Lately in the querybox I have gotten a lot of submissions labeled “MG/YA”. This makes me angry because I love both YA and MG but you cannot do this.  When querying an agent, an author must pick one primary genre. You might say “It’s Middle Grade with possible crossover appeal to older readers” or it’s “Young adult that could also appeal to younger readers.” But it can’t be YA and MG. I will show you why in two pictures:

As you can see from these pictures taken without permission at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, Young Adult and Middle Grade are two separate sections of the bookstore. And since books can’t be in two places at once, you cannot have a YA/MG book.

This begs the obvious question: how do I know if my book is YA or MG? Here are some signs.

Middle Grade

  • Often features characters between 9-14 years of age. (Exceptions would be books such as To Kill a Mockingbird where the characters are that age but it is being told from hindsight or books where animals/creatures tell the story.)
  • Protagonists are often in middle school, junior high or the equivalent thereof.
  • Common themes are: discovering the world (or magical worlds), adapting to change in school and home life, beginnings of crushes/adolescence (but not explicit sexual content), friendship, etc.

Young Adult

  • Often features characters between the ages of 14-19. (Again something like A Separate Peace where the character is looking back at his youth is an exception.)
  • Protagonists are usually in high school or the equivalent thereof. And now, we are seeing some set in the early years of college as well.
  • Common themes are discovering one’s place in the world (as opposed to discovering the world), first romances, making a name for oneself outside of family or friend groups, tension between growing independence and still being legally a “child”.
  • Young adult can feature darker themes and more explicit content than middle grade though you will still have trouble getting through school and library marketing if it is VERY sexually explicit. I mean more “fade to black” kind of stuff.


One series that may have tricked you into confusing YA and MG is Harry Potter. The series starts when Harry is 11. It features a standard MG trope of the main character learning the world is much larger than he had previously known (in this case, there is a magical element) and making friends at a new school. However, as the books go on, Harry gets older and the content gets more YA in content–there are romances, deaths, and Nazi-types. However, the series is always shelved in the MG section, because that is where it began.

If you want a good example of a fun middle grade, this week we are celebrating the paperback release of EXIT STRATEGY by Lauren Allbright. Pick up your copy now!