Monday, 11 January 2016

The Buzz: Middle-Grade Fiction, With Agent Becky Bagnell

According to Publishers' Weekly, British children up to age 10 prefer reading to all pastimes! Children's books continue to buck the trend of declining book sales, and in the U.K., children's book sales have grown from 24% of print sales in 2004 to 35% in 2014.

An Interview with Becky Bagnell, Founder of Lindsay Literary, on Middle-Grade Fiction, by Larisa Villar Hauser


In your experience as an agent... would you agree with the view that, over the last ten years or so, the middle-grade market has taken a back seat to a focus on YA titles? 

I think to really understand the current children’s book market you need to go back a bit further. Fifteen years ago the YA market barely existed – there was a sub-section of the adult market that wrote ‘coming of age’ novels, but that was it. Everything else was either adult or it was children’s. However, I think the change really came about with the Harry Potter books, and in particular at the moment when they moved from being aimed at middle-grade readers to what we now think of as YA territory, so around book 4 or 5 in the early noughties. 

Boy reading Harry Potter
J.H. reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
J K Rowling had found an audience of excited and interested middle-grade readers, and she took them into, and with books 5, 6 and 7 wrote especially for, a YA audience. I think that it was around this time that a dedicated YA genre (with the Twilight series at its front) started appearing in the market. It seemed to be something new and in many ways it was.


The YA genre found readers who not only wanted to buy these books, but wanted to share their interest and talk about it online. This led to an explosion of bloggers and websites dedicated to YA.

The books were being commissioned from the children’s divisions of publishing houses who were reaching up to those readers who had outgrown middle-grade books – and they found a ready and willing market. Not only that, the growth in this area coincided with the birth of social media. As a result, the YA genre found readers who not only wanted to buy these books, but wanted to share their interest and talk about it online. This led to an explosion of bloggers and websites dedicated to YA and yes, a lot of publishers invested heavily in this area. 


Did middle-grade publishing suffer as a result? 

Possibly, but this has always been the true heartland of children’s publishing and although it wasn’t forgotten, it did take a back seat. 


Middle-grade has always been the true heartland of children's publishing... There is now a much greater desire by editors to find and invest in new middle-grade titles and authors.


Would you agree that there is now more interest in finding new middle-grade titles and authors? 

I think there is now a much greater desire by editors to find and invest in new middle-grade titles and authors.


Editors are looking for books that appeal to specific age ranges
Is this trend (if there is one!) focused on the older end of MG, the younger end of MG, or both (or neither!)?

For the last few years the diary-style novel that appealed across a broad range of ages (Wimpy Kid is probably the best example) has dominated across the middle-grade market. However, I think editors are now looking for books that appeal to more specific age ranges – and it seems the younger end is the one I keep being asked about.


The younger end [of the middle-grade age range] is the one I keep being asked about.

Do you think it is accurate to say that middle-grade fiction has in recent times received less media coverage than YA? 

Yes – but you only have to think back to the early days of Harry Potter to remember what is possible. Equally if you look at the attention, interest and sales figures that David Walliams receives currently in the UK, you can see that there is an appetite to talk about middle grade. I think that we just need to encourage that interest to look a bit wider than the obvious big brand names and include some of the great emerging talents that are coming through. 

Becky Bagnell set up the Lindsay Literary Agency in 2008, having worked as a commissioning editor for Macmillan. The agency represents a range of authors, but specialises in writing for children. Becky has a particular interest in debut authors and discovering new writing talent. Becky represents SCBWI members Sue Wallman and Ruth Hatfield.
Larisa Villar Hauser is the author of independently published middle-grade novel UMA & IMP. The second book in the series is due for release in 2016. She also works as a freelance translator, mostly for small TV/film production companies and, lately, in publishing. Larisa has been a member of SCBWI since 2009 and is moderator for the e-critique group Muddlegraders. Her blog, handmeamirror.wordpress.com, charts the self-publishing journeywww.impprintbooks.com 
@larisafvh

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