Middle grade

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Middle grade is a category of fiction aimed at children, typically aged between 8 and 12. Of course, some younger children will start reading middle grade earlier, while a lot of older children will keep reading it even after they’ve transitioned to YA. Despite the fluidity of the audience, 8-12 is an important age range to keep in mind because publishers, booksellers and librarians rely on it heavily for categorisation and you’ll need to understand where on the shelf your book might sit.

There are a few guidelines to stick to when writing middle grade to give your book the best chance of success:

  • Average word count: Realistic middle grade novels typically range between 20,000 and 50,000 words (lower for younger middle grade and higher for older) with around 35,000 being the average. Fantasy novels tend to run longer due to the world-building needed to support the story.
  • Protagonist’s age: Main characters should be somewhere between 10 and 13. Young readers usually prefer to read up, so aim for a protagonist that’s about two years younger than your target audience (but be aware that 14 is edging into YA territory).
  • Mature content: Sex, swearing and graphic violence are usually a no-no in middle grade. Edgy elements might occur off-screen but not on the page and are never gratuitous or explicit.
  • Themes: Middle grade stories often centre on family or friendships, and follow a protagonist who’s trying to find their place in the world.

If you’re seeking traditional publication, failure to stick to these could earn you an immediate rejection because your novel just isn’t appropriate for the audience you’re writing for (plus it makes you look like you haven’t done any industry research). If you’re self-publishing, it’s still absolutely crucial that you’re aware of publishing norms. A middle grade novel that’s double the usual length or that deals with mature themes might dissuade readers (and their parents, teachers and school librarians) before they’ve even picked it up.

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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