When writing for young adults, one of the single most important things to identify, is your audience and their age. It can be difficult to separate young adult from middle grade from new adult, and you can see from these definitions I found online that there are a lot of opinions about it.
The author of the true, classic middle grade novel does not worry about vocabulary choices or simple sentence structure; once children are ready for these books they are good readers. 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. They are solidifying their own identity, experiencing the physical and psychological changes of puberty, taking on new responsibilities all within the boundaries of their family, friends and neighborhood. Yes, your character needs to grow and change during the course of the book, but these changes are on the inside. Middle grade readers are beginning to learn who they are, what they think. Their books need to mirror their personal experience. (from write4kids.com)
From Joe Monti, literary agent with the Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency (on my A-list):
“The publishing guidelines are traditionally for readers from ages 8-12 for middle grade and 12 & up for YA. My experience, particularly as a retailer cautions that these are soft and it’s closer to 7-11 and 11-17. But adult readership of young adult fiction can be as high as 40% for the most popular titles, but generally makes up 20%-25%.”
From Amanda Rutter, editor at Strange Chemistry, the YA imprint of UK-based Angry Robot Books: “Middle grade is very much about the external, in my opinion. The protagonist reacts to external situations and events, which leads to adventurous stories, and there is little time spent in the characters’ heads. Think books like Percy Jackson and Skulduggery Pleasant. On the other hand, YA is often much more introspective, and the protagonist exerts their influence on the events in the novel. Think first person perspective and lots of use of the word ‘I’. Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule!”
And Michael Stearns, agent and founder of Upstart Crow Literary offers these tips:
* “Middle grade novels tend to be shorter.”
* “Middle grade novels tend to have main characters who are the age of—or slightly older than—the target reader.”
* “Middle grade novels tend to be more outwardly focused: Their plot of events, of things happening to the character, is more important over the course of the book than what happens within the character.”
* “Middle grade novels tend to have a simpler vocabulary and a simpler sentence structure.”
* “Middle grade novels tend to have a single inciting element—the thing that sets the comfortable, given world a-kilter.”
Here is my own definition:
Between 20,000-45.000 words. If it's longer and geared to a slightly older audience, but not yet falling under the YA category (think "pre-teen" or "tweener"), you should really refer to the work as upper Middle Grade. Incidentally, several people in the industry that I consider to be In-The-Know have predicted the Middle Grade genre to be The Next Big Thing. The same peeps also now project time travel to be a huge theme. Hmmm. I think I'm writing one now. *giggle*
Incidentally, I have tackled the middle grade genre with a book called The Detention Demon. If you get a chance to check it out, let me know how I did. Thanks!