In a lit agency’s online submission form, I replied to question about comparable titles by saying I don’t have time to keep up with all the stories that are currently on the shelves. The agent replied: If I want to write middle grade fiction, I must read current middle grade fiction. She said immersing myself in it is the best way to capture the voice and pulse of these stories. I was always taught to write the story that I am comfortable with, my truth, my ideas. Not write what is currently hot now. Am I wrong on this? Should I be reading current MG? I don’t know how to fit in the time—I barely squeeze in the occasional adult novel, magazines, and Publisher’s Weekly. Most importantly, I don’t want to end up writing something that’s already out there. Thoughts?
She’s right. Read current middle grade novels. Two reasons: As a businessperson you must know what’s happening in your marketplace. Not so you can chase trends—most of us can’t get books written, bought, revised, and produced that quickly—but so you can position your book as akin to this or that but different in these key, marketable ways when it’s time to submit. That’s what agents, editors, and store buyers do with every book they buy or rep. You’re submitting, so I know this isn’t just your passion, it’s your business. Know your business. On the craft side, reading other MG will deepen your sense of middle grade voice and sensibility, and your writer’s toolbox will expand, improving your versatility as a storyteller. Please don’t be afraid of sabotaging your stories. Writing doesn’t work like that. You’ll mix and match new tools and strategies in ways only you can, flavored by your unique perspectives, interests, and experiences. As for the time crunch, one word: audiobooks.