Posts Tagged #mg #mgauthor #mgkidlit #kidlitauthor #middlegrademarket #mgbooks #wndmg #mglit

Author Interview with Dianne Salerni, Part II


While doing an interview with Dianne Salerni for her newest release, The Carrefore Curse, she mentioned hitting a career snag after releasing the final book in her fantastic Eighth Day trilogy. I’m a huge fan of her work and really enjoyed the Eighth Day series so my interest was immediately piqued by her doubts about the future of her writing career at that point. I thought it would be interesting to pick Dianne’s brain for a bonus interview about her writing career and how she navigates the ups and downs of this business.

Publication list to date:

  • The Carrefour Curse(2023)
  • Jadie in Five Dimensions (2021)
  • Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts (2020)
    • The Eighth Day (2014)
    • The Inquisitor’s Mark (2015)
    • The Morrigan’s Curse (2016)
  • The Caged Graves (2013)
  • Very Superstitious Charity Anthology (2013)
  • We Hear the Dead (2010)

The Carrefour Curse - Salerni, Dianne K.Jadie in Five Dimensions - Salerni, Dianne K.Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghosts - Salerni, Dianne K.The Eighth Day - Salerni, Dianne K.The Inquisitor's Mark - Salerni, Dianne K.


Can you tell us your writer’s origin story? Can I safely assume there weren’t any radioactive arachnids or harrowing escapes from dying planets involved?

No spiders whatsoever and no dying planet as far as I know! Just parents and grandparents who read to me all the time so I started trying to write my own books at the age of four. (Well, I drew the pictures, anyway.) I still have my first book, The Dragon and the Girl. It looks like I cut the pages from a larger sheet of paper and assembled them with Elmer’s Glue. 

I continued to write stories throughout my childhood, carrying notebooks with me everywhere I went. This went on into high school, during which I submitted short stories to Isaac Asimov Magazine (rejected). Fiction writing tapered off in college, but I returned to the habit as a young teacher, often writing stories for my students that featured them as characters. I produced a couple of YA novels that my husband convinced me to submit to agents (rejected). In 2007, once again encouraged by my husband, I self-published a book about real-life spirit mediums Maggie and Kate Fox with iUniverse. (This was before the days of Amazon self-publishing.) The book, High Spirits, A Ghostly Tale of Rapping and Romance, caught the attention of Sourcebooks just as they were launching their YA imprint, Sourcebooks Fire. They offered for the book, and it was edited and reprinted in 2010 under the title We Hear the Dead.

I quickly realized I was way over my head signing contracts and navigating the world of publishing on my own. The ink on We Hear the Dead was barely dry before I started querying for agents.

The Journey

The reality of a writer’s life is no different from the ebbs and flows of life in general. What are a few of your most significant or valued career experiences with over a decade as a published writer under your belt? 

The most important career experience I learned was the value of a good editor. My first experience with this comes from something that’s not usually part of my bibliography. Before the publication of We Hear the Dead, I published an adult short story with a short-lived anthology series called Visions. After reading my story, titled The Necromancer, the editor said that the ending lacked the right twist and suggested alternatives:  Ending A or Ending B.

I answered that I didn’t like Ending A but thought Ending B was a fantastic idea!

His response: “Great! Now make the reader think you are going for Ending A before pulling the rug out from under them with Ending B.”


Hats off to Michael Katz, the editor in question! He was the first, and every editor afterward has taught me something important about writing in general and my books specifically. In particular, I love working with my current Holiday House editor, Sally Morgridge, who always has brilliant insights into how to take my manuscripts to the next level.

If you could travel across dimensions with Jadie Martin to leave a piece of career advice to the 2010 Dianne, what would it be?

What I would tell 2010 Dianne – and anybody else embarking on the journey of publishing – is this: When an authority in the publishing world gives you devastating news that predicts the end of your writing career, don’t listen to them! I don’t mean that you should ignore the advice of editors and agents. (See the answer I gave to the last question!) I mean, if they tell you that you are a failure, they are wrong.

