As writers and readers are quickly learning, there’s a muddiness that’s seeping into distinguishing between middle grade and young adult. It’s not to say that’s a problem, it’s a compliment to the ever maturing and expanding audience of readers and clever writers. It only becomes an issue when submitting it to agents and publishers. And it can become a bigger problem if it’s not gifted to the appropriate audience.
That’s why it’s important to understand the distinctions between middle grade and young adult.
I’m not professing to be an expert here, but I certainly look forward to them weighing in and educating us in the comments. But I did a little homework, curious to gain better insight and distinctions to share it with Books Uplift readers. This is what I’ve learned.
- Age Range: Experts, and I’m citing publishers and prolific authors, state the age distinction for these audiences as middle grade falls between eight and twelve years of age. On the other hand, young adult is for readers ages thirteen through eighteen.
- Word Count: This can be a little muddy as different genres, plots, characters, and storylines can capture readers’ attentions for a much longer time. The Harry Potter series is a great example of how all these parameters can be thrown out the window. Still, a good rule of thumb to adhere to is 30-50k for middle grade and 60-100k for young adult.
- Language Used: Let’s face it, kids today have heard everything and anything thanks to social media and the graphic content in movies and television, so they are not naïve. But their language use is still evolving. Some words used by young adults are not understood by younger audiences. Conversely, the young adult reader of a middle grade targeted book may find the character’s dialogue immature. A great resource to help with this is a writer’s thesaurus like the Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner designed to help writers find the appropriate words for children in various age groups.
- Content Appropriateness: The mindset, experiences, and interests all need to be considered here. Middle grade readers are less interested in romance than the young adult audience is. They want stories focused on family, friends, animals, adventure, and subject matters they can relate to. Young adult readers are more interested in how they fit into the world, how they will grow into their own identity, and they are deeply interested in relationship building. But they also analyze and reflect more on what lies underneath the feelings and experiences of the main character. Also, young adult audiences are more mature and can handle related content, and language, inappropriate for younger readers.
- Flexible Audience: Keep in mind this distinction is getting muddier. Many adults love both genres and will be a big part of your audience. Still, you shouldn’t write for them. Kids tend to “read up” and prefer characters that are older and more mature but still relatable.