Interview with the MG Book Village

MG Book Village (www.mgbookvillage.org) is a website created in late 2017 to be a place where lovers of middle grade fiction can gather and discuss books. The website is maintained by Annaliese Avery (UK author and librarian), Jarrett Lerner (American middle grade author of EngiNerds), Kathie MacIsaac (Canadian librarian), and Corrina Allen (teacher and host of the Books Between podcast).

1. The masterminds of MGBV are a living, breathing example of just how much good can be done networking in the literary world. You’ve got an author/librarian from England, a librarian from Canada, a middle grade teacher/podcaster, and an EngiNerd writer from America coming together to create a global, multi-faceted discussion. What brought you guys together? Besides a love for MG, of course.

Annaliese had the idea to start #mgbooktober, a hashtag used in the month of October with prompts each day related to middle grade fiction. Both Jarrett and I started following along and became deeply involved in the discussions. Annaliese reached out to the Jarrett to get assistance with the next hashtag, #mgbookbattle, which took the top 64 titles from #mgbooktober and matched them up against each other in November to crown one winner (which, thanks to some retweets from Neil Gaiman, resulted in CORALINE’s triumph). The idea for MG Book Village came from a comment about expanding beyond the hashtags, and I joined the group at that point to help make it a reality. We also recently added Corrina Allen to our team along with her Books Between podcast. We work very well together and share the behind-the-scenes tasks that keep the Villagers happy! 

2. Your mission statement says that you were “formed with the view of connecting like-minded individuals and furthering their interest in middle grade books.” Why is connecting like-minded individuals so important to you?

Building a community (or village) of people who enjoy reading middle grade fiction is beneficial for several reasons. Sharing our knowledge is important; it makes us better informed and helps us connect with books and people we might miss on our own. Discussing books helps us reflect more deeply on what we read and opens our eyes to points of view different from our own. We also encourage anyone who is interested in middle grade fiction to contribute to our site, so we have a wide variety of people who see books from many perspectives. We encourage posts from debut authors who may not have a platform, but need a way to promote their new book. We host seasoned authors who can share their writing experiences and knowledge. We ask for input from teachers and librarians who give feedback and help authors develop their writing. We also have a space for kid reviewers because they are truly the experts in this field and have valuable contributions to make. Although we all have the same interest in reading middle grade books, we make the conversations much richer when we share our unique perspectives.

Personally, I do not have a lot of people in my everyday life who enjoy middle grade fiction as much as I do, so it also gives me a sense of belonging to be part of the Village and share my passion with “my people” who really get it.

3. For authors, how important is it to make connections? Writing is a pretty solitary task. Why should I be a part of a community?

I see some of the most wonderful and special connections being made on a regular basis, and in every single case, everyone walks away with a smile. Whether it’s a reader who is thrilled that an author comments on their post, an author who is touched by a teacher relating an anecdote about a student’s reaction to a book, a teacher whose author Skype visit has ignited a spark in a reluctant reader, a librarian who adds an author’s books to her library because of their interactions on Twitter (that would be me, on several occasions!), making connections with others has unlimited potential.

4. The literary community is just as diverse as it is expansive. In such a crazy, multimedia world, why is it important to band together?

The middle grade book community, at least for me, has really been a port in the social media storm. It’s the place where I can find positive interactions, supportive comments, enthusiastic book reviews, and a wonderful group of people who genuinely care about middle grade books. With the amount of time that many of us spend on social media, I want to be part of an environment where I feel enriched by what I’ve learned. I can honestly say that I am MUCH better at my job because of the connections I’ve made on Twitter and Instagram, and Jarrett has also told me how many opportunities have opened up to him because of Twitter.

5. MGBV is a relatively new launch. Now that you’ve been out in the neighborhood for a few months, how have you seen your vision develop? Or has it developed at all?

All three of us knew we wanted to create a place that was inclusive, supportive, positive, and open to anyone who wanted to participate. We didn’t know where that was going to lead, but we felt if we kept those values at the core, they would be our guiding principles. We’ve had some wonderful opportunities to grow by allowing ourselves to be open to receiving ideas from other people (Jarrett says that we maintain the village, but it isn’t ours alone because it belongs to everyone, and I wholeheartedly agree!). Our 2018 book release calendar, kid book reviewers, our collaboration with the MG@Heart book club, and the addition of the Books Between podcast are all new to the site in response to suggestions. We also have a number of exciting projects and partnerships we’re currently developing, so there’s a lot to come in the near future. While we want to grow and become a hub for middle grade fiction lovers, we want to do so in a way that feels right and aligns with our original vision. 

6. How easy is it for literary folk to connect with one another? As a young author, how can I go about making those connections?

Social media makes it very easy to find people who share your interests, and all it requires is some time and willingness to build connections. Start following like-minded people on Twitter or Instagram, like and share their posts, take part conversations, review books and tag them, reach out with a specific question and ask for feedback, participate in hashtags for a certain event, form a support group with other debut authors…there are countless ways to get your foot in the door of the literary world and make literary friends! It’s also important to introduce yourself to others by sharing a bit about who you are, your work, and your hobbies.

7. Do you think that the literary community is good at networking and outreach? How could we get better?

Absolutely. I see authors and readers reaching out every single day, and I believe if you know that there are others out there that care about what you have to say, you’re more willing to make the effort to share. On a daily basis, I see authors supporting each other with enthusiastic comments about a cover reveal, attending each other’s local book events, connecting with readers through Skype visits, and offering to send ARCs to excited readers. I am a big supporter of seeing more authors join Instagram, as I believe that’s where you can connect in a more personal and informal way, especially with readers.

8. You base a lot of your platform on social media, particularly Twitter (#mgbooktober, #mgbookathon, etc.). How important is it for an author to be active on social media? Is it really necessary?

I would say that, especially as a new author, you want to reach out and connect with others as much as possible to promote your book. I can think of some authors who are relatively new to the publishing world who actively participate on social media, and I really believe those authors improve their reach because of it. I can’t tell you the number of books I have added to my library’s collection in the past few months as a result of the relationships I have with authors on social media. Readers who love your books want to be there to support and help you get the word out!

9. I’m relatively new at all of this, and I’m always afraid I’ll show up to the potluck with empty hands. If I’m not a superhero-librarian or a published author, what can I do to contribute?

I work in a small, rural library, I’m definitely not a superhero-librarian, but I am a reader who wants to share what I read with others. I bring my passion for middle grade fiction to the table, a love that is so big that I work, play, and breathe it.

You don’t need credentials to have a voice that matters. You don’t have to be famous to have something to say that others want to hear. We all have something to contribute, everyone’s opinion matters, and you just need to be willing to share it.

The MG community is a great place to start sharing because it’s so welcoming, and opinions are valued here more than many other areas on social media.

As an author, though, it’s also important to be an engaged member of the literary community and to help others for the common good, including kids. Commenting on a reader’s review, Skyping with a classroom, sending an ARC to a book review group…these are all contributions that authors can make that benefit everyone involved.

Jarett, Annaliese, Kathie, and Corrina—thank you so much for your comments and your answers. Reader, I hope your heart is glowing like mine is after reading this interview. If this doesn’t define community, I dare you to find something that does.

h.kates

H. Kates is a war gamer turned author. Her middle grade fantasy, PATEL PATTERSON AND THE APOCALYPSE KEY, debuts... Eventually.

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