Thursday, September 20, 2018

Why Writing for Younger Readers is the Best. Job. Ever.

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Part of The Writer’s Life Series

Writing for teens and tweens has benefits no other market can offer.

Although my writing career has expanded to other genres and markets since I published my first novel (a middle grade fantasy), writing for teens and tweens is where my heart lies. I love writing nonfiction and stories for adults as well, but connecting with young readers is rewarding on a different level.

I’ve known a lot of writers who have considered writing for teens and tweens, and if you’re thinking about it now, I encourage you to do so. Writing for a younger audience takes the job (and fun) to a whole new level.

And maybe I’m biased, but kidlit authors have the best fans (grin). We also get the best fan letters.

The Shifter released in October of 2008. I started getting letters (yes, real letters forwarded to me by my publisher) not long after, and then emails. Ten years later, some of those readers still write me. This week alone I received emails from two girls I’ve been “pen pals” with for years. It’s been amazing hearing how these young readers have grown up and to have been a teeny part of their lives.

One of them, L, first wrote me in 2011 when she was ten years old—her father emailed me a scan of the letter. L just started college this month and has ambitions of joining the FBI. She’s sent me samples of her photography over the years, and we’ve shared recommendations on books.

Another, G, starting writing in 2016 when she was twelve. Her middle name is even Janice, which is pretty cool. She just started eighth grade, loves the water, and wants to learn to scuba dive (I’m a rescue diver, so we have that in common).

I first met C in 2011 at a book singing for Darkfall, and she’s also off to college and submitting her writing to agents now (and getting some good feedback on her work, go C!). We reconnected last year and she’s become one of my beta readers now, which is awesome. We’ve even become friends.

Me and C. Not a flattering photo of either of us, but 
we'll get a new one at her first book singing one day.
And then there are the little moments that make my whole day. A few weeks ago, I received an email from a teacher who was teaching The Shifter in her class. She sent me letters and photos of some of the boys, but one really hit home. Here’s what she told me (with permission to share):
JL has literally never read a full novel before. He's always struggled with reading, and generally gives up within a chapter or two. But he read the whole of The Shifter over a couple of days, and is super excited about reading the rest of the series. When I saw him today, he gave me a whole list of books he now wants (and is confident) to read. Reading The Shifter has shown him that books are exciting and not something to be feared. His mum is absolutely over the moon (of course), and wants to pass on her thanks to you as well!
A letter like that can keep me smiling for days, and I’ll re-read it when writing is hard and I want to chuck the whole author thing. It keeps me going and reminds me that what I do matters. I’ve had other young readers tell me they didn’t like reading until they read my book, and these emails alone make all the hard days and self doubts about writing worth it. For them, my book made a difference, and I’m sure other books have had the same affect on other young readers. Imagine how it would feel if it were your book.

Sometimes, you make a bigger impact than your realize.

Years ago, I had a series of emails with a young girl, B, who was ten years old. She had all sorts of questions about my novel and writing in general, and after a few weeks of chatting, she thanked me for talking with her. She said that no one had ever taken the time to do so. It made me cry, but I was so glad she’d written me, and glad I’d written back (I always do, by the way).

I have a whole folder of emails from young readers excited about reading and asking questions about me and my stories. I love talking to them, and it has been an amazing experience.

That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate and enjoy the letters I get from adults (grin). I have adult pen pals, too, and some of my first blog readers went on to publish their novels and launch their careers—and have come back to guest post right here. Hearing I made a difference in someone’s life, no matter how small, is deeply rewarding. I created this site to help writers and I love doing it.

But seeing a young reader’s eyes light up when they talk about books or ask a question at a school visit, getting letters from them about their pets or what they did on vacation, and knowing they love reading because of something I wrote—that’s the best.

If you’ve ever thought about writing for kids, try it. Maybe it’s not for you, but maybe you’ll discover you love it. One day, you might get a letter from a kid who loves reading because of you.

Do you write for younger readers? Do you want to? Have you had a similar experience with a reader (no matter what the age or genre)?

If you're looking for more to improve your craft (or a fun fantasy read), check out one of my writing books or novels:

In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for plotting a novel, and the companion Plotting Your Novel Workbook, and my Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series, with step-by-step guides to revising a novel. 

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.
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  1. This post made me really happy, so thank you for that! A big reason why I write is to connect to younger readers. Even though I read a ton when I was young and would have been absolutely thrilled to talk to my favorite authors, I never wrote them--I thought they were way too busy to care about anything I might send. I wish I could go back and tell my young self to write them anyway, because most of them do care and make time to respond. Anyway, until we invent time travel, the next best thing is to get to reach out to today's readers and give them the experience I never had.

    1. Same here. Almost every email has some form of "I'm sure you're too busy to reply, but...". They're always so excited when I do :)