In 2010, a high-ranking editor at Sourcebooks told me that sales for We Hear the Dead were so bad, she didn’t think B&N would ever stock another book by me.

Also in 2010, a high-powered agent told me that the contract I’d signed for Sourcebooks contained a bottomless option clause that made it impossible for her to take me as a client. “Frankly,” she said, “I doubt any agent will take you.”

As a point of fact, B&N stocked my next 6 books. (Then they stopped stocking all midlist MG books, but that’s a different kind of problem.)

And the next agent who responded to my query offered representation. When I confessed to her about the No-Good Very Bad Option Clause, Sara Crowe – agent extraordinaire – said: “They can’t hold you to that! I can make that go away with a phone call.” And she did.

No matter how important an editor or agent is, no one has the right to imply that you should give up. Their opinion is still only an opinion.

No Writer is an Island

Who is on Team Dianne? 

As you can probably tell from my answers above, my husband is very definitely on my team. Not only is he a one-man cheerleading squad and poker/prodder when I need a little push, he actually reads my manuscripts. Depending on the project, he might read chapter by chapter as I write, or I’ll send him the whole thing when I’m finished. He’s not a writer, but he has a good ear for voice and will highlight lines where “this character wouldn’t say it like that.”

For years I have relied on Marcy Hatch, author of time-traveling western West of Paradise, as a critique partner. I send her chapters while I’m drafting, and she provides feedback and cheerleading. (I do the same for her.)

There have been many people I’ve relied on as beta readers over the years – people I ask to read the entire manuscript after it has gone through a few revisions. But one person I can always count on to accurately pinpoint the problems in a manuscript is writer Maria Mainero. For example, Jadie in Five Dimensions went through many, many drafts (and died on submission twice). For years I insisted on including, in the second half of the book, chapters with adult POVs. Beta readers kept telling me, “You have to cut those because kids don’t like adult POV.” Well, that’s a dumb reason to cut them, and it’s not true. I can think of a few best-sellers with adult POV chapters.

Then Maria came along and said, “These late-appearing adult POV chapters would be better off told by the middle-grade POV characters you’ve already introduced. And here’s why.” It was the why that convinced me. Maria was the only reader who helped me see the opportunity I’d blown for my already established POV characters by introducing new ones. It had nothing to do with them being adults. 

Are there any support groups or individuals you turn to for advice and/or support?

I’m a member of the KidLit Author Club, a group of PB, MG, and YA authors who live in the mid-Atlantic states. We support each other at author events – conferences and festivals – sometimes carpooling or referring each other to events we can’t attend ourselves. The membership is fluid, as people’s lives and goals change, but I’ve been with the group since 2012. When I retired from teaching in 2014, I worried about the fact that I would no longer have contact with “co-workers.” But as I started attending events in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York, I realized that the KidLit Authors were my new co-workers. In addition to supporting each other at events, we also do some beta reading and book blurbing for each other.

The Horizon

We all know hindsight is, or appears to be, 20/20 so how do you prepare for what comes next using the gift of experience? 

I have learned to accept that gaps in my publishing resume happen, and that’s okay. There’s a 3-year gap between my first and second book and 4 years (almost 5, really) between the last book in The Eighth Day series and Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts. Sometimes, it’s an issue of manuscripts that don’t find the right editor. Other times it’s because my productivity is down. Both of those things are okay. It doesn’t mean there won’t be a next book when the time for that next book arrives.

Do you think one book at a time or do you project several future books at a time?

I am definitely a one-book-at-a-time author. The only time I planned multiple books at once was while I was writing The Eighth Day series. Even then, I only started planning the sequels after the first book sold. I was hoping for a series, but I had no big plan ahead of time! My editor, the head of HarperCollins Children’s Books, asked me to plan for 5 books but to make sure the 3rd book had a satisfying conclusion in case they decided not to buy the last two. She assured me, though, that wouldn’t happen. Then she retired. You can guess what happened next, and I chalk that one up to another “gift of experience.”

