennifer Rumberger  •  Nov 21, 2012 @6:30 pm

    I didn’t know much about WFH, thanks for the post. Very imformative!

    Jan Gangsei Reply:

    @Jennifer Rumberger, You’re welcome! Glad it was useful!

  2. PragmaticMom  •  Nov 21, 2012 @7:06 pm

    And don’t forget Beacon Street Girls. One of the characters is a real person who is now the literacy coach at Newton North High School. Same person in books who wants to be the fashion designer. She is not thrilled to be part of a ghost written series but I think the original author is a friend of hers.

    I think if it’s well done, you can’t tell. Nancy Drew and Warriors … can’t really tell it’s not the same person. But Beacon Street Girls jumps around too much with new characters and plot shifts that it’s not a smooth transition from book to book.

    Jan Gangsei Reply:

    @PragmaticMom, Interesting little tidbit about Beacon Street Girls — guess one of the hazards of being friends with a writer is you might end up in a book ;).

    Also agree that when done well it’s very hard to tell if different writers have worked on a series, likely because each book is very much a team effort.

  3. Jill  •  Nov 21, 2012 @8:40 pm

    Wow, what a great post. I did not know that “Carolyn Keene” is a fabricated name…so rght back to “The Secret of the Old Clock”? I figured the newer Nancy Drew’s were mass-written, but always thought there was an original Keene!
    Congratulations on your fantastic partnership with Working Partners. I am so intrigued and actually would love to “try out”. But I”m so new to things (really really new) that I think they would laugh at me at this stage :)
    I noticed though at Working Partners, the iniitial application does not require a writing sample. Anyway, thanks for the post. I want to ask you a bunch of questions :)
    Happy Thanksgiving…I’m not American, but anyway…

    Jan Gangsei Reply:

    @Jill, Yes, I was also surprised that Carolyn Keene was not a real person. I lived on those books as a kid… probably even wrote Carolyn a fan letter or two :). And an interesting little tidbit about Carolyn Keene… was chatting with my cousin-in-law recently and her grandmother was one of the early Carolyn Keenes. Apparently at the time, she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone she wrote the book (don’t know which one) — she just got a check and that was that!

    Also, feel free to post any questions if you have them — I’m definitely no expert, but I’m happy to answer what I can!

    Jill Reply:

    @Jan Gangsei,

    Thanks Jan…and wow …your grandma :)

    I’d love to talk more about this actually…do you have a contact address or maybe you can contact me? Thanks.

  4. Marilee Haynes  •  Nov 21, 2012 @8:40 pm

    Thank you for this fantastic information!!! I am interested in pursuing work-for-hire opportunities and you’ve just saved me tons of research time:)
    Happy Thanksgiving!!

    Jan Gangsei Reply:

    @Marilee Haynes, You’re welcome! I definitely recommend doing WFH — it’s been a fantastic experience so far. Wishing you great success!

  5. Linda Andersen  •  Nov 26, 2012 @6:47 am

    Thanks Jan. I plan to checkout Capstone.

    Jan Gangsei Reply:

    @Linda Andersen, That’s great! Wishing you all the best with your writing :).

  6. Pat Wooldridge  •  Nov 28, 2012 @10:04 am

    I have to wonder how the gentleman who wrote most of the Nancy Drew series, enjoyed getting letters to “Carolyn Keene”. :-0 . Seriously, I enjoyed this post and am considering how to become a ghost writer—but only for books that do not feature fantasy, terribly meanspirited people, or violence. Surely there are many categories left that I could fit into……?