MG & YA rebels: Ask yourself why you’re going against the grain

1024 683 Writer and the Wolf Editorial

I talk to lots of middle grade and YA authors who feel really deflated when I suggest their main character might be a little too old or young for the target market, and I totally get that! You’ve worked on a manuscript for months, maybe years, and fallen head over heels in love with your protagonist, so when somebody recommends you change fundamental details like their age, it can hurt.

If you’re convinced your middle grade protagonist has to be 17 years old, ask yourself why. Is their voice too mature for a 12-year-old character? Does the plot feature situations that wouldn’t realistically happen to a young child, like a sexual relationship or a week-long road trip with friends? If so, you might need to consider that your book’s audience is actually teenagers instead of middle grade readers. If that feels hard to take, dig deep into the reason you’re struggling to switch to a different target audience. Maybe you’ve always had your heart set on writing middle grade because that’s the category that made you fall in love with reading as a child. Or perhaps you’re just not a YA fan or haven’t read enough to be familiar with it.

Don’t try to stick your book into a box it doesn’t fit. The writing rules are there to be broken, sure, but if your middle grade novel follows a 17-year-old boy in a tempestuous romantic relationship or a teenage girl living alone and dealing with addiction, it’s unlikely it will appeal to most eight to twelve year olds because they’ll struggle to relate. Write the book you want to write and let the story and characters dictate the audience.

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Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes is a developmental editor working with middle grade and YA authors. She specialises in speculative and genre fiction, particularly horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi and anything with a dash of magic or macabre. She is a member of the SfEP, EFA, ACES, British Fantasy Society, Horror Writers Association and SCBWI. She has an MA in Novel Writing and an MA in Children's Literature.

All stories by: Siobhan O'Brien Holmes