MG vs YA


I’m completely shocked that I haven’t yet written a full post on navigating the differences between YA and MG. It is, after all, a source of a lot of debate.

Discussions in publishing circles seem to push the MG genre towards the young end of its spectrum – the chapter book end of things. And yet there are a lot of books at the upper end of the spectrum that do spectacularly well (see Harry Potter and Percy Jackson).

The hallmarks of a MG novel, word count (approx. 45K), protagonist age (no older than 12), subject matter (compelling but not dark), and language (no swearing, age-appropriate terminology) are things I believe I deliver in my WIP.

MiG Writers has a terrific post that covers a lot of these bases, and reveals some of the contradictions on the subject.

The Passionate Librarian suggests YA covers developmental issues – the search for identity and a system of belief – but I think this happens in good upper middle grade stuff as well.

Right-Writing.com has a good post on Writing the Middle-Grade Novel as well.

It’s confusing, to be sure.

Combine this debate with the fact that librarians and booksellers seem to use a wide array of segmentation strategies when it comes to shelving MG and YA books and you get a tricky situation.

I think the voyage from picture books to YA should be viewed as a spectrum, and not as a series of discrete chunks.  But until it is, whether I’m right that my WIP is a MG novel or not is just another thing I’m going to have to have faith about.

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6 thoughts on “MG vs YA

  1. I think there are a few age caps that are being undeserved and I suspect that the hard cut off of 12 for MG may soon get blurry. Personally, with YA, I made the (some would say) unwise choice of an 18 year-old protagonist fresh out of high school. It’s a harder sell but I really think we’ll be seeing more 18-20 year-old protagonists in the coming years.

    • I totally agree – that time in one’s life is so full of tension – the what will I do when I grow up pressures are intense. It’s full of story opportunity.

  2. At the SCBWI Carolinas Fall Conference last weekend, David Macinnis Gill (author of SOUL ENCHILADA) did a workship to clarify some of the differences between YA and middle grade. I posted about it on my blog. But as he told us, we should write the book that’s in us. Most likely, someone else will be determining where it fits in. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. : )

    • Thank you Laura – I will check out your blog posting. I have always hoped that the professional editing process would help fit my WIP into whatever category it’s going to sell in. That end of the process isn’t talked about much though. Anyhow, how was the SCBWI event? I’m trying pick one to attend – although I’m leaning towards the big one in New York…

  3. Thanks for finding my thoughts on this area worth throwing into the mix. The lines between developmental stages are not cut and dried and neither are those between MG and YA. My main point is that books which “fit” with where a child is developmentally are going to “grab and hold tighter” than a book that is outside that level. The books we all enjoy most are the ones that meet us “where we’re at.” A MG reader might read and even finish a book that has YA developmental issues and framework to it but it likely will not be a book they remember, rave about, pass on to friends, or re-read it. (This guideline applies to preschool books as well). I’ll be posting more about middle graders in the future so I hope you’ll check back on my blog, The Passionate Librarian.

    • Thanks so much for your note! I totally agree it’s about resonance with the reader. I will definitely keep visiting your blog – it’s a fascinating topic.

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