Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How to Know If Your Book Is Middle Grade or Young Adult

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

I see a lot of confusion over middle grade and young adult books. I see this from authors and readers. And I also see it in book reviews, especially when a reviewer will slam a book for not getting deep enough into the characters emotions or for dealing with mature subject matters. But here's the thing, most of the time, those complains are because the reader doesn't understand which genre he or she is reading.

First of all, there are usually three age groups of books for middle grade and young adult. There are the middle grade 8-12, the YA 14 and up, and the middle grade/YA crossover books 12-16. Confusing, I know. But knowing who your own target audience is, and knowing which publishers are publishing the type of book you are writing will make your life easier.

Kids like to read about characters that are older than they are. So, if your main character is 14, you're likely writing a middle grade book. If your main character is 18, you're likely writing YA. Don't write a YA book with a twelve-year-old protagonist, unless it's a coming-of-age story and the bulk of the book's content fits YA better that middle grade.

Keep in mind that the conflicts that your characters are dealing with should fit the interests and conflicts that your target readers have. A ten-year-old reader isn't concerned with romance, so putting romance into a middle grade book for 8-12 year old readers is a mistake. But a sixteen-year-old reader is interested in romance, so romance is often included in YA books.


Middle Grade
These are books written for readers from ages 8-12. These books tend to focus more on plot than characters. That's not to say that middle grade books have bland characters. They just don't tend to go as deep into the characters' points of views. These types of stories are often about the adventure and fun.

Eight to twelve year old kids don't tend to buy their own books. Yes, there are always exceptions to this rule, but mostly, for this age group, parents are buying the books or the kids are getting them from a school or library, which means a teacher or librarian is buying the books. This means that these books are being examined by adults before they get into the hands of the kid reader.

Middle grade books are also edited for content by the publishing house. These editors know that parents, teachers, and librarians are going to be checking these books over. Romance, drugs, graphic violence, swearing ... these things don't usually fly in a middle grade book.

Young Adult
These are books written for ages 12 and up. YA books tend to focus more on the characters and their problems. They tend to have deeper points of view and be more emotional. The plot is important, but often not as important as the drama. Teens tend to buy their own books, and often, adults no longer pay attention to what teens are reading.

YA books are sometimes edited for content, but you can get away with a lot grittier things. For those of you who read Captives, my editors really helped me with the content in that book. And Captives is a 14 and up book. Replication is a 12-16 book. There is some romance and violence in it, but it's not graphic enough to need a 14 and up rating from the publisher. Every publishing house is different, of course. There are some YA publishers who will let anything slide. *shudders*

So what do you have?
Ask yourself: How old is my protagonist? What is my plot about? If I have more mature issues, how mature? Stories that involve sex, drugs, extreme violence, and language will put your book into the 14 and up YA category. But if you have only a little of one of those mature topics and it's a subplot and handled tastefully, you might be able to fit into the 12-16 YA category. Really, it's all about finding the right publisher for your story. Studying books similar to yours will help you figure that out.

Don't think that middle grade books can't be cool. They can. And teens who are sixteen will read them. So will adults. And they can have have a little romance, just not emotional romance. The Percy Jackson books are all middle grade. The romance in those books was tame enough that the series never crossed over into young adult. If you have soap opera-type drama in your book, it's probably YA. The Harry Potter books changed as Harry got older. The first three books were middle grade. The last four were YA because of Harry's age and the more emotional plot lines.

Do you know if your book is middle grade or YA? Do you know your target age group?

62 comments:

  1. It's so funny that you would do this post. My Dad wrote a whole novel during 100 for 100, but it's middle grade. (My is the kind of person who knows a lot and can write really well, but he isn't as familiar with technical terms : ) It's cool that he writes middle grade mysteries and I write YA contemporary! His books are shorter though : )

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    1. It must be really cool to have a parent who writes!!

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    2. That's cute, Alyson! Tell your dad, "Good job!"

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  2. I'm writing 12-16 YA. My protagonist is 14, so for a second there, I was thinking, "What? I'm MG after all?" A 14 year old protagonist fits into the younger side of YA, right? Oh! Target audiences are soooo confusing! :)

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    1. EXACTLY. I wondered the same thing. xD But yep, I'd say I'm writing 12-16 as well for the book with the 14 year old.

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    2. It is confusing. And every publisher is different too. As long as you know whether your book is middle grade or YA, you should be in good shape.