Navigational Beacons

With the saying, “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” in mind, how does your experience affect how you evaluate your future projects and decisions? 

I have a lot of dead manuscripts on my computer. But I have come to believe in the power of resurrection. Jadie in Five Dimensions died on submission in 2015 and then again, after a round of revisions, in 2017. In the fall of 2019, my agent offered it exclusively to Sally Morgridge at Holiday House after she and I finished working on Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts. Luckily, Maria Mainero had already convinced me to rewrite those troublesome POV chapters, although I bet if she hadn’t, Sally would have given me the same advice.

My most recent book The Carrefour Curse and my next book The Tontine Caper (2025) were born out of manuscripts that I abandoned after the first draft. In both cases, the manuscripts languished in my “dead” files for 3 years before I opened them again and got back to work.

So, I guess I don’t always evaluate my projects correctly? Last fall, I closed the file on a really, really, really crappy story. But is it really trash? I don’t know. I’ll figure it out in a couple of years.

In the spirit of concerning yourself solely with controlling the things you can control, do you trust in the power of persistence + patience and in keeping to the course as a creator?

Very much so. Jadie in Five Dimensions would never have been published if I hadn’t believed in that story enough to keep revising and revising – and seeking out beta readers until an astute reader told me where I was falling down on the job. Some stories just need patience and time to slumber until I’m ready to look at them under the right lens.


Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in this interview, Mike! Publishing is a bumpy road, and authors are cautioned not to publicly air their woes. (I’m not supposed to tweet: 12 rejections for this manuscript! 3 editors loved the character but not the plot. 4 editors love the plot but not the character. And 5 just don’t like aliens! This was a real thing, by the way, for a manuscript that was never published. Yet.) But those rules are loosening, and I think it’s good for published authors to talk about the bumps and potholes and sinkholes so that other authors, published and pre-published, know their experiences are shared by many.

Thank you, Dianne, for being our guest once again and sharing your experiences and insights from over a decade in the publishing business. Best of luck and keep your words, especially those middle-grade words, flowing! 

If interested in more information and updates from Dianne, visit her online at Thanks for reading! 


Agent Spotlight: Victoria Doherty-Munro of Writers House

Literary Agent Victoria Doherty Munro

Literary Agent Victoria Doherty Munro


Let’s give a warm Mixed-Up Files welcome to Victoria Doherty-Munro! Torie is a junior agent at Writers House, where she represents middle grade, young adult, and adult authors. She started at Writers House as an intern in 2010 and, after graduating from Wellesley College with a degree in English, was hired as the assistant to senior agent Daniel Lazar in 2012. She began building her own list in 2015.

What a treat it’s been for me to interview Torie and learn about her enthusiasm for good books, her preferences as an agent, and her many and varied interests, from Central Park to soccer fields!

SK: Tell us about your path to becoming an agent.

VDM: I majored in English in college (to the surprise of exactly no one, as that had always been my favorite subject in school) and had no idea what I wanted to do with that degree until the end of my sophomore year – I was in my favorite bookstore and was suddenly hit by the realization that there were people involved behind the scenes in bringing books to the world. I’d just never thought about it before, somehow! I started researching the industry and was lucky enough to get an internship at Writers House the following summer; I fell in love with both agenting and the company itself, and I sort of just…refused to leave? (Not really, but I was hired to assist senior agent Dan Lazar a few months after I graduated from college and promoted to junior agent a few years later.)   

SK: What are the best and worst parts of being an agent?

VDM: The best part is always the moment I get to tell a client that they’re going to be published! And I love the feeling I get when I’m reading a manuscript, either a new client project or a submission, and I can start to see things really coming together.

 The worst part is rejections, for sure. It really is a privilege when authors choose to submit their work to me for consideration and having to pass is never a good feeling, but I try to keep in mind that they deserve an agent who is head-over-heels in love with their work and that if that isn’t me then I’m not the right fit. And on the flip side, it’s never fun to get a rejection from an editor on a project that I’ve submitted on behalf of a client – I love those books so much, too, that getting passes can sting a little!

SK: What do you look for in a query?

