Monday, July 18, 2011

Guest Post: Tales of a MG Writer

Hi everyone. My name is Sarvenaz Tash and I’m an MG writer…by which I mean that
my debut novel (The Mapmaker and the Ghost, April 2012), is a middle grade novel and the next two WIPs I have are also MGs. Genn had some questions on here about writing MG and asked if there was anyone who wanted to maybe address them. So, here I am!

My huge caveat is that I, of course, am in no way an expert in all things MG. I just write them! So here are some answers to FAQs from my perspective.

Why do you write MG?

The sentimental reasons can be found on a post that I did on my blog here. But the practical reason is that the protagonists that have been popping into my head lately are between 10 and 13-years-old.

I’m very much a character-driven writer and it’s really as simple as that. The stories are kid-friendly and the protagonists are the right age for the genre. And I always let
the story dictate the genre, not the other way around.

Do you worry about language and vocabulary?
No. Well, I obviously can’t have any cursing in MG, so, sometimes, I have to think a
little harder for creative ways around that. But as for vocabulary that’s too difficult,
no, I don’t think about that as I’m writing the story.

I’ll write the first few drafts out exactly as I need and then, at times, my editor will
ask me to take out a few words because they may be too adult or too big. But, in
general, I’m not writing books for early readers (whose main purpose is to teach
reading and vocabulary) and I’m a firm believer in kids learning vocabulary through
context. In fact, English is my second language and I learned most of my vocabulary
through fiction.

What are the trends you foresee in MG?
I think I might be a terrible person to answer this question because I really don’t
think in terms of trends; again, I let the story drive what I’m writing.

That being said, my book is a humorous adventure story. I think those two things
always do well in MG. Then again, I know plenty of MG debut authors whose books
are in all sorts of genres: historical verse (May B. by Caroline Starr Rose), mystery
(Kristen Kittscher), contemporary (One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullally Hunt).

In my opinion, the whole point of fiction is to lose yourself in a fresh voice, or
setting, or character. I think trends are sort of irrelevant.

Do you think it was harder to land your agent or sell your book because it was
I don’t know. I went out on submission with two MG books. One sold and one didn’t.
I’ve never been on submission with a YA book, so I have nothing really to compare it
to. But even if I did, I don’t think it would matter.

Being out on submission with anything is such a subjective thing. You never know
when your manuscript is going to land across someone’s desk who just happens to
have been looking for that very idea to fill out their list.

In my extremely non-expert and clichéd opinion, I don’t think it matters so much
whether its YA or MG or anything else. It’s the story that has to catch the agent and
editor’s attention.

I will add this: it’s true that I see many less 2012 debut MG writers than YA writers.
But that has both positive and negative aspects to it. Just think of it as, if you
sell your MG book, you’ll probably have less competition for shelf space at the

Any other thoughts on writing MG vs. YA?
The aspect I’m trying to figure out at the moment is marketing MG vs. marketing YA.
With YA, authors can really reach their audience directly. But with MG, authors—
I think—should more likely gear their marketing efforts to the gatekeepers: the
librarians, teachers and parents who are making the book-buying decisions.

I’m sure I’ll figure it out though and continue to learn from this crazy but wonderful

One final thing I can say is that I’m extremely happy that my debut book is MG. That
book was the story I wanted to tell.

I hope this was somewhat useful! If anyone has any other questions I can answer,
please feel free to leave them in the comments section. Thanks so much for having
me, Genn!

And thank you, Sarv!


  1. I love that you are firm about kids learning vocabulary through reading. I think that's how I learned best, and some of my favorite MG books, like the Chronicles of Narnia, certainly maintain a level of diction consistent with the subject and setting. I still learn words from Harry Potter!

  2. Those are both excellent examples: I love the vocabulary in both NARNIA and HARRY POTTER!

  3. Great interview! What was the most difficult thing about writing MG? How hard was is to land an agent?

    Do you believe that MG will experience a growth like that of YA?

  4. Thanks, Robyn!

    To answer your questions: I think the most difficult part of writing MG is the same as writing any novel: creating a satisfying story with compelling and complex characters.

    My personal agent story is a bit of an anomaly: I met mine through a writing workshop I was taking (she was the teacher and decided to become an agent at the tail-end of the class). But I also queried for a year or so and got to varying levels of success that way.

    Back when the early Harry Potter books were still coming out, I remember there being a ton of new MG books everywhere. I know right now the focus seems to be more YA but I do believe that MG will experience that sort of recognition and burgeoning again soon. All we need is another amazing series like HP to lead the way. Well, or at least one that comes within a respectable striking distance. :-)

  5. Great interview... can't wait for the book.

  6. Thanks for the interview. I was one of the people asking about MG books, and sales, etc., so I appreciate Gen hunting down a MG author. Thanks to you both and good luck with your 2012 release, Sarvenaz!

  7. @E.W. Thank you! Are you writing MG? Good luck to you too!

  8. Yes, I have a MG WIP. I'm a professor and spend all day reading, writing, and teaching, and I have two very small children, so this puppy is getting written mostly late at night. It's a bit slow going at the moment, but I'm have a great time watching the story unfold. Can't wait to read your book; it sounds great!

  9. @E.W. I wrote mine with a full-time job but no kids so I can only imagine. You can do it though!

    By the way, for anyone who's interested, Elissa Cruz has started an MG Twitter chat. I think the first one is this Thursday at 9 PM EST, using the hashtag #MGlitchat. You can follow her at!/elissacruz for more info.

  10. One--among many--of the things you said really struck me: "One final thing I can say is that I’m extremely happy that my debut book is MG. That book was the story I wanted to tell."

    That's something I have to think about. My favorite story I've ever written is MG (and will hopefully be a series) but almost every other novel or idea I have is YA. I have no idea what kind of impact it would have on my following/sales if I published the MG first, and then came out with mostly YA after that....And yet the MG novel is the one I really want to be told! But thanks for sharing that, Sarvenaz, b/c it makes me have to think about what my goals are exactly.

  11. @Rain , I know quite a number of authors who write both. Robin Mellom, for instance, is a debut author who has an MG series and a YA book both coming out in 2012.

    In my experience, the story that you love the most and therefore tinker with the most (the one that keeps clamoring for your attention) ultimately is probably your strongest story. That's what happened to me with the two MGs I went on submission with. I never felt as strongly about the other one as I did about this one and I think that actually made a big difference in the end result.

    Good luck! I hope to see your MG (and YAs) make their way out into the world soon, too!