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  3. I think my WIP is probably 12-16, although there is a teeny bit of bad language. Nothing too horrific though. Thanks Jill!

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  4. I've been wondering about this for a while! Since I started hearing about and reading some YA, I was wondering "Okay so which does my book fit into?" Now I know. Thanks! Like Mime, I got a wee bit confused about the ages (14), but based on what the book is about/what it's like, I'd say it's in the 12-16 (which is what I tend to read, heheh). Well. That's the book I'm editing.

    The book I'm writing is probably crossover as well, but it depends on how "bad" the topics have to be to get to strict YA. My MCs for this one are 16 and 17, sooo...yeah. I'd guess 12-16 though. :)

    Thank you so so so much for clearing this up!!! :P

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    1. As far as "how bad the topics," consider the other books the publisher you are targeting publishes, then consider what a mom would say.

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  5. My target age has always been about 10-15. I advertise it at Upper Middle Grade. In my trilogy, the main character goes from 14 to 16. The first book is a litter themed than the other two, but not by much.

    On one agent's blog, I read that the difference between a Young Adult story and a Middle Grade one is that after the end of a middle grade novel the protagonist is still a child or teen, but in a young adult novel the protagonist starts as a teen and at the other end of their journey travels into adulthood.

    Thanks for the great post!
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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    1. Ooh, that's such a wonderful description, especially since (in my opinion) some of the best YA books are ones where the protagonist is forced to become an adult, even if they're still fifteen or sixteen or seventeen at the end.

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    2. That is a fun way to describe it, Sarah! Thanks for sharing that. That rule should work for most books.

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  6. Wow, my MCs are 17,16,14, and 15, lol. I would think my WIP is 12-16, but there's none of that content, so I guess it's MG. Ha, and here I thought I was writing for older people. :D

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    1. Yeah, subject matter is key for YA, otherwise younger kids can and will read it. Kids like to read about characters who are older than them anyway.

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  7. My series of faerie tale remakes is probably YA. My Berstru tales series is probably 12-16. The Camp NaNo novel I'm going to write in July will probably be either YA or 12-16, most likely YA.

    Thanks for the helpful post, Mrs. Williamson! I really appreciate you clearing this question up!

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  8. I found this right when I needed it. I've got a problem: my WIP is clearly middle grade because the protagonist is 11. I'm 12 but my classmates have begun to read YA. I'd like to be able to read it, but I can't stand romance. Don't ask my why, I just don't. I'm afraid that if my book gets published, I'll be 13 or 14 by then and my friends will think it is childish. I really love my story though. Any advice?

    P.s. I know that I shouldn't care what they think, but I do. I know this is going to annoy you to no end, and I'm sorry about that. I also know that my book probably won't get published, but there's always the What If?

    Thanks in advance,

    -Marilla

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    1. Hey Marilla!
      Aw, don't think like that! I'm sure you are one amazing writer who has a ton of talent! :-)
      Keep at your writing! Don't say that you'll never get published, that is not true. Believe in yourself!!!!!!! :-)

      ~Koren
      A writer for Him. :-)

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    2. It's normal to care what your friends think! And yeah, there's always a possibility that they might not understand your writing, and that's a scary thing to think about... But what matters more to you: whether they think you're childish or your love of writing? If you really love your story, you'll get over it, even if they do find it a little childish.

      I think, though, that if you're published at 13/14 (an astounding feat!) they'd probably be more proud and a little jealous than critical of your book. Don't ever let fear keep you from doing what you love!!! You'll regret it. Stay strong and trust in your writing, because, if you're reading this blog, it's obviously important to you ;)

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    3. Hi Marilla!

      First of all, I have to say that it's awesome you're writing and learning about writing this young! Second, do not ever, ever worry about not reading YA yet and feel like you "should." I couldn't stand it until just this year (and even now, barely) and I'm 14! Some of it's just not nice. Third, I understand about people thinking it's childish, but I mean...adults write Juvenile Fiction. No one thinks it's childish for them. :) Fourth, if you love your story that's the only opinion that matters at the moment. Of course, if you're going to try to publish it, eventually others' opinions will matter...but not your friends' if they don't read Juvenile fiction! The opinions that will matter are your target audience's and obviously editors/agents. :)

      Lastly, no questions are going to annoy us ;) I know, believe me. I've asked some pretty goofy questions here. :)

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    4. I don't think you should worry about what others think. People will always have their own thoughts. I think it is great that you are writing and learning about things do young! Yay!:)
      Naomi

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    5. Thanks so much, guys! I can always count on GTW for a set of cheerleaders!
      -Marilla

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    6. Hey Marilla!

