Thursday 14 May 2015

What makes you buy a middle grade book?

by Kate Mallinder

That’s the million dollar question isn’t it?  If I knew the answer, I’d be the next JK Rowling!  So how does a particular story end up in the hands of a child?  I started by looking at our family’s bookshelves and thinking – how did we end up with this exact selection of books?  What made us choose the ones we did instead of the thousands of others?  Was it by chance or by choice?

When I think about the adult books I’ve read, a lot of them are recommendations from friends or after hearing something on the radio, or are by an author I’ve enjoyed before.  But when it comes to children’s books, it’s a lot less clear cut. 

So here’s how we got our family selection of middle grade books:
  • A friend or family member bought them
  • Library books influenced by our helpful librarian
  • An author won an award, so we bought their book
  • The books I enjoyed as a child
  • The guided reading list from school
  • We bought and enjoyed the first in a series then worked our way through the set
  • From a quote on the front saying ‘fans of Wimpy Kid will love this book’
  • Book swaps with friends
  • Classic pester power.  Happened this week with Goosebumps (Night of the Living Dummy – he was very specific)
  • The obligatory Christmas annuals
  • School prizes
  • The ‘good for you’ books – times tables ones mainly
  • A selection of ‘classics’, some of which haven’t been read by anyone
  • An author visit to school
  • Free with cereal!

And these are only some of the ways.  It surprised me that there were so many reasons books had arrived in our house.  So many variables.  So many different people’s opinions.

Before I took my writing seriously we would buy books completely without thought of the industry, just getting what we fancied, not worrying if they were newly released, often a little behind the times.  More recently, book blogs and twitter have proved to be excellent ways of finding out which are the best books out there.

What looked like luck before is now taking the shape of someone’s hard work and careful planning with time taken to target different marketing channels.  Authors and publishers work tirelessly at improving the odds of this ‘luck’ happening to their book.  Several authors I’ve spoken to recently say that marketing their book takes up over half of their time.  All this effort to try and create that elusive ‘word of mouth between peers’ recommendation.

Yet still some books are successful and others are not.  Every book is published with a group of people firmly believing in the possibilities of that story, so to some extent, there is still an unknown factor, a certain something, which means the difference between a book making it to the child and not.

This ‘successful’ book is the story everyone is striving to write, trying to sell, desperate to recommend.  It’s got something special in it that speaks to children, captures their imagination or makes them feel differently, maybe see the world in a new way.

As I carry on with my journey through the professional world of publishing I’m encouraged that if the right book is in the right place, at the right time, this ‘luck’ can still happen.

Warning:  This blog is not scientific or definitive and is highly anecdotal!

Kate Mallinder is a writer of middle grade fiction.  She blogs at and you can follow her on twitter @KateMallinder


  1. Hi Kate, I really enjoyed your post! I think you could add book covers to the list of reasons why people choose books. I attended a talk by a publisher a few years ago and they said research showed that covers were an important purchase prompt (technical way of saying it!) As someone who has recently had a book re-jacketed and re-published I can tell you that a cover can make a massive positive difference to sales!!!
    A friend of mine sent me a photo of Red Moon Rising on the promotion table at Waterstones Piccadily this week and I knew the re-jacket had been immensely worthwhile!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Paula. Great point about covers - they make a huge difference to whether a book is bought or not. Pleased Red Moon Rising is going well!

    2. I was going to make the point about book covers. I think they're big decision factor, especially for kids. My own daughter makes split-second decisions about books based on the cover alone. Good post, though.

    3. It feels like we (as adults) shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but we do!

  2. Interesting post! Whenever I'm in a bookshop I always try to quietly observe how children and parents make their book choices and it is fascinating.

  3. Thanks Miriam! I bet you learn lots by watching and listening. Might try it myself sometime!