VDM: An interesting premise and something that grabs my attention in the opening pages.

 SK: What are the top reasons you pass on a submission?

VDM: This is kind of hard to answer! Often there’s just something about a submission that doesn’t quite feel like a fit for me, or something that I know isn’t working but that I don’t feel I have the editorial vision to address.

 I will say, though, that recently I’ve been passing a lot due to pacing issues – either the story starts off too fast and I can’t get oriented in it or it feels like it’s taking too long to get to the heart of the plot.

SK: What do you love most about middle-grade novels?

VDM: I love that they can tackle big topics with humor and heart, in a way that makes things accessible for kids as they figure out themselves and the world around them! I also think these books can be so special because they’re often the ones that make kids into readers – one of my closest friends teaches 6th grade Language Arts and I always love hearing stories about that moment when one of her students finds *the* book that opens up the whole world of reading to them.

 SK: Which middle-grade book(s) influenced you most as a child?

VDM: How much time do you have?! I could list a million…but in the interest of brevity, I’ll say that The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was a constant favorite (so I got a kick out of the name of this website) as were Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and all its sequels by Mildred D. Taylor and Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (I actually went to a book event of hers when I was in college and got her to sign my incredibly bedraggled 15-year-old copy). And my brothers and I still have several inside jokes stemming from our love of A Series of Unfortunate Events, though it’s been years since any of us have read those books.

 I was also absolutely obsessed with Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix for years and almost lost my mind when I saw the news that she’d written a sequel! 

 SK: What are some of your favorite current middle-grade novels?

VDM: Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega, Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston by Esme Symes-Smith, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, Front Desk by Kelly Yang, Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga, and The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste all come to mind! And obviously I will be reading Falling Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix as soon as possible.

SK: Which genres/themes/subjects are you drawn to?

VDM: I tend to be most drawn to contemporary, speculative, and fantasy – and am really loving that horror is having a moment in middle grade right now! And I’m particularly interested in seeing projects from marginalized authors whose voices and perspectives haven’t historically been represented in publishing.

 SK: What advice do you have for authors who would like to send you a query?

VDM: I’m not sure I have any specific advice, other than…please do send me a query if you think we might be a good fit! I’m actively building my list of clients and would be thrilled to find another middle grade project (or two! or more!) to fall in love with.

 SK: What are your favorite things to do that have nothing to do with being an agent?

VDM: I love soccer (playing it sometimes, watching it always), trying new recipes, going to the theater, and finding new corners of Central Park to explore. I’m also sort of getting into baking, though I’m still in the phase where it kind of stresses me out…but I’m getting better!

SK: Please tell us a little about your agency.

VDM: Writers House was founded in 1973 with a vision for a new kind of literary agency, one that would combine a passion for managing a writer’s career with an integrated understanding of how storytelling works. With this two-pronged philosophy, Writers House has played a critical role in developing the careers of hundreds of novelists and non-fiction authors. We believe in offering our clients not only our expertise in negotiating contracts, but in contributing to all phases of the editorial and publishing processes. Our goal is to maximize the value of our clients’ work by providing hands-on editorial and marketing advice, as well as leading the way in branding, licensing, and selling film/TV, foreign, audio, dramatic and serial rights. 

SK: It’s been so great getting to know you, Torie. I’m sure a lot of our readers are going to be interested in connecting with you. Where can authors learn more about you? 

The best place right now is probably on Twitter, @toriedm! I tweet out specific #MSWL asks there and also post my to-read piles periodically so authors can get a sense of my taste.

The Middle Grade Market

four children looking at a book

A recent issue of Publisher’s Weekly was largely dedicated to identifying shifts in the children’s book market and discussing the challenges and triumphs of middle grade literature.

Red box with white letters, PW

Let’s Start With the Challenges

Middle grade book sales have fallen over the past couple of years. That decrease includes both hardcover and paperback print sales. There’s been a buzz over the past year about large bookstores cutting back on the number of hardcover books they keep in stock.

