Am I Writing YA or MG?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

One question that I am asked over and over again in the WOW! writing middle-grade class and when I critique manuscripts with my freelance editing business is, "Do you think my story is young adult (YA) or middle-grade (MG)?" I am also asked: "What's the difference? Which is better?"

There's not an answer to which is better--it's all what you want for your career and for your story. Both of the series pictured here are popular and have a huge following--Gossip Girl is YA for teens and Beacon Street Girls is MG for girls 9 to 13 (according to the publisher). 
As for the difference between the two, that's huge. Think about the audience. There's a huge difference between teenagers and pre-teens in what they think, how they feel, what they look like, and how they deal with life issues--and the type of life issues they have to deal with. So, the first point to consider when you're writing either YA or MG is the audience. You were this age once. Think about yourself as a fifth grader then as a sophomore in high school. Huge difference, right? 

Here are a few more points to consider when deciding if you are writing YA or MG:

  • YA main characters should be in their mid to late teens. MG main characters should be between 11 and 13. (There are always exceptions. That's why I say SHOULD.) 
  • YA subject matter can be edgy. Your YA main character might be dealing with serious issues such as pre-marital sex, drug addiction, gang violence, abuse, and so on. With MG, your main character will face less edgy issues, such as dealing with low self-esteem, sibling rivalry, peer pressure, fitting in, and so on. Think about the topic of drugs. In YA, the main character may be addicted to meth. In MG, the main character may have thought about trying a cigarette. 
  • Adults should always play a background role in any MG or YA book. But in MG books, the characters are still really dependent on their parents or caregivers and may still be family centered. In a YA book--especially if the character is between 16 and 18--parents and adults will REALLY take a backseat role. For example, in Twilight, Bella's dad is in the story, and you know he loves her and provides for her; but the story doesn't deal with him, and he doesn't affect the decisions she makes. That's YA.
I like to make this comparison. Think of the TV shows: Hannah Montana and Beverly Hills 90210. Hannah Montana--middle-grade, Beverly Hills 90210--young adult. 

It is important to know what you are writing and your target audience. Prospective agents and editors have to know where your book will fit on the shelf. So, figure out where your story fits and go for it! 

Margo's Writing the Middle-Grade Novel class will start again on May 11 if you are interested in writing a middle-grade novel or you've started one and want some guidance. Check out the class listing for more information. For more information about Margo Dill, please see


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo---You did a great job of contrasting the two categories, especially when it comes to the "edge" of each one. Thanks!

Margo Dill said...

Thanks, Sioux. :) I do think it has a lot to do with the "edge." Even though we hear stories about younger and younger kids/teens having edgy behavior, the books for this age group don't show it as a general rule. And I am personally GLAD!

Unknown said...


Fantastic post! I was just at a writer's conference and asked the presenter(an MG writer)to help me pinpoint my WIP. I was hung up on the sex angle...thought if they weren't having sex it was MG. He showed me that sex isn't the only "edge".

Donna Volkenannt said...

Great post, Margo. You did a fantastic job comparing and contrasting the two genres and showing concrete examples of each.

Donna volkenannt

Reflections said...

Love how you have contrasted the two genres... and posed some wonderful thought provoking questions on how to determine the audience.

Margo Dill said...

Thanks, everyone. What I think is complicated and I didn't mention it here (so I wouldn't make it to complicated) is this whole new TWEEN category that is popping up. I've also seen it referred to as upper middle grade. Anyway, love children's books, so always glad to discuss them!


Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top