Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Children's Books

I am querying agents and I would like to make an effort to target
agents that will represent my type of book. The problem is, I'm not
sure what to call it.

What's the difference between children's, middle-grades, and young

I've been describing my book as young adult, but I believe that it
will more likely appeal to readers in the 9-12 range? It's 65,000
words and is kind of similar to City of Ember.

Am I worrying about nothing or is a correct genre description

65,000 words is definitely going to be in the JA range unless you've specifically written it to younger children, which is a bad idea. The spectrum of children's literature is very well-defined by publishers based on age and mental maturity. 2-4-year-old books are largely picture books with extremely basic plots. 4-6 you can start getting into more complex ideas like morality, lessons, mythology, and you have more text to the pictures. This is also the age that kids might be reading instead of being read-to by the parent, so you have to be strict on content. This is also the age when "special topics" books begin (like books discussing gay parents, divorce, death, illness, and even abuse and incest. The only topic completely off-limits is abortion, which is not allowed until YA). By middle school, the pictures are cut down to minimum and the children are assumed to be reading on their own, but certain topics are still off-limits except if handled in a very gentle manner, hiding behind imagery. The word count is still relatively short because of attention span, but much larger than picture books. (Kids do read ultra-long Harry Potter books in middle school but this is a special case). YA applies generally to kids in 4-6th grades and is when the topics open up to things teenagers deal with, like sexuality, death, self-image, suicide, anger, etc. It really ends at around age 12-14, when kids generally move into adult books. I remember reading Jurassic Park in sixth grade, which was my first "adult" book, and I was the only one reading that kind of book in my class. By the end of 7th, everyone was reading adult books. (Actually, they were mainly reading magazines and listening to music)

It seems like you have a standard YA fantasy. Anything below YA (Young Adult) should be written with a lot of research into what are the acceptable limts to the content and you should specify the grade range.


Anonymous said...

Actually, the general age range for middle grade is 9-12 years, while YA usually targets 13 and up. There are sub categories such as "upper middle grade," "upper YA," and even a newer category, "tween," for 12-14 year-olds. That said, the lines are blurry, and it depends a lot on the maturity/immaturity of your readers, as well as reading abilities. And different houses have different definitions, as well.

A general rule to keep in mind is that kids like to read stories where the protagonist is a bit older than themselves, so a 9-year-old might chose a book with a 12-year-old main character over one with a 9-year-old mc.

65,000 words is a bit hefty for middle grade, while it's right on target for YA (not saying that some middle grade kids wouldn't read it, but it'll make most publishers balk).

From the Rejecter's response, I'd guess that he/she does not work for an agent who handles children's lit. A great resource for you is Verla Kay's message board for children's writers and illustrators. Go to, click on "Forums and Links" then go to "Message Boards," and you'll have a wealth of information to peruse, including answers to the very question you posed.
Good luck!

Christine said...

And if the poster has written a fantasy, longer word counts have become more and more acceptable. The first Harry Potter book, clearly a MG, is in the 80K range, IIRC. And they get longer from there.

40-60K is the generally accepted word count for the 9-12 age range, but as I said, exceptions are made, usually in fantasy books.

Now, content, on the other hand, is where your distinction may come into play. Your protag is 12, therefore I'd say MG, but if there are 'adult themes' then you can up the MC's age and go for the YA market.

Yes, Verla's board is a great place to be. Or join the SCBWI and hang out there for a while. It's worth the $75 for the first year to get your feet wet with people who know the business.

bebe said...

Rejecter, I have to agree with the other two and say that you're way off here.

First off, City of Ember, the example used by the asker, is middle-grade and is probably between 55K and 60K words. That's not short, but I have several longer middle-grade books on my shelf, fantasy and not-fantasy alike.

Chapter books are 6-9, MG is 9-12, YA is 12+. Some YA will really sophisticated themes is given a 14+ age range and would be considered high YA. In general, YA means teenager. Teen characters, teen readers.

Picture books are 4-8, and board books are 0-3. Early readers usually go by grade level instead. Pre-K to Grade 4, depending on the level.

Different publishers break up the exact ages differently, but that's an approximate breakdown. It's important to keep the characters on a similar level as the reader. To get a book written like a YA with a 9-year-old protagonist, better be really special (The Book Thief, but he was an established writer and the book was marketed as adult in other countries, which is a whole other kettle) because it's hard to know what to do with it even if we like it.

bebe said...

Oh, and for the asker: all the categories I listed fall under "children's."

With YA, you wouldn't use the word "children" on the book or in any of the marketing materials, but it's still a children's book category.

adrienne said...

May I also recommend, rather useful with excellent articles, and free!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I have to agree with the Rejecter. I haven't read a kids' book, not even "young adult," since I was twelve years old. By that age, I was burning through my mother's collection of classic science fiction. I didn't even know there was such a thing as "young adult" fiction until my younger sister started reading it, and even then, I assumed the genre was for kids who weren't quite bright enough to comprehend adult fiction.

carlynarr said...

Anonymous #2, just because you were reading adult books at 12 doesn't mean everyone was. I'm 23 years old and I still don't read adult books-- not because they're unfit for my reading level, but just because I generally find them WAY less interesting than YA or middle-grade novels (plus, I write YA and middle-grade, so that probably has a lot to do with it as well). I desperately hope you don't still think that YA books are for kids who "aren't quite bright enough to comprehend adult fiction." Plenty of the YA I've read is far more challenging that many adult books.

prolificwriter said...


I just started a new website called . It is part of a larger educational network and I am going to put quite a bit of energy into promoting childrens books thru this site. Anyways...if you have something that you would like us to review for our podcast, please send us an e-mail.

Katherine Hayward said...

At the moment, my novel is 62,400 words and is aimed at the 9-12,year old age group. it's part of a trilogy where the MC is 9 in the first book, 10 in the second and 11 in the third. Would this agegroup want to read about an MC this old? I thought by keeping the age the same as the readers, they would identify with the character more. I've read one article that says that a good word count for this age group is 20K-55K depending on age range of readers and subject matter. (The article was by Writer's Digest). Of that range, which is the best for my book which is an urban fantasy involving two girls with cerebral palsy, and trips to a magic land with talking fairies, magic spells, animals who talk, witches, goblins, unicorns horses and several quests?