MG vs YA

So, I recently tossed off the notion that there’s really no difference between Middle Grade (technically meant for kids aged 8 to 12) and Young Adult (technically meant for ages 12 and up). Or at least I suggested that there’s plenty of overlap and that books get miscategorized and that the putative division isn’t actually very helpful in directing readers to books they would enjoy, anyway.

Certainly there’s more to it than just the age of the protagonist, though the protagonist is usually expected to be a couple of years older than the target audience. And I don’t think there’s necessarily a big difference in vocabulary and sentence complexity, either. (Not saying there can’t be a tendency to a somewhat wider vocabulary etc in the YA, but I don’t think it’s really that strong a tendency.)

Not like I’m really planning to arrive at the definitive, um, definitions for Middle Grade vs Young Adult, but how about the idea posited in the comments that YA has “more layers” and is more complicated than MG? That gets at the idea that MG stories have fewer developed subplots, with the example given (in Elaine’s comment) that in the YA ENTWINED, for example, “the father has his own journey and it’s shown enough for the reader to get it”, whereas in the MG THE PRINCESS CURSE “the father suddenly does something startling but we don’t see him grow into it”.

This is perfectly true. (And makes me want to read ENTWINED.) It’s also true that as an adult reader I would have liked to see more of the father and have the relationship between him and his daughter brought out more in THE PRINCESS CURSE. I think the father could have been a really compelling character if he’d gotten more screen-time, as it were. As a writer, I have to wonder whether there was more of that in there at one time and it was cut for length reasons? I’m thinking here of the tons of stuff cut from THE FLOATING ISLANDS.

So is it true that in general MG lacks substantive subplots? Is that the (one of the) major difference? What other criteria have been proposed to distinguish the two grades?

Here’s a take on that question (from a source that agrees that YAs often have more complicated plots):

Middle grade novels are characterized by the type of conflict encountered by the main character. Children in the primary grades are still focused inward, and the conflicts in their books reflect that. While themes range from friendship to school situations to relationships with siblings and peers, characters are learning how they operate within their own world. . . . Yes, your character needs to grow and change during the course of the book, but these changes are on the inside.

This is interesting, because I’ve certainly seen a totally different opinion elsewhere:

I think the stakes in middle-grade fiction probably tend to be a bit bigger. I think there might be a bit more world-saving in middle grade. . . . The stakes in my books tend to be kind of ridiculously high. . . . In The Boy at the End of the World, what’s at stake is the survival of the human species. The kids in my books are saving the world. They’re saving their friends, their families, their communities. Big, big, honkin’ big stakes. The challenge isn’t really raising the stakes as much as it is making sure I’m still telling stories about human beings.

This is Greg van Eekhout, here, in an interview that covered a lot of ground, so read the whole thing!

And of course in YA these days, romance is often expected to be a big deal, right? From the same interview, Carrie Vaughn says:

A more general take: the issue of romance comes up a lot in YA, and not just because of Twilight, but because it’s a really big deal for teens. When you’re 16 and falling in love for the first time, or having your heart broken for the first time, it’s epic. It’s huge. It feels like the world is shuddering on its axis. Because you’ve literally never felt anything like it before.

So in MG, the protagonist saves the world and in YA, the protagonist falls in love. Yes? No?

As it happens, I think it will be Earth-shatteringly terrible if YA gets subsumed as a special teen-girl-romance subgenre, not that I want to overstate or anything. So I would vote “No” to that one. But I would agree that romance can be an important subplot in YA whereas that is really not possible in MG. Not REALLY. Despite the sort of slow-motion romance in THE PRINCESS CURSE, which is obviously really going to be developing in the protagonist’s future, child-brides aside.

. . . Which takes us, however back to subplots and the idea that YAs have more complicated plot structures than MG. And what I might say is that, though the division between MG and YA still seems to me basically an artificial marketing idea rather than an actual division between two actual, distinct genres, an adult reader may be more likely to prefer stories with more developed subplots, and stories like that might find a broader readership. Maybe? And maybe that is one reason the Harry Potter series took off through the stratosphere? Because the initial story was very one-dimensional, but it didn’t stay that way. And thus it strikes readers as YA despite the simplicity of the writing and the save-the-world focus. (And, of course, the kids just got older over the course of the books . . . but not sure that’s what primarily drives the perception of this series as YA.)


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This survey has accumulated enough votes —

To be interesting.

What genre is your WIP? asks Nathan Bransford.

The results were pretty skewed when I voted a couple of days ago — like, 17% YA fantasy and 18% adult fantasy. Much more balanced now.

I’m surprised that paranormal has fallen under other fantasy. I think that’s good. I was finding it impossible to notice one fish in that sea, but maybe paranormal is going to settle down to a reasonable level. Just so long as I sell *my* paranormal, right? I hope my agent will read it Real Soon Now, not see anything big to fix, and start shopping it around pronto. Wouldn’t it be great to end the year with a nice sale? Time’s getting short, though, so don’t know how likely that is.

