Generally speaking, tweenies are kids in the 8 -12 age group.
But in the world of children’s books, the category is tighter. Somewhere along the line, astute marketing execs identified a subset. These are kids aged about 10 -12, and their needs and interests are complex, often contradictory.
As most parents will tell you, a couple of years in either direction makes all the difference. Yes, indeedy doody.
Writing romance fiction for tweenie girls was never something I wanted to do.
But, several years ago the team at Penguin lured me into it and I wrote the Crystal Bay Girls.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The world of tweenie girls is heavily nuanced. I would argue that writing for them (and for their gatekeepers), is more challenging than any other writing.
It also allows for as much melodrama as a Wilkie Collins novel. And that can be fun!
If you’ve got your eye on this niche, here are some tips.
1. Absorb yourself in your reader’s world.
Read magazines such as Girlfriend. Read magazines aimed at younger readers, too, such as Total Girl.
Tweenies are in transition; too old for toys, too young for boys.
They vacillate between childhood preoccupations and the concerns of young adults.
They’re aspirational, too.
Read Elle. Maybe even Yen.
Walk the wobbly road with your readers, gathering inspiration and insights along the way.
2. Study the masters.
Read Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson.
Consider and analyse their language, their plot lines, their characters.
Cathy Cassidy’s books (especially the Chocolate Box series) are pitch-perfect for tweenies. They’re also sincere (sincerity is crucial!) and almost melodic in the way they roll along.
And, in the UK and France, they sell like freakin’ cupcakes.
3. Never preach, never talk down. Your only agenda should be to entertain, inspire and encourage.
Herein lies your biggest challenge—to inspire and entertain vulnerable, impressionable readers, while holding the gatekeepers at bay and disregarding the sneers of the literati.
4. Watch and listen to girls on the street. Subtly!
5. If you can, organise a focus group before you start writing.
This will give you priceless insights.
Bake cupcakes. Ask the girls to bring along their favourite books. Construct a questionnaire to give each girl at the end of the gathering — something that asks them about their dreams, their plans for the future, their current concerns etc.
Provide a stamped self-addressed envelope and a reward for completing the survey, such as free books, a dedication (if you’re a published author), a character bearing their name.
I did this before I wrote the Crystal Bay Girls. It was a major eye-opener. There was a chasm between the nine-year-olds and the eleven-year-olds. A chasm. And yet they had a lot in common, too. And their dreams and ambitions made my heart melt.
Here’s an aside. While I was writing the Crystal Bay Girls, word got out that I was putting ‘kissing scenes’ in the Truly Tan books. Readers were outraged. Really, really upset. I got emails! I had to reassure them the kissing bits were for other books and nothing to do with Truly Tan.
6. Aim for about 40,000 words.
7. Aim for cultural diversity. Be inclusive but, again, avoid being preachy or aggressively PC.
8. Decide on your boundaries at the outset.
Which topics are taboo?
For example, do you want to discuss sex, contraception, issues of sexual orientation? If so, perhaps rethink the category you’re writing for.
9. Resist the urge to use too much ‘teen speak’. It will sound insincere and quickly date your book.
A sprinkling is sufficient. Keep the voice breezy but never forced. If it sounds unnatural to you, it will sound unnatural to your reader.
10. Avoid references to current music, bands, films.
This is the surest way to date your book.
One Direction will probably be forgotten by the time I finish this blog po…
What? What did I say?
What’s wrong with One Direction?
Ditto, technology. It’s evolving fast. What’s in today will be MySpace tomorrow. Tread carefully.
Most of all, have fun. Writing in this category won’t bring you literary prizes. The judges get sniffy about this fare.
But so what? Devoted readers are a better reward.
OMG! Is that it? You mean, seriously?
Yep. We’re done.
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