What's the Difference Between Middle Grade and Young Adult Books?

Before you hit SEND on your book query, ask yourself: “What’s the difference between middle grade and young adult books?” Why? Because as an author of either of those genres you need to know your target audience, book length, protagonist’s age, and plot themes.



You will have difficulty pitching a middle grade 75,000 word book about teen pregnancy. Why? Because those are the attributes of a young adult novel and not a middle grade story. Publishers know the difference between middle grade and young adult books, and so should you.


Target Audience

Middle grade is generally for readers aged 8 to 12.


Young adult is generally for readers aged 13 to 18.


There can be crossover between these audiences. You can get some middle grade readers who can tackle longer books with more mature themes. You can also get some young adults who read at lower levels. However, when pitching your manuscript, query with the general target audience in mind. Also, keep in mind who will be buying your books: parents for their children? Teachers? librarians?


Related: How to Write a Query Letter


Book Length

Middle grade books are shorter in length: 30k to 50k words. Young adult books are longer: 50k to 75k words.


Content

Middle grade book content must be age-appropriate for younger readers. Usually this means no or minimal romance (Hints of a crush might be okay, but stories usually won’t focus on dating, kissing, or romantic relationships, and sex is a no-go.), violence or swearing. Levels of romance and graphic content is lower in middle grade than in young adult.


Young adult content is more mature. There can be romance (but still no erotica). Love triangles are popular. There can be violence. There can be swearing. There can also be more complex emotions and relationships as characters begin to experience independence and the adult world.


Character Ages

Middle grade protagonist should be between 10 and 13 years old.


Young adult protagonist should be between 14 and 17 years old.


Tip: character ages are generally a bit higher than the target reader's age.


Themes

Middle grade themes are all about friends & family. What is happening in the world around the protagonist. Think: bullying, friendship, family, divorce, platonic relationships.


Young adult themes are all about the world beyond friends & family. There is self-reflection. Questioning what is right vs wrong. Think: identity, loneliness, first love, coming of age, courage and perseverance.


Related: 39 Tips for Writing Children's Books (KidLit)


Knowing the difference between MG and YA will help you create stronger manuscripts. It will also help your queries make a better impression with potential publishers.


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