      I agree with the others, it's so cool that you're already interested in writing! I didn't start really writing until I was around 14 and man do I wish I had started younger!

      As far as writing MG or YA, I'm about to get my first book published (it's being released on Friday), and it is a MG book. MG books are so important because they help kids learn to love reading. I agree that your friends will most likely be astonished and proud instead of looking down at you because of your target age group. I'm 20 and as far as I can recall, no one has thought that it's weird that I write for a younger age group.

      Keep up the good work!

      Aidyl

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    7. Hey, congrats Aidyl!! :D That's so exciting!

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    8. *gasps* It IS!!!!!!!!!!! Oh my goodness!!!!!! *jumps around in excitement* :) Congrats Aidyl!!!!!!!!

      -Koren
      A writer for Him. <3

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    9. Why wouldn't your friends support you regardless if you've written a YA novel or a kids' picture book? My parents and adult friends read my books and enjoy them even though they're not teens.If you have a gift, I can't imagine that your friends wouldn't support that.

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  9. Also, my WIP is set during Shakespeare's time. I want to make my dialogue realistic, but how can I do this without boring my reader with "Shall thee wish to be escorted to the ballroom?"

    - Still Marilla

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    1. When I write like that, I don't like using all the fancy language. I'll tend to not use contractions. I also use some bigger (not crazy big) words.
      "Shall the wish to be escorted to the ballroom" would probably be written (by me) like this:
      "Is it your desire that I escort you to the ballroom?"
      Good luck with your writing!

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    3. From Amo Libros:
      I'd recommend reading some Shakespeare and then using a slightly simpler form of his language, remembering that your characters aren't in one of his plays and therefore do not need to speak in long, overly poetic and descriptive passages, or in soliloquies.
      I remember reading Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three (a 12-16 high fantasy novel) and liking the way his dialog sounded "old" without being hard to understand, but I haven't read it for several years.

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    4. Thanks for all the amazing replies! I agree with all of them. Super extra thanks to Alyson Dow for her rewrite!!!!!!
      -Anonymous

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    5. It depends who you're writing for. If you're writing for adults, you should strive to get the language correct. If you're writing a chapter book, WAY simplify it. A bit more for middle grade, a bit more for YA.

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  10. I think I'm more YA. My characters (when they're in their teens) are usually between 15-17. I haven't really picked a genre to focus on yet, so I'm still hashing everything out. I'm definitely not Middle Grade. I like a little more emotional romance.

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    1. Hey, me too!! This post was really awesome, wasn't it?

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  11. This was a dilemma I faced when my first novel came out. I'm with a small press that had only up to that point published adult fiction, so they weren't sure how to classify it. I'd had an agent tell me my manuscript sounded like MG, so that's what I labeled it at first. But when I started asking *readers* they all said, no, it's YA! So we changed it.

    I think part of the problem is that when you *shop* for books they're in the bookstores under labels like "young readers" and "teens" rather than MG, YA/crossover, and YA. Amazon uses "children" and "teens." Even the library tends to be different--at least by me, where they have "juvenile" and "YA." It makes things confusing when authors and publishers are marketing with one set of terms but bookstores and such are using different terms.

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    1. Yeah, every place is different. And it's confusing to readers too. Most of them don't know the difference. Many assume YA is for middle and high school readers.

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  12. Great post!! I've been wondering how to categorize my WIP. I guess it's a YA aimed for teens 15+.

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  13. Mine is definitely 12-16+. Thanks for this helpful post!

    Layla.

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  14. My characters are adults, so I don't have this problem at the moment. However, I have a plan for a YA novel that I want to write next.

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  15. I'm pretty sure it's YA. My protagonists are older, and it's more of an extreme dystopia. There's more violence, I think, than 12-year-olds should be comfortable with, and it's a darker story. There is more emotional tension, but only because of the high pressure exerted on the characters; no romance here. :)
    Thanks for the post, Jill!

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    1. You guys are welcome! I'm glad this was helpful. :-)

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  16. I'd say for Prince's Quest, my main WIP I have a 12-16 on my hands. I say YA, but it doesn't have a bunch of graphic stuff. :)

    Baby, It's Cold Outside would definitely be YA, I think.

    Chasing Shadows, I think I could get away with 12-16. Possibly. :)


    This was an awesome post! Thanks for the explanation!

