If you’re unfamiliar with the term, you may be asking yourself: “what’s middle grade?”
Middle grade (MG) is a term for books intended for readers aged eight to twelve years old and has been a popular sector of publishing since at least the 1930s with the publication of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. MG began exploring new depths in the 1970s with novels such as Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., gained increasing popularity with the release of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and has started to highlight more diverse and empathy-building stories with recent books like New Kid by Jerry Craft and Wonder by R. J. Palacio. MG books have continued to sweep up the Newbery Medal while maintaining dominance on various best-seller lists. In fact, the overall best-selling print book of 2021 was an MG book entitled Dog Man: Mothering Heights by Dav Pilkey. It’s clear that MG books are popular, so how does one go about marketing them?
Here are some helpful tips for authors, publishers, and booksellers.
Appeal to gatekeepers
MG readers are at an interesting intersection between early childhood and teenage years, where they are seeking independence but are still reliant on their parents, guardians, teachers, and librarians to gain access to the books they wish to read. When authors are writing books for MG audiences, they need to keep these gatekeepers in mind, as they will stand between the books and their target audience. Publishers should maintain direct and regular relationships with educators and librarians. But don’t forget, it’s still important to consider the readers themselves—MG readers want to have a choice in what they read. A great MG title should capture the child’s imagination, while also satisfying potential gatekeepers.
Create an MG space
For booksellers and librarians, rather than having MG readers have to walk back and forth between the juvenile and teen collections, create a specific section for MG titles. Booksellers and publishers should also create an online section just for MG books. Creating an MG space can help readers discover more books like the ones they love and can prevent the reader from having to feel too old for the kid’s section and too young for the YA section.
Design with MG readers in mind
In order to attract MG readers, designers and publishers should create eye-catching cover designs and make sure that other visual elements of the physical book are accessible and interesting to kids. The cover should tell a story and help potential readers know exactly what the book is going to be about. Same with the back cover. Blurbs may be important for adults, but kids aren’t going to care what other adults have to say about the book they have in their hands—they just want to know what it’s about!
Reach out to readers
Appealing to MG readers themselves can be tricky, as MG-aged readers aren’t allowed on many online platforms. Safe and acceptable websites to promote MG books include YouTube Kids and Dogobooks, a kid’s book-review website. Author events and book fairs at schools and bookstores are a great way to market and promote directly to readers. Book festivals are also a great way to interact with MG readers directly. Attending festivals such as the North Texas Teen Book Festival and OMG (Oh Middle Grade) Bookfest can be invaluable to marketing your MG novel.
Have fun and experiment
Middle grade readers are open, curious, smart, and willing to try new things. Experiment with who’s telling your story—kid, cat, alien—MG readers are open to many different perspectives. Try writing your story in text message form, or maybe in a series of notes, or experiment with graphic novel style. Try humor, try horror, and don’t shy away from serious topics. Although MG readers are young, they are also just beginning to become aware of the world outside of themselves. If you felt that your story was underrepresented when you were a kid, write that story. Create a diversity of stories and help build empathetic MG readers, and above all, have fun!