Ask Daphne! MG or YA?

I actually wore almost these exact shoes in high school with my uniform, but these go out today to Beth, who writes:

Could you tell us about some of the distinctions between YA and MG? I thought my current manuscript was YA and placed my characters in high school. Everyone who has read it thinks its tone and subject is more MG. I’m certainly willing to listen to their advice, but I’d like to know a bit more about the differences between YA and MG. Also: would me labeling a manuscript as YA be a death knoll for my query if the agent thinks it’s better off as MG? And do you think 15 year old characters are too old for an upper MG novel, or should I age down my characters?

Hiya Beth. You’re echoing a question that came up a number of times at the Agent’s Day conference last weekend. It seems this is confusing stuff for a lot of writers!
Roughly, middle grade or MG fiction is characterized as for readers from 8-12 years old, or at least those reading at that level. Young adult or YA fiction is roughly from 12 and up, although there has been a trend towards labeling something “older” YA to indicate more mature themes, perhaps, which would be 14 and up. Now, there is a lot of crossover potential between these age ranges, and as we all know, we expect kids to read up, so a 12 year old may expect or want to read about a 14 year old.
So, for your 15 year old protagonist, although I would usually characterize a book about his or her adventures as YA, you may certainly find middle grade readers picking it up.
Which isn’t helpful, I know, but maybe this is — can you try leaving off any mention of the terms “MG” or “YA” from your query? Let an agent decide what your book is, and how she can market it to an editor. Yes, she may suggest a change in your protag’s age — so be ready to defend or consider if your story would still work if your MC was 14 — or 16. Good luck!

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