Chapter Book Q & A with Ariel Bernstein
When I was approached to write a post for the Chapter Book Challenge, I wasn’t sure at first what I should write about. So I asked writers in the KidLit411 Facebook group what they would like to know about chapter books. Below are some of the questions asked (a couple are condensed), and my answers.
How do you break into the market as a writer?
To break into the chapter book market, you mostly take the same route as breaking into the picture book, middle grade, and young adult markets. You write the best manuscript you can, query agents, and the agent will send the manuscript to editors that accept chapter book submissions. Sometimes a writer will have a previous relationship with an editor from other books, but that isn’t a pre-requisite for an editor wanting a book. In fact, some editors only want to work with writers in one category, such as only wanting to accept picture book submissions from a writer.
Also, sometimes a publisher will think of an idea for a chapter book series and approach a writer (either directly or through their agent), to work on the material. This is known as “work-for-hire.” Keep in mind that while this is commonplace for the industry, there are still plenty of deals made for chapter books where the story originates with the author.
Are most chapter books sold as stand alone books or series?
Most chapter books are sold in a multiple books deal, as the expectation (and hope!) is that there will be many books in the series. My chapter book series, WARREN & DRAGON, was originally sold in a 2-book deal. The offer for books 3 and 4 came later. Sometimes an editor and writer will have a finite number of books in mind for a series, and something it will just depend on how well the series does, and if the writer wants to continue with it. Keep in mind that you usually don’t need to have written more than one book to submit a chapter book. Sometimes an editor will want to know your ideas for future books, so it’s a good idea to think of a few more storylines.
How to get your chapter book manuscript submission ready?
Read a ton of recently published chapter books to see what works in them, and then see if the same elements are working in your own story. Also, it helps to find fellow chapter book writers to trade critiques with. Most of the time you will have to trust your instinct when your story seems ready for submission. Some writers will find freelance editors and writers to give them feedback, and while this can be helpful, it can also be costly and is not a necessity.
How do you decide if your book is a chapter book or middle grade?
There are specific things you can look for, such as the age of the main character(s). If the main character is in grades kindergarten through 3rd, it is often a chapter book. If the main character is in 4th grade through middle school, they are often in a middle grade. Word count is a big tell as well. Chapter books are usually anywhere from 2,000 to around 12,000 words, while middle grade novels often start above 40,000 words. But the best way to tell if your story should be a chapter book or a middle grade novel is the voice. To know where the voice of your story belongs, you’d need to read published chapter books and middle grades to see where it fits in.
Can you write a chapter book with the main character as an animal?
Sure! Editors are always looking for original concepts and characters in chapter books, so having the main character be something they’ve never seen before is a great way to get their attention. Just make sure that an animal main character is still relatable to young chapter book readers. A chapter book reader would likely understand the character of a cat who doesn’t want to go on their family’s annual camping trip in order to watch the feline world series. But they might not understand a book about a grandpa unicorn who knits horn caps all day. If the right audience wants to read your book, it’ll work.
I hope the answers to these questions help all chapter book writers! I’m looking forward to reading your stories!
Ariel Bernstein has the voice of an owl, a monkey, and a boy with a dragon for a pet. In other words, she's a children's book author. Ariel's debut picture book, I Have a Balloon, illustrated by Scott Magoon, is a Fall 2017 Junior Library Guild Selection. Her debut chapter book series, Warren & Dragon, illustrated by Mike Malbrough, is called "adorable fun for chapter book newbies" by Kirkus Reviews. You can find Ariel online at https://www.arielbernsteinbooks.com, and on Twitter and Instagram at @ArielBBooks.
We have an official ChaBooCha keychain. These keychains are normally only given to ChaBooCha Regional Ambassadors (which reminds me: any RAs who are in their second year of being an RA, please let me know so I can send you your keychain), but, occasionally, I get to offer one as a prize during the challenge. If you are a signed-up member of the challenge, all you have to do to be entered into the random prize draw for this keychain is to comment on this blog post. The winner will be selected by a random number generator on March 31st.