Middle Grade or Young Adult?

What is the difference between a middle grade book and a young adult book? I researched several websites, one of which surveyed editors and agents who work with both Middle Grade (MG) and Young Adult (YA) writers to find the answers.

I summarized the findings and compared it to my novel to see where my fantasy novel would fit.


Middle Grade

Young Adult

My Book

Age of Reader 8 to 12 13+ Not entirely sure…
Word Count Up to 60,000 60,000+ Currently 82,000 but still editing
Age of Protagonist 10 to 13 14 to 18 13
Point of View Third First Third
Protagonist’s Concerns Own experience Others as well as themselves Others as well as herself
Inciting Element Single inciting element that throws their world into chaos Find out world is more complex than they thought Finds out world is more complex than she thought
Romance Does not play a large part in the plot; first kiss Takes up much more of the story; can involve sex Plays a small part in the story; first kiss

There is some overlap in the readers ages since some novels with milder plots and a 14 year-old main character could appeal to middle grade reader even though it would be classified as YA in the chart above.

The story line of middle grade protagonists tend to focus on what happens to them than with internal growth. Young adult story lines are more complex and generally have a character arc that shows how the events in the novel changed their attitudes and thinking.

AmyMessere Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Amy Messere Flickr Creative Commons

Taboo Content?

Most of the editors and agents surveyed agreed that no topic is taboo, whether it is sex, drugs, violence, domestic abuse or any other risque subjects.

What is important is how the subject matter is handled. A middle grade novel should not contain any graphic descriptions, but shouldn’t avoid difficult material either.

In fact, young people can use books as a safe way to explore these sensitive or edgy subjects.


However, there is one important difference that should be noted: parents, librarians and teachers are the gatekeepers for what books middle grade readers will be exposed to. I am not sure how an indie middle grade writer finds their audience. It must be a hard slog.

For that reason, I will think long and hard about going indie with my book. If there are any indie MG writers out there willing to provide some advice, I’d be glad to hear it.

Authors of young adult novels have no such issues since most teens have their own spending money and have unfettered access to ebooks.

Good Advice

The Author shouldn’t be worrying about any of this, anyway — the author should just write the book that the novel in question was to be.ย  – Micheal Stearns of Upstart Crow Literary

So where does my book fall? It looks like it falls into the ‘tame’ young adult category, written for the young YA crowd. But as Mr. Stearns says, I’m not going to worry about it for now. I don’t want that to affect how my characters react to certain situations. If a writer thinks about these issues while writing, it can create stiff and unnatural dialogue, reactions and relationships within the novel.

If anyone has any comments regarding middle grade and young adult books and how they are marketed… or if you have any other comments, please feel free to drop me a line.ย  I’d love to hear from you.

12 thoughts on “Middle Grade or Young Adult?

  1. Tadeu Aratel says:

    Wait, you *absolutely* should worry about this, Julia. You can’t waste three chapters on Elbert talking about stinky girls on an epic fantasy story — that’s something for a child’s book. Just the same you can’t have your protagonist commit murder on the ending of your child’s book. Plus the simple tone of a Child’s book will always differ from YA, where you can generally bring in more darkness and angst, and deal with moral dilemmas that a child can’t even grasp yet.

    Genre’s offer a general direction to your book. If you write without having them in mind, you’ll only force yourself or your editor to “fix” your genre later. Because unless done very carefully and deliberately, cross-genre novels are extremely hard to sell, and often annoying to read.

    I have a post going deeper into why genres are important, please check it out: https://clockworkprose.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/a-mix-of-ingredients-defining-your-genre/

    Sanderson also talks about it in his classes, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wo5nZI1iCh0&list=PL70TVzJA5SvhKvM3GZRsM9FJ_Zirm4AvY&index=9

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mentalbreakinprogress says:

    Hi! Just crossed paths with you at OM’s place ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t have professional experience to contribute but I do have my childhood memories and as a child who LOVED to read (and still does) I have to say the middle grade group could be an untapped resource here. I am not saying all children in that category can handle heavier subject matter but as a child, my home life was not very “kid friendly” and so I found myself reading at a more mature level. When you are surrounded by abusive situations as a child, you find yourself feeling alone and reading helped me to process a lot of “adult stuff” You mentioned your feel your book falls in a ‘tame’ young adult category and I think you nailed that observation. I feel like in your case, the middle grade readers would be able to digest the characters ๐Ÿ™‚ Best wishes! It’s inspiring to cross paths with people on their writing journey ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Julia says:

      Thanks for the insight. I loved to ‘escape’ into stories when I was young as well… Well, even now, but it was more for survival back then so I know a little about where you are coming from.

      I love your blog. You are doing well.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Julia says:

      I was lucky enough to catch Jane Friedman’s live web video last night and I asked her that question… and she answered it! I posted the link below. I hope it works. If not, it is through her facebook account.

      If you do try selling it, I’d really appreciate it if you kept me up to date with your progress. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. dyronbd says:

    Thank you for this, I definitely didn’t know the word count was important. Cause currently my Sci-fi YA novel is currently a tad bit over 30,000 words. Video was very informative as well. I can’t wait to read your work.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s