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  17. I actually just made my YA trilogy NA, but I've been thinking about MG/YA/NA distinctions for the past week, so this post had really good timing for me!

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  18. Mine would be 12-16 if it was classified as YA. I don't really like that genre, personally, but that's just me.

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  19. From Amo Libros:
    Thank you SO MUCH!!! I was having a lot of trouble telling the difference, and it was making it hard to pinpoint my novel, which I now think is probably middle-grade, maybe the middle-grade/YA 12-16. Now that I look at it, one of the problems I was having with the "draft that bit the dust" was that the idea (which came to me when I was 11) was really meant to be a middle-grade novel, but as I began to write it "for real" for the first time, I was in my mid-to-late teens, and the main character kept sounding older and older as the story went on. That brought up some issues (both logistical and emotional) that didn't really "fit" with the story.
    Thank you so much for posting this!

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    1. You're welcome! Sometimes this writing gig is trial and error. :-)

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  20. Just linked to this on my blog! :D Thanks so much! I think my novel would be YA...

    God bless! xoxo
    Rana

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  21. My work in progress would definitely be 12-16+
    My finished story, Boy at Sea, is 8-12.

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  22. I DO like books that don't fit in these boxes though. Take "To Kill a Mockingbird" for instance. Scout is 5 most of the book. Or in "Ender's Game", where Ender is 6 or "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" where Bruno is 9. They're all definitely YA. Or Adult, even, because I know "To Kill a Mockingbird" has been around a loooong time.
    I think having a younger narrator in a "dark" book really brings out the innocence and yet horror of the situation. Plus you see the story/plot from a really simple and moving angle. Anyway! :)

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    1. Both To Kill a Mockingbird and Ender's Game were published for the adult market. The "YA" market is a fairly recent thing.

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  23. My MC starts off as twelve but she'll be eighteen by the end of the book. And it deals with more mature issues, so I think it's 12+ if not even older. It's a little weird because the first half of the book will be more middle grade and then it'll be really YA and mature...

    Thanks for the post Jill! Really helpful for where I am right now!

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  24. This was a helpful post!
    Is it possible, though, to have a character who starts out being eight and ends up being sixteen a couple chapters later, and still call it a middle grade book?
    I'm in the midst of plotting and preparing for said novel. At first, I thought it would be a middle grade novel. But two characters die, and it is a little intense. Any suggestions?

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    1. I would probably make that a YA. Maybe the 12-16 category. That's just my opinion, though :)

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  25. This was a great post! I think mine is a middle grade/YA crossover. My MC is 14 and the issues that are dealt with are not extreme, but they're a bit much for anyone under 10 to read about.

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  26. This was very helpful - thanks, Jill!
    I took a creative writing class for college and one other differentiation the professor used was this: Middle grade fiction is more rooted in worldbuilding, since oftentimes, kids at that age read to escape the world they're in and experience new surroundings. YA fiction concentrates more on identity and searching for oneself, since a lot of teenagers read to try and find themselves in books.

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    1. Oh, wow! That definitely confirmed for me that mine is YA!!!! Thanks!!

      Layla

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  27. Okay, I've read through this (twice, now) and I'm still confused on whether or not my novel is MG. I've always thought it was (it's short, just 20,000 words, the protagonist is 10, there's no swearing, some violence but not terribly graphic) but now I've had several CP's ask me if they're right in saying that it's YA. Any advice on how to be sure? :/

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  28. Also, is there any in between genre, one that isn't quite YA but is too old to be MG? :/ If so, that's probably where my book fits in.

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    1. Yeah, Upper Middle Grade. It usually gets put in with either Middle Grade or YA, but it is there.

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  29. I'm planning to write a series. The first one is definitely middle grade, but the second one is going to be more character driven. What should I do?

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  30. Something I just want to mention is that if your book is in a library, there may be a third option for your "target" audience. I am a middle school librarian in a public library, and the age range for this is 12-14, as most middle schools are 6th grade through 8th grade. I'm often trying to figure out which books are most appropriate for my collection. Some YA books are thematically inappropriate for my section, while some are fine for a 14-year-old reader. While the age of the protagonist and/or characters is a great indicator, this isn't always the best criteria for selection. Some middle schoolers want to read books about teens, and some books (such as Midwinterblood) I could see recommending to anyone 13+. Therefore, I look at content and context just as much as age. It's important when purchasing books that may or may not be read based on where they are placed in a library's collection.

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