I can’t figure out if my fantasy is “Upper Middle Grade” or “Lower Young Adult.” My protagonist is 13, which is outside the 9-12 age range of MG, but do older teens want to read about a 13-year-old? Are there guidelines?
Lots of authors struggle with this. And frankly, so do editors, agents, and booksellers. An agent or editor might even ask you to age your character up or down to avoid the question. These days, YA fiction seems dominated by books with 17- to 19-year-old characters. Some in the industry lament that trend, wondering if it’s happening because so many YA consumers are actually adults. Young teens want to see themselves in books, too! Your book offers them that chance. If we go by age, your book would be YA… yet the “Upper MG” label lets content be a decisive factor. Take a look at the character journey. Even if their external journey is as big as saving the world, a middle-grade protagonist’s internal journey is about identity and relationships within one’s immediate social group. It tends to be more inward-focused, working out personal identity within the context of that small circle. In contrast, YA tends to look more outward as characters try to establish themselves as independent individuals in a bigger world. Friends and family still matter, but the YA protagonist’s worldview is clearly expanding. Parsing out these differences can help you decide if your story is “Upper Middle Grade” or “Lower Young Adult.”
The Editor, Deborah Halverson, has been editing books for over 25 years and specializes in Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. For her editorial guidance in making your manuscript ready for submission to agents and publishers or for self-publishing, click Editorial services. Learn more in her books: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies and Writing New Adult Fiction.