Almost none of Bransford’s responses indicate people are working on nonfiction, but I think that’s probably a self-selection effect — I expect the readers of his site are mostly into genre fiction.

I’d tend to lump MG and YA together. After talking to people at the World Fantasy Convention, I’m pretty much of the opinion that the two categories aren’t really distinct. For example, I’d say that the Harry Potter series is fundamentally MG, though it was sold as YA; and Merrie Haskell’s THE PRINCESS CURSE is really YA even though it was sold as MG.

Or really I’d say there’s no clear distinction and it might be better not to act as though there was. I don’t think it helps a book find readers to say it’s MG or YA — I think the opposite, that if you say a book is MG, a lot of readers who would love it will avoid it (like me: I’ve only just started reading more MG stories because I thought they were too young for me, but I’ve found out a lot of them don’t read as young as the MG label implies).

And I think parents might avoid looking at YA for their youngsters because they think all YA is hot paranormal romance, which if that’s the trend, I’d like to see a lot of pushback.

Anyway, interesting survey!

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Thank heaven for popular authors . . .

. . . who break length limits for the rest of us.

In a post about rejections from BookEnds, we get the following oft-repeated length limits:

* Most novels are roughly 80,000 to 100,000 words. Anything I don’t mention here should be within that range, give or take 5,000 words.
* Cozy mysteries: 70,000 to 90,000 words. Usually on the short end of that.
* Category romance: Anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 (note this is Harlequin/Silhouette only)
* Fantasy: Can run longer, up to 120,000 words

And YA runs shorter than adult. And therefore I’m grateful that Harry Potter blew those lengths out of the water.

I just read MASTIFF, Tamora Pierce’s third book in the Beka Cooper trilogy. You know how long that was? Six hundred pages plus. SIX HUNDRED PAGES. Figuring that it’s about ten thousand words per thirty pages, that’d be about 200,000 words.

And I’m grateful. Not just because I love long books, though I often do. But because my default length as a writer is upwards of 120,000 words. That’s the length with which I’m most comfortable. I always write long and then cut, and when I’m done cutting I’m often STILL above 120,000 words.

Sometimes I even get within shouting distance of 100,000 words. But not usually.

Most of the time a serious cut improves a book (I mostly believe this) and if cutting the length down encourages a publishing house to take the book, then it’s worth doing on that account, too.

But I’m very glad that there are enough popular authors out there breaking the length rules that the rest of us have a little more leeway than the figures above suggest.

(Though I would suggest you keep the first book you seriously shop around under 100,000 words, if you’re serious about getting agents to look at it. When you’re as famous as Tamora Pierce, you can get away with those 200,000 word manuscripts. I’m looking forward to the day when *I* can get away with that.)

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How many agents does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

It wasn’t my idea, I can’t take credit for it!

It was agent Rachelle Gardner’s idea, and some of the winning entries are hilarious.

My favorite, the third one down from the top:

“The agent doesn’t *change* it. She gently suggests revisions to the light bulb.”

Ha ha ha ha!

I haven’t read through my agent’s editorial notes for my WIP yet — I only got ’em yesterday and have been putting off actually thinking about them — but I’m sure she has gently suggested quite a few revisions.

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Break’s over, I guess . . .

Because I have comments on my WIP back from everybody.


Actually I just got the page proofs for HOUSE OF SHADOWS, but I handed that to my mother-the-doyen-of-all-things-grammatical. This is the stage where her eye can be helpful. She never reads fantasy except for mine, but luckily she doesn’t seem to hate reading the page proofs.

I tried to tell myself I could wait to revise the WIP until after getting the page proofs back from my mother and reading through it myself, but really there’s no reason to wait. I can switch back and forth from one project to the other just fine. So I guess I’ll probably read through the comments very carefully and then start revising tonight, probably. I don’t really really really HATE revising, but on the other hand, I don’t exactly enjoy it either, usually.


Hope I can have this all done by the end of the month! I really would like to start a new project and this should be the last chore I need to get out of the way first.

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She is!

Which is the standard phrase by which you announce to your friends that a girl dog of yours has been confirmed pregnant.

Here’s MY beautiful girl, Anara Adornment (Adora):

See? Beautiful, right? Smart, too: she has four obedience titles so far and 1/3 each of two others. And the most wonderful personality, not that I’m biased!

And here’s the gorgeous daddy:

Champion and Canadian Champion and Grand Champion Closeburn Graham McInnes. Quite a guy, isn’t he?

So unless things go wrong — and unfortunately things can indeed go very very wrong, as Adora herself demonstrated last year — BUT, hopefully, this time around she will give me three (or maybe four) beautiful healthy puppies on December 11th. I can tell you, what I want for Christmas this year is three (or four) HEALTHY, THRIVING beautiful little puppies!