Another roadblock faced by children’s authors and publishers is related to the pandemic. In-person school visits, book store appearances, and speaking opportunities were not possible for a while. These visits are the primary way many middle grade authors connect with their audience.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, even reviews are not handed out as readily as they were in the past. A reduction in industry reviews also limits visibility and discoverability for new books and debut authors.


And Now for the Good News…Let’s Start With Indie Bookstores

shelves with books, red seats, people reading

Independent bookstores are scheduling events and engaging young readers. These local gems provide a platform for authors to connect with readers and for kids to connect with books.

Even when there aren’t events going on, indie bookstores offer a personal touch. Booksellers talk to kids about their reading preferences and guide them toward new titles they may not have found on their own. That one-on-one engagement goes a long way toward creating book sales.

Whether you’re a middle grade author, a young reader, or an adult trying to pick out the right book for an 8-13-year-old in your life, form a relationship with your local independent bookstore. You won’t be sorry.


Teachers, Librarians, Parents, and Guardians

classroom, students in blue, teacher standing

While kids are the target audience, the best way to get books into their hands is to get the attention of the people who are going to be buying the books. The adults are often the gatekeepers in the middle grade arena.

School visits are on the rise again, and that’s definitely a great way to boost sales and increase visibility. Reaching out to librarians to schedule an in-person visit can boost sales of your backlist as well as your latest publication.

You can also reach this customer base online. Consider tailoring your social media marketing toward the adults in a kid’s life. Look for ways to include educational content in your posts. Offer tips on literacy and book selection, and use hashtags that will help your posts reach your customers. 

It may also be advantageous to engage with influencers. Follow some bookstagrammers and parenting bloggers. Making sales to adult gatekeepers is great, but the real pay-off is in the word-of-mouth marketing that can follow that purchase. Influencers who have a substantial number of followers can magnify the word-of mouth effect.


So What’s Selling in Middle Grade?

Among the books that are selling, there are some definite trends. Take a look at any major bestseller list and some market trends will immediately stand out.


Graphic Novels

orange book cover, yellow text, boy riding seahorse

While overall sales of middle grade books might be down, authors like Jeff Kinney, Dav Pilkey, and Raina Telgemeirer are continually topping those bestseller lists. These books have been popular with kids for a while, but now teachers, librarians, parents, and guardians are getting on board.

A couple of years ago, a lot of adults didn’t see graphic novels as “real reading.” As the popularity of this format has grown and the availability of these books has increased, the stigma has fallen away. Adults are buying graphic novels and kids are devouring them.


Nostalgic Titles

blue background, white text, girl adjusting shoe

The current resurgence of book banning has reminded readers of frequently banned authors of yesteryear, like Judy Blume. And the movie adaptation of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has sent sales soaring. Judy Blume books are flying off the shelves, and a whole new audience is receiving them with open arms.

Noticing the sales generated by graphic novels, publishers have combined the popularity of this format with the nod toward nostalgia, and the result is overwhelming. Graphic novel editions of everything from Magic Treehouse books to the Babysitters’ Club are showing up on bookshelves.


What’s Next for Middle Grade?

If you can answer that question, you may have found your golden ticket to fame and fortune. While no one can feel secure in predicting the future, there are some trends beginning to emerge. 

blonde woman, white t-shirt, book with confetti

Booksellers are seeing kids tend toward books with darker themes. Tantalizing adventure, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and some scary stuff – all within middle grade boundaries – are attracting the attention of young readers. Equally attractive are books with a touch of magic. This may be where the trend is headed, but then again, it’s anybody’s guess.

There are also a growing number of books by BIPOC authors being published, and readers are ready for them. More kids are being drawn toward books where they see themselves represented. It was a definite hole in the children’s book market, and the current trend toward publishing diverse books is growing steadily and generating sales.

So whether you are a reader, a writer, or a gatekeeper of middle grade books, look ahead with confidence. Author visits are on the rise, indie bookstores are champions, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm surrounding graphic novels, nostalgic texts, and diverse books. Sales may have hit a slump, but the future is bright for middle grade!