Marketing was a hot topic, as was the actual road to publishing itself. But of most interest to me, was the discussion of how to write for this particular age group. For me personally it comes down to three important factors:
(1) Tone. I have three kids who range in age from 8-17, and I truly think this puts me at an advantage. For starters, I know how to speak with them, not at them. I think this is key when writing for this age group. You don't want to sound like you are talking down to and/or above them. They also provide me with a wealth of material, and I'm constantly absorbing ... everything from the latest bands, video games, apps, TV shows, their dialogue, tone, what's 'cool", what's out, etc, etc, etc. They claim I'm spying - I call it research.
(2) Audience. You may be thinking - that's easy. Middle grade means kids aged 8-12. Yes … and no. Think about who is purchasing the books. It's not just kids. It's parents, grandparents, educators, aunts, friends, and the list goes on. You need to make sure that your book is appealing to both children AND the adults who will actually be doing the purchasing. As a parent, I know there are certain books I try to steer my 8 year old away from. It's your job to make sure your book isn't one of them.
(3) Lesson. Here's my soap box spiel. If I manage to get your child reading and enjoying my books, why not sneak a lesson in there? It can't hurt, right? Some kids may get it, some may not, but at least it's in there. I feel like as a children's author, I have an obligation. You may feel differently with your own writing, and that's fine. Like I said - these are my own personal things I think about when writing. If a child walks away from my Nate Rocks series (for example) feeling really good about him or herself because he or she picked up on the self-esteem theme, then it's only going to work to create a positive attitude for that child going forward.
While at the moment I'm immersed in writing adult novels, I still consider myself a children's author with six middle grade titles now published. There's nothing more satisfying than nurturing young minds and encouraging reluctant readers. READING ROCKS!