So, I’m sure you’re eager to know how a knowledgeable, dedicated breeder (coughs modestly) chooses a male, right? Good, ’cause I’m going to explain (though just briefly).

First, I wanted a gorgeous ruby male with lots of glamor. Even that’s not so easy, there aren’t that many great ruby males out there. Then I wanted a compact build because Adora’s a little on the long side and I don’t want puppies that look like dachshunds! Plus I have to have a boy with great structure and movement — no compromises there. And all his health certificates have to be in order, of course.

So I looked through the most recent CKCSC yearbook and there was Graham. I know his father, who’s nice but a bit long — but Graham is more compact. Interesting pedigree, though a total outcross for my Dora. Plus, a Closeburn dog? Definitely going to have all his i’s dotted and t’s crossed as far as heath checks go.

And so it proved when I contacted his owner. She was very easy to work with, we exchanged copies of health certificates and signed the contract and got all the paperwork done and now . . . nothing to do but wait to see if we get healthy gorgeous puppies. Crossing my fingers!

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Books you can’t buy yet

You know how many books are scheduled for release next spring? Lots. Seemed like everybody I talked to at the World Fantasy Convention has a book coming out next spring. (Me, too, of course!)

I tried to note down titles of the ones I most want to get, and here they are:

This is a YA — a girl gets possessed by the spirit of a samurai, and complications ensue. Doesn’t that sound cool? And isn’t the cover nice? I met Cole at Archon but her book wasn’t on Amazon yet; now it is.

A new MG story with a great cover — doesn’t that look like it would fly off the shelves into the hands of every horse-crazy fourteen-year-old girl? I really enjoyed the Magic Thief series, so I’m looking forward to this one.

Deb Coates’ first novel, I think the first of three. I met Deb last year and again this year and I’m really looking forward to reading her debut story. It’s an adult fantasy which got great blurbs from Patricia Briggs AND Sharon Shinn, so that’s promising!


Did you know R A MacAvoy has a new one scheduled for release? I had no idea. It’s not listed on Amazon yet, but really — due out sometime next spring. MacAvoy was at the WFC, which is why I know.

I loved TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON, I mean, there are no words! And LENS OF THE WORLD, if you’ve never read that, really, you have just got to go find a copy right this minute. MacAvoy was writing back in the eighties, I think? Not totally sure when her last book came out, but some time ago. I am so glad she’s back!

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More on voice

After my fairly extensive post on voice a few days ago?

Here’s a link to a post (from last year) of Nathan Bransford’s on the same topic that makes a great starting point for thinking about voice.

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Books I Need On My TBR Pile

I didn’t buy many books at the World Fantasy Convention. Not my fault! All those free books, and I wanted to fit everything into my carry-on bag.

But that leaves me with quite a few books I want to buy in the near future, including:

FAIRIE WINTER, sequel to BONES OF FAIRIE, by Janni Lee Simner. I liked the first book, now I need to pick up the sequel.

by Sarah Beth Durst, which was described as “vampire girl meets were-unicorn slayer boy”. Isn’t that hysterical? Love it! Gotta have a copy!

FOX AND PHOENIX, by Beth Bernobich, which I saw somebody reading and it looks really neat. Alternate China, so there’s a neat setting right there.

THE CRYSTAL THRONE, by Kathryn Sullivan, whom I spent time chatting with at the convention. There’s a sequel out, too, so I hope I love this one!

ASHFALL, by Mike Mullin, which is a YA post apocalyptic story that was recommended during a panel.

The Seven Realms series, by Cinda Williams Chima, also recommended, though I need to sort out which one is first in the series.

PROMISE OF THE WOLVES, by Dorothy Hearst, because I saw a card about the sequel. Only thing is, with wolves as the characters and a wolf protagonist? Well, my actual degree is in animal behavior, you know? If the author treats her wolves like furry humans, I will notice and then I will hate this book. So not sure. Usually I don’t much care for books with animal protagonists. Except WATERSHIP DOWN was so wonderful, so I know it can be done. And actually Felix Salton’s original BAMBI was excellent, too.

THE FREEDOM MAZE by Delia Sherman got a starred review from Kirkus and laudatory blurb from NK Jemisin, so it’s on my gotta-try-it list.

GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson, sounds great. Lots of excellent blurbs from writers I love.

AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST, by Iain Pears, which was very highly recommended by Emma Bull during a panel.

AMONG OTHERS, by Jo Walton, which must have been recommended by somebody, but I didn’t note who. Here’s what it says on Amazon, though: Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment. Doesn’t that sound great?

And last — but these were in no order of any kind —

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, by Laini Taylor. Looks wonderful — set in Prague, and I know Taylor can really write, too.

This is the sort of thing that keeps my TBR pile from noticeably diminishing.

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