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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!