Editing / Marketing

MG or YA

So in my last post (on Friday), I referred to a problem with my novel.  And as much as I hate dwelling on my problems and pointing them out to the world, it would be a lot less confusing for me if I just made it public.  Then I don’t have to struggle to remember who I told and who I didn’t, or worry about tiptoeing around a canyon.  

I told a friend that my book was a YA (“Young Adult”) fantasy and the protagonist was a 13-year-old girl. Then she politely explained that editors want the protags of YA books to be in high school. If the character is in middle school, the book is marketed as “Middle Grade” or MG. So now I have to decide if I want my book to be YA or MG, and then age my character appropriately.

On the up side, I’m glad I found this out now instead of after I queried. On the down side, I can’t believe I never realized this before. I’ve read a lot of websites and information about writing, books, authors, etc etc,  but I don’t ever remember seeing this discussion about MG vs YA.  Apparently I was looking in the wrong places.  It’s confusing to me, because a lot of YA books (on the back cover or inside jacket flap) will say for readers 12 and up, or sometimes 13 and up. So I just assumed the characters could also be 12 or 13.  

If my book wasn’t part of a series, I’d say, “Sure, it can be a MG,” and I’d be fine with that. I certainly don’t have anything against MG books.  But I have to look at the series as a whole and consider how much older the characters will be by the end of the series.  And even if these later books won’t have gratuitous swearing, violence, or sex, I’m guessing they’ll end up darker than the average MG book.  To stay true to the series, it would have to be YA instead of MG.  But that means rewriting Book 1 so the characters are freshmen in high school instead of 7th or 8th graders. Which means rewriting every school scene, every 13-year-old viewpoint. It changes the whole tone of the book. High school is SO different than junior high… at least it was for me, in a small town, in the 90s.  

One of the main themes of Book 1 is friendship between a girl and a boy.  I wanted them to be young when they first met so they could be friends without getting too awkward, too hormonal.  I mean, in 8th grade, my best friends were boys. But the older I got, the weirder it was being friends with guys.  Gradually, girls took over my “best friend” positions.  I was still friends with those guys… but it wasn’t the same as it was in junior high. It’s like you walk into high school and you can’t help but get bombarded with hormone-induced thoughts.  Middle school was more innocent somehow, more platonic.  So now I’m worried about aging my characters while still maintaining those innocent friendships.  But at this point, I don’t see any option but to try it and see how it works.  At least now maybe I won’t have to worry as much about my characters sounding too old.  *weak smile*

Anyway, so now I have this huge rewrite in front of me.  After spending the week in dread, I’ve decided to stop moping and get back to work.  And I’ve decided to set a new goal for myself, since I’m nothing if not stubborn.  I’m starting the rewrite on October 1st, and my goal is to finish by Halloween night.  I never can tell how long edits will take, or how to gauge my progress.  To me, edits are unpredictable because you may spend all night on one scene or breeze through a chapter in a couple hours.  So instead of striving for a daily word or chapter goal, I’m simply aiming to spend at least two hours on it every night.  On good days I might get three or four hours, but two hours seems like a more reasonable average (considering how busy it’s been around here).  Then if I can finish by the end of October, I’ll still have early November to query before the holidays hit hard.  It’s the best scenario I can hope for.

So here’s my question for all of you:  am I the only one who didn’t know about this YA=high school rule??  It makes sense to me now, and boy have I been kicking myself.  If I look at my YA novels on my bookshelf, all the protags are in high school.  Maybe I was mistakenly thinking about the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson series, which span middle school and high school (or the fantasy equivalent).  But I guess those series are still labeled MG as a whole, and I just never stopped to think about it.  Any thoughts or discussion about the YA and MG labels?  Those of you who read YA–are you just as likely to browse the MG books, or do you stick with YA as a rule?  Any opinions are welcome, as always!  Have a great week, everyone!

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