The Den: A blog about children’s and YA genre fiction

The Den: A blog about children’s and YA genre fiction

A guide to middle grade and YA genres and subgenres
1024 576 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Middle grade and young adult aren’t genres, they’re audiences. If a reader, editor or agent asks what genre your novel is, they’re asking what type of story it is. Where does it sit on the bookshop shelf? What should readers expect when they pick it up? Underneath the MG and YA umbrellas lie all the usual fiction genres, although some don’t crop up often in children’s book because they’re inappropriate or inaccessible for a young audience, like police procedurals, splatterpunk and erotic thrillers! It’s important to know where your novel fits in, because genres come with conventions and expectations. It’s not always easy to stick a label on a story since categories and subcategories overlap and can mean different things to different people, but understanding what these industry terms typically mean can help you focus your ideas and point you in the direction of similar books so you can study…

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How old should your main character be?
1024 684 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Thanks for joining me, YA genre authors! Next up in my YA Fundamentals series is character age, something that trips up a lot of my clients. Does it really matter how old your main character is? Yes! For a start, your protagonist’s age is one of the key factors that tells readers your book is YA and that it’s been written especially for them. So, how old should they be? Let’s get stuck in! As a general rule of thumb, YA protagonists should typically be somewhere between 13 and 19 years old. Young people like to read up, which means they usually prefer protagonists who are a year or two older than them. As always, there are lots of blurred lines when we talk about age categories but main characters aged 12 and under are almost certainly the domain of middle grade; most teenagers don’t want to read stories about…

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Which age group is YA for?
1024 683 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Oh hey, YA authors! Are you struggling to work out the difference between middle grade and YA, or between YA and adult? Wondering what mistakes you need to avoid if you don’t want to turn agents off or disappoint readers? You’ve come to the right place! In this ‘YA Fundamentals’ series I’m going to be exploring some of the most common issues I come across when editing manuscripts for young readers, so you’ll be armed with all the facts you need to make the right choices when writing your YA story. I know how confusing it can be; the lines are sometimes blurry and lots of novels are referred to as both middle grade and YA (or even New Adult) depending on who you’re talking to or what bookshop you’re in. But don’t panic, you’ve got this! Who is YA aimed at? So let’s start with the basics: YA stands…

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Analysing The Tale of the Lonely Ghost
1024 684 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Hi, horror fans! I’m really excited about this blog series and I hope you will be too. I was a big fan of Are You Afraid of the Dark? as a child; I even analysed the opening credits in great detail for my media studies GCSE coursework. For anybody who hasn’t seen AYAOTD? before, the show’s concept is simple. A group of young teenagers called the Midnight Society meet in the woods at night and take it in turns to tell scary stories around a fire. This blog is aimed at authors, not screenwriters, but there’s a lot to learn and unpack in this children’s TV show and I bet you’ll pick up some tips and inspiration if you’re writing horror (or anything with scary bits) for young readers. The intended viewership was around middle grade level although I was still watching well into my teens so there’s something here for…

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Wolf School with Constance and Merricat: Introduction
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Ah-wooooooooooooooooooooooo. Hello, and welcome to Wolf School with Constance and Merricat, your Wolves in Residence. We’re so excited to– That’s Professor Merricat, actually.  You are not a professor, Merricat. I’m not calling you that. But I’m a teacher!  No you’re not. We’re just playing. Stop being so silly. Okay, fine. But I’m in charge of writing on the white board.  Fine. Sorry, everyone, where was I? Oh yes, welcome to Wolf School! We’re really excited to have you here with us. Do you know, I actually think this is the first online wolf school in history, so you’ll have to bear with us if there are technical difficulties. We wolves don’t use the internet much so it’s all a bit of a learning curve, isn’t it Merricat? It is for you because you’re old. I use the internet all the time. I’m 16, Merricat. Only seven years older than you. Anyway,…

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Sweet dreams! Should your middle grade horror have a happy ending?
1024 576 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

I’m often asked whether children’s horror novels should end on a cheerful note with the threat fully defused, giving young readers the closure they need to drift off happily to sleep. In adult horror fiction and film, there’s no guarantee things will turn out well for the protagonist. And even if the final girl does skip off to tell the tale, or the traumatised family finally sells that haunted house and moves far away, their lives have undoubtedly changed for the worse. Think of famous scary stories with a relatively happy ending – The Amityville Horror, The Haunting of Hill House, The Shining, Scream, The Exorcist. The protagonists all escape the threat and good wins out over evil, but could you really call those endings happy? As adults, we don’t expect to walk away from a horror story feeling warm and fuzzy. Many of us love horror precisely because we want to…

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You've finished your first draft – let's celebrate!
You’ve finished the first draft of your MG or YA book! Now what?
1024 578 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

1. Party like it’s 2020! You’ve written a novel – you rock! This is such an enormous achievement and you deserve a big night out on the town, or at least a really good milkshake from one of those places that blend up Twixes and Terry’s Chocolate Orange bars. Pat yourself on the back, do a little skip and remember how it feels to finish that first draft, because it’ll feel even better to finish the final one. 2. Sleep for a hundred years Once the champagne hangover – or milkshake brain freeze – wears off, relax and forget about your manuscript. You’ve got lots of hard work to do if you want to get your novel in the best shape, but it’s best to take a break for a few weeks and come back to your story with fresh eyes. Don’t read it, don’t edit it, don’t think about…

