Understanding YA, NA and MG – A Writers Bible

YA NA MGOne of the most salient memories I have from childhood, was the desire to grow up. I was like the opposite of Peter Pan. I couldn’t get old fast enough.

Sixteen was this magical creature where suddenly I would be grown up and allowed to do lots of things. I’d be a ‘real’ teenager. Sixteen came and went, and then eighteen arrived and before I blinked I was twenty-one. By the time I was twenty-five, I realised I’d made a heinous fucking mistake.

Adulthood is the equivalent of being slapped daily with a decomposing Kipper infested with rabies. My life was filled with a suburban nightmare, bills, a work monotony that could make paint drying seem like the Oscars and a side order of fuck my life.

Peter Pan syndrome rapidly kicked in. I wanted to be a child forever. I rebelled against the rules, had a bit of a break down, got very fucking drunk, had my skin inked and then bitch slapped the sense back in. I had to tell myself:

That magical envelope was not going to fly down my chimney and whisk me off to wizarding school, neither would Edward Cullen fall in love with me and make me immortal, and sadly, I had neither angel nor demon blood, so I wasn’t a shadow hunter either.

I spiralled into an intensely primal binge fest of YA fiction and TV series and then I had an epiphany. If I wrote it, I could live it.

But understanding the differences between Middle Grade (MG), Young Adult (YA) and New Adult (NA) fiction is easier said than done.

Now, before you read this, let me make a caveat: I am not a publisher, nor (unfortunately) am I J.K. Rowling. I am just a lowly writer, reader and lover of YA stories.

Some time ago, I promised a two-part series on sex in YA and MG and NA fiction. I will deliver but those posts are still in research. First, I wanted to define the differences.

Way back when I was still in nappies, and drooling over a hot milk and mush, there was only MG and YA fiction. NA fiction is a relatively new appearance. But even my mum knows, if you want a publisher you need to know your market. So understanding what NA is, is vital.


MIDDLE GRADE

Shorter than traditional fiction and ranging somewhere around the 25K – 50K word count.

Like me as a child, reader ages are ALWAYS younger than the protagonist. Kids are idiots. They want to grow up which is what makes pitching the themes and content such a sticky topic.

old skool showing my age Goosebumps cover. Image curtsey of google

old skool showing my age Goosebumps cover. Image curtsey of google. You can buy it here.

Protagonists in MG are usually around the 11-13 mark.

Readers are 9-12.

These kids and characters alike are pre teen, they are just beginning to find themselves. Which means the topics and themes in the books need to be pre teen too.

For example, school issues, bullying, friendships, difficulties at home, parents, fitting in, sibling rivalry and family conflict.

The books generally have short chapters, parents remain an integral influence in stories, occasionally there are still small illustrations, love is kept to a minimum, although in some modern books there are ‘first kisses’ and young love and there doesn’t tend to be much violence. Although, who am I to forget some of my favourite childhood books like Goosebumps.

They tend to have more basic language and few if any subplots.


YOUNG ADULT

Is marginally shorter than traditional fiction but more and more often now sits at the lower end of a normal novel length. Depending on where you pitch the books age range, the length could be anything from:

image curtsey of google

Image curtsey of google. You can buy this book here.

50K – 90K, granted JK Rowling had mega long books, you and I aren’t JK, at least not yet anyway. Unless JK herself is reading this, in which case excuse me whilst I wave excessively and then  faint.

Protagonists can be any age that encompasses teenager! 13 up to about 17.

Readers are 13+ up to about 17.

Themes are understandably older like finding oneself and ones role in life, tragedy, loss, difficult choices, sacrifice, relationships, first love, identity, becoming an adult.

These books are grittier than MG books, often mimicking adult styling, such as subplots, adult language and some violence, sex and the occasional cuss. Except that the pace, is almost always fast.

These novels are real, representing real stories and real issues that teenagers feel. If there is even a hint of patronisation your book will get chucked on every teens slush pile never to be opened again.

The majority of YA novels are about ‘coming of age’.


NEW ADULT

Is effectively a book for younger adults, and the word count range is reflected accordingly: 60K-85K.

Protagonists 17 – 25

Readers – now this is where I will deviate from the accepted norm. Traditionally this is for readers aged 18 to mid twenties. However, like with most things in growing up and with the other genres, kids read above their age. At 16 I would have and did pick up books for adults (or what would now be known as NA fiction). Personally, I feel like the readers are more likely to be 16+ with the majority being 18+.

Image curtsey of Goodreads

Image curtsey of Goodreads. You can buy this book here.

Difference between sex in YA and NA is the levels of graphic detail. And by graphic, I mean the key difference is that in YA the focus is on the emotion of the moment. How they feel when being kissed. Whereas in NA the focus is more (although not solely) on the sensations and the physicality of ‘sex’.

BUT, and this comes from snippets of quotes I have read  from literary agents. NA is NOT just YA with sex. It is an older target market with older protagonists. Think back to 17,  I am sure you were totally different four years later at 21. Those differences in thought pattern, emotional intelligence, decision making. All need to be reflected in your characters.

It’s the whole, ‘shit I’m legally an adult and have to deal with bills and crap,’ realisation whilst knowing deep down you’re still a teenybopper who doesn’t want to do their uni work on a Friday night when it’s pound a pint. You get the picture.

Themes: Independence, learning to be independent, experiencing the difficulties of being independent. Being an adult for the first time with adult responsibilities (looking after ones self, a house, bills etc) without having a mum and dad to fall back on. Experiencing adulthood without the emotional capability to deal with it yet. Looking to adult life, relationships, careers etc whilst trying to figure out what the fuck being an adult and specifically ‘their version of an adult’ means.


On a different note… I am taking a pause on the blog. My posts will be a little slower for a few months, my comments which I already take an age to respond to, will take me that bit longer. I will reply to every one, but it may take me a few days.

Why am I slowing down? Because, I owe it to myself to finish my books. Whilst I am working on them in the background, it’s not the pace I would like. As much as this physically pains me, (and it really does) I have to accept that I do actually need some sleep! I hope you will stick with me even though I will be a little slack.


Thoughts? What do you think the differences are between the genres? What good books have you read in each genre?

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117 comments

      1. Oooooh thanks Suzie – yeah I know a bit about stumble upon but apparently you can’t stumble your own stuff on there – so it makes it hard to break into – I shall return the favour for you πŸ’–

  1. Interesting post, even though they’re not really my genres. I have recently come to the same conclusion, that something has to take a back seat for a while, for what with the other circumstances that have dictated what I have been able to do, I need to be in the driving seat, and now…

  2. I think it’s weird reading about all these different categories. Mainly because when I was a kid there was Enid Blyton and then a leap to adult books. Think I started out with Agatha Christie, similar to Blyton’s mystery stories I guess.

    A break is good. Trouble is … the catching up. After five weeks without wifi I know I’m not going to backread all the posts I’ve missed.

  3. Fabulous post! When I first started reading it I thought you’d climbed inside my brain and were sharing my inner-most secrets – I refuse to grow up and this is why I write YA πŸ˜‰ It’s great to find another writer who understands the pull of reading (and writing) young adult fiction. I’ll be 44 