I have never met a person that when asked to think back to middle school didn’t shudder, laugh, and say some version of, “I was awkward and friendless,” “I was so weird,” or “I blocked that out.” Middle school is a time unlike any other: your body is changing in an often unfavorable fashion, boys or girls are suddenly not as gross as they used to be- but you can’t talk to them, and you have complex emotions with zero coping capabilities.
It is a time of excitement, embarrassment, and discovery. It is so unique it gets an age category of literature all for itself: middle grade.
It is important to understand criteria of age demographics in order to write and publish a work that will actually have a market. R.L. Stine, author of the wildly successful Goosebumps series, stated in an interview for an article on WritersDigest.com, “I’ve written over 300 books—not one was written from my heart. Not one. They were all written for an audience, they were all written to entertain a certain audience.” The idea of catering your soul filled writing to an audience may leave a bitter taste in your mouth, but in the end, if there is no market your work will not get published.
So what exactly is the middle grade audience? Author and associate literary agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, Marie Lamba, breaks down the difference between middle grade and young adult literature in her article “Middle Grade vs Young Adult- Different Audiences, Different Styles”:
LENGTH: 30,000-50,000 words
CONTENT RESTRICTIONS: No profanity, graphic violence, or sexuality. Romance is limited to a crush or first kiss.
AGE OF PROTAGONIST: Typically 10 for a younger middle grade, up to 13 for a more mature and complex story. Kids “read up,” so they respond to older heroes.
MIND SET: Focus on friends, family, and character’s immediate world and relationship to it.
VOICE: Often Third Person.
Depending on the publisher or editor you ask you will get slight variations on what actually qualifies as middle grade. There will be slightly different age parameters or word counts, but the themes and conflicts are more universal. Below is the link to Marie Lamba’s article, as well as the links to a few different sources for a more in-depth look into middle grade.