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Children’s book writing prompt lucky dip #1
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Over the course of my Novel Writing MA, I produced thousands of words of creative writing in response to weekly assignments, all of which were workshopped and critiqued by tutors and classmates. I invented characters, scenarios and locations every day and thought hey, these ideas are just oozing out of me! What’s writer’s block again? But when it came time to sit down and start writing my middle grade story (which I had to submit as part of my dissertation) I completely clammed up. I didn’t like any of the characters or ideas I’d come up with previously, and I just couldn’t find inspiration no matter where I looked. Maybe it was the time pressure – I had a hard deadline to hit if I wanted to graduate! – or maybe I just hadn’t been taking the writing process seriously enough until that point. Either way, I had to fix…

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How to write a creepy graveyard in middle grade or YA
1024 576 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Hey, horror fans! Not much beats the eerie atmosphere of an empty cemetery in the middle of the night. They’re dark and shadowy, spookily silent and totally empty – you hope! Everybody knows cemeteries are a breeding ground for ghosts seeking closure (you did know that, right?) but they can make a fantastic setting for your middle grade or YA story even if you’re not writing supernatural horror. There’s a literary and cinematic heritage attached to graves that acts as shorthand for terror – think Pet Sematary, Night of the Living Dead, Carrie, The Woman in Black – so they can get people shuddering from the offset, even without a paranormal encounter. But that doesn’t mean you should be lazy about it; a flimsy graveyard backdrop isn’t enough to build atmosphere and tension on its own. First you need to be sure it makes sense as a setting in your story…

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Welcome to The Den!

Hello! I’m Siobhán, a developmental editor of middle grade and YA genre fiction. This blog is aimed at indie authors who write for a young audience, particularly those working on horror, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery or anything with a dash of magic or macabre.



Here are some lovely things my gorgeous clients have said about me. When I'm having a bad day, I like to read these and eat Cadbury's Creme Eggs.

‘A breath of fresh air’

Siobhan has not only been a breath of fresh air, breathing new life into my first ever draft manuscript, but she’s also provided me with the impetus to get it finished. Her comments and feedback led me to make some hard decisions but these have resulted in a much better book. Here’s to the future!

David Rogers | MG sci-fi dev edit
Several pennies have actually dropped’


I’ve had a look through everything and wanted to thank you so much for the forensic view of my novel. It’s the first time I’ve had a developmental edit like this completed and it has been, in turn, horrifying, enlightening, surprising and confidence boosting! But I guess you’ve probably seen that before. In many respects, several pennies have actually dropped and I have a firmer idea of what I need to do and will work on more research and reading.
Maria White | MG fantasy dev edit

‘Absolutely delightful!’

Thank you so much! Working with you has been absolutely delightful! I truly appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Jena Ataras | MG fantasy critique

‘The story has been truly seen for the first time’

I just wanted to say thank you so much for all the hard work you have done on my edit. I am absolutely thrilled with it; the attention to detail and depth with which you went into the manuscript left me speechless. The hashtag system is so handy and the book map made so many things clear for me. I feel like the story has been truly seen for the first time. I will recommend your work without hesitation.

Aisling White | YA fantasy dev edit

‘I don’t want our editing relationship to end yet’

I have just skimmed through your brilliant editorial critique and will follow your suggestions and recommended reading lists. I think you have been very good at steering me the right way. I don’t want our editing relationship to end yet. I still need you!

Akin Jabar | MG sci-fi critique

‘It’s already helping massively’

I want to say a MASSIVE THANK YOU for all that you’ve done for me and my book baby. It’s already helping massively. I already love all the three big suggestions you made and I’m really happy you thought it’s a book worth working on as that’s exactly what I’m planning to do 🙂

Martina O'Brien | Paranormal fantasy dev edit
‘I’m really impressed with your critical eye’


Wow, an excellent middle grade manuscript critique! I’m really impressed with your critical eye and what you’ve picked up on here – your comments are very astute and your feedback has been very valuable, as always. I agree with almost everything! Thanks a lot for this – I can’t wait to send you another.
John Lomas-Bullivant | MG fantasy critique

‘Your generous effort has already made the book better’

Thank you SO much for all your notes and for the honesty. I read them all and they’re extremely helpful. I’m very grateful for you taking the time. Your generous effort has already made the book better. 

Chad Lutzke | YA horror beta read

‘I have never felt so quickly understood and supported by an editor’

Siobhan is absolutely brilliant! I’m trying not to sound too gushy but her work truly is astonishing — the best editing I have ever received. Siobhan is a master editor at every level, from word to idea. She is a consummate craftsperson and expert researcher. She is also immensely creative, able to help solve a manuscript’s problems and repair its shortcomings. She is efficient and generous, bright and fun — an absolute joy to work with. I have never felt so quickly understood and supported by an editor.

Sara Cassidy | Children's adventure critique
‘So thorough and rich with insight’


What a treat! This is exactly what I needed. Your critique seems so thorough and rich with insight. I will be sure to send you questions if I’m unsure about anything you meant but I think you’re so thorough that I will be able to digest almost everything on my own just fine. It was an absolute pleasure to work with you as well!
Chanya Sainvilus | YA sci-fi critique

‘I will seek a developmental edit much earlier next time’

Well I have read the report and documents and ARRGHH!! But in a good way. I have to say that your comments, suggestions and advice are excellent and I don’t disagree with much if anything that you suggest. They are really helpful and will truly make this book better. Also the pointers will definitely improve my subsequent stories. I will seek a developmental edit much earlier next time as I think this would have made the whole process a quicker and much more streamlined editing process.

Jonathan Evans | YA fantasy critique