Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Y is for YA, Or is it MG: Where Does Your Novel Fit?

One of the tricky things about writing middle grade can be knowing whether your novel really should be categorized as MG. Maybe it’s young adult? I’ve heard people say you should just write it and figure that out later. But agent Mary Kole points out that when you’re still working to get published or even early in your writing career, it might be a wise decision to make sure your novel is clearly one or the other.

There are many places where you can find the elements that define MG and YA novels. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Middle Grade:
- range from 20,000 to 50,000 words
- focus on family, school, friends, developing independence with ties to family
- magic and adventure are popular
- protagonists are usually 11- to 13-years-old, but no older than 14
- story needs to be appropriate for kids down to age of 8 or 9
- endings are often happy and mostly resolved

Young Adult:
- range from 45,000 to about 90,000 words
-wide scope that includes anything from sweet to edgy, containing drugs, drinking or sex, but authentic
- usually involves romance, since teens are interested in relationships
- protagonists are usually 15 to 17 years old
- plots where teens face adult problems, such as taboo subjects, violence, coping with tragedy
- endings may be ambiguous, not necessarily happy or having all loose ends tied up

Despite these clear cut elements for YA and MG novels, anyone who reads within these categories can find examples that either don’t contain some of these elements, or fall in a mysterious grey area somewhere between. How can you be sure your novel is MG?
I think you need to start with the basic idea behind your novel. Think about these questions:
What does your protagonist want?
What kinds of conflicts stop your protagonist from getting what he/she wants?

If you can place these key parts of the story as MG concerns vs. YA concerns, I think you will have gone a huge part of the way towards making sure your novel is in the MG camp. It’s easier to play with character ages, and often even the setting, other characters, or the ending.
One tip is to consider getting your critique partners to review your plot synopsis or idea before you begin writing. Their comments might help you firmly place your story as either MG or YA.

Do you have any other tips for making sure your novel fits into your category?

Agent Mary Kole on Is it MG or YA?

Over at MiG Writers, my crit buddy Debbie Riddpath Ohi also tackles the difference between MG and YA, including a good look at word counts.

Margo Dill also explains the difference between YA and MG.
Here are Five Fast Differences Between YA and MG from Michelle at YA Highway.

Nathan Bransford’s forum has a discussion thread on YA vs. MG.

And over at The League of Extraordinary Writers, Angie Smibert started a discussion about what really defines YA or MG.
Ani Louise sums up some points to help you tell whether you’re writing YA or MG.

Sheila at the LDS Women’s Book Review discusses how characters change in MG vs. YA novels.
Alissa at The Grammarian’s Reviews considers questions of age, romance and setting for MG. vs. YA.

Kate Coombs discusses the confusion between YA and MG at the Enchanted Inkpot.


  1. I think a lot of it is age and the concept. If someone reads enough of YA and MG, they will have a clear sense of where their writing falls.

  2. Thank for the fab links.

    MG is not only age but also the "depth" of the kind of issues that your characters face as well. I knew it was time to change my novel from MG to YA when I started to get into more deeper/mature issues.

  3. Thanks for the links. I've struggled with this question for my first book, but I think I changed enough elements to place it in the MG category.

  4. HEART OF A SAMURAI is an excellent crossover example.

    Such a helpful list of MG/YA differences and great link resources. I agree that reading between the genres will clarify the differences.

    Talking with a librarian about how they shelve books might be an avenue worth exploring if you're questioning where your work fits.

  5. Thanks for the helpful tips and links :-)

    I enjoy dropping in on your blog--and passed a couple awards your way from my place today!

  6. Great links, and I agree that what the protagonist wants is the most striking point. Here's what bothers me: in libraries, it's not at all uncommon to see MG books with a YA label on the spine. If you go to the library and check out "YA novels," you can think you're reading YA when you're reading MG. Which makes the industry discussions all the more important.

  7. Marcia, that's so true! I also find that when I'm looking at reviews online, where someone will say a book is MG when it is clearly YA. The more discussion the better!

    Kenda, oh my goodness, thank you! I'm glad you find my blog interesting.

    Barbara, talking with a librarian sounds like a great way to get another perspective on the difference.

    Patti, I think it can be quite challenging to make sure you're really writing MG. I'm glad you've gotten a handle on it.

    Laura, reading a lot of MG and YA definitely helps when you're trying to get it right for your own novel.


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