12 Key Differences Between Middle Grade And YA Books

Writer’s Relief
5 min readOct 26, 2020

If you’re thinking about writing for teen or tween audiences, it’s important to know all the ways that Middle Grade books and Young Adult books differ. These two genres have evolved rapidly in the past decade, as have the nuanced distinctions between them. Here are the key differences between Middle Grade and YA Books, along with some tips for writing for young readers of any age.

12 Important Differences Between Middle Grade and YA Books

Writing Middle Grade Literature

Age of the characters: Characters in middle grade stories are generally 8–12 years old. In upper middle grade books, which is a bit more complex and intended for a slightly older audience, the characters can be a little older.

Length of the story: A middle grade novel is typically between 30,000 and 50,000 words. The books can be a bit shorter if they’re for a very young audience, or a bit longer if they’re for a slightly older audience. Books can also be a bit longer if they’re in the fantasy genre.

Voice of the characters: Children’s book writers often find the middle grade voice the most difficult to get right. While language needs to be clear and simple, these books cannot be condescending or give the air of being “watered down.”

Focus: Middle grade characters and readers are often smarter and more astute than adults give them credit for, so stories for a middle grade audience can be darker, deeper, and scarier than you might expect. Middle grade narrators should give their readers a good sense of interiority — closeness to the character, mentally and emotionally — but may not have the world around them totally figured out yet. Middle grade characters may also be more dependent on adults, so parents and teachers might be more involved in their stories. These books tend to end more cleanly and hopefully.

What the books can’t have: A middle grade novel should have a “PG” rating. Romance can be present but is typically limited to a youthful crush, perhaps a first kiss — generally very innocent. And, while these books can deal with more serious topics, any violence shouldn’t be graphic, and there usually isn’t a lot of swearing.

Writer’s Relief

Author’s Submission Service Est. 1994. We help authors reach their publishing goals with targeted submissions to literary agents and editors.