by R.S. Mellette
While the publishing world argues over what’s Middle Grade, what’s Young Adult, and what’s New Adult, I’m asking; whatever happened to “good for the whole family?”
Target marketing has been around long enough that most people think it’s the only way it’s ever been, but if you take a longer view of commercial art, you’ll see that excluding the majority of your potential audience is a brand new concept. Yes, I said “excluding.” If you write, or edit, or make acquisitions, or shelf for one specific age group, then you are limiting your audience. And by “brand new” I mean since the turn of the previous century.
Before radio, movies, television, and the internet split audiences into tiny chunks, there were basically two markets: kids and adults. Even at the beginning of these technologies, artists had to create work that would satisfy whoever might receive the signal from the air. Going back even further, when books were expensive to print and buy, one book had to entertain the entire family.
How did they achieve what modern-day marketing and acquisitions executives see as the rare and illusive “crossover?” Let’s take a look.
Look at Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo and the Three Musketeers series. Look at Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and Treasure Island. Look at anything by Shakespeare, Dickens, or Twain. Each of these cases, and many more, contain certain elements editors, acquisition execs, and store owners should look for:
- Characters of various ages, or the entire life of a character, not just kids
- Sex is left to what anyone might witness in public
- Age groups are targeted by beats within the story, not the entire work
Take a closer look at Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Today we’d call that a YA romance, or a chick flick, but Shakespeare couldn’t afford that luxury. Most of London would, at some point or another, come to see his plays — old, young, rich, poor, men, women, educated, uneducated, sophisticated, and unruly. He had to keep them all happy or the crowd might riot. If he didn’t keep royalty happy, he might lose his head. So he starts with a prologue that says, yes, this is a romance, so if that’s what you want, settle in for exactly what you’re expecting. Then the men come on and proceed to tell crude jokes about how small their enemies’ privates are, and Romeo talks about the woman he slept with the night before — though, you’d have to have knowledge of the carnal type yourself to know what he’s talking about. Throughout the story, Shakespeare switches from action to romance, from poetry to punnery. He gives each member of his audience something to look forward to.
Now let’s look at the book that shall not be named. The crossover is so big that it changed the way best-seller lists are calculated.
The Harry Potter series…
- Characters of various ages: CHECK
- Sex is left to what might be witnessed in public: CHECK
- Age groups are targeted by beats: CHECK
This isn’t rocket science, folks.
Something else that should be considered in marketing for the whole family. Aristotle said that art should entertain and educate. By creating a single work for all ages, not only is your marketing inclusive rather than exclusive, but young minds get a peek into what might lay ahead of them in life. Those of us that are older are reminded of what was important in our youth, and should probably be important to us again today.
So, if you own a bookstore, set up a BOOKS THE WHOLE FAMILY CAN READ TOGETHER shelf and see what happens.
If you’re an editor, push those YA books that you like as an adult on your acquisitions executives.
If you’re in acquisitions, think about including readers, not excluding them.
If you’re an agent, keep pushing, we’ll get there.
If you’re a writer, keep writing, we’ll get there too.
Thoughts? Questions? Lively discussion welcome in the comments below!
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Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand, is R.S. Mellette’s debut novel from Elephant Bookshelf’s Press, followed by Billy Bobble And the Witch Hunt. Prior to Billy Bobble, Mellette published Sci-Fi short stories in the anthologies: The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse, Spring Fevers and Summer’s Edge. Mellette is associate director of the Dances With Films Festival and a regional board member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.