Trying to Figure Out Middle Grade Versus Young Adult

I have this novel.  I wrote it in 2006, edited and polished until the end of 2009, and began submitting at the beginning of 2010.  My query kept getting me partial requests, but nothing beyond that, so I rewrote the first chapter.  A couple of times.  And sent it out some more.

I had written it as a YA fantasy, but this year I started to get some interesting feedback – first, from my friends, and then confirmed by an agent.  The writing didn’t sound YA; it sounded MG.

Middle Grade is a growing age category, stuffed somewhere in between chapter books and YA novels, and, to be perfectly honest, not something I had spent a lot of time looking into.

Then a reader told me a different project – also supposed to be YA – also read MG.

So here we are.

There’s nothing wrong with MG – if anything, it may actually be a better age range to be focusing on since it’s growing so fast right now.  But the fact that I thought I was writing YA and apparently am not…that bothers me.

I get a little bitter at times.  I wonder if, in order for something to be considered YA these days, it needs to be dark and sexy and full of unnecessary angst.

My friend and writing partner Sarah tells me that it depends on the focus of the book.  Tweens will read adventure, will accept different things as true.  Teenagers want something different. 

The whole thing makes me wary of my perception of age ranges in general.  Do the adult things I’ve written read like YA?  Should I shift everything one age range down?

If I try to write something specifically MG, will it still read too young?

Do you have a tried and true way to tell what age group a story you’ve written is for?  Any good tips for being able to tell the difference between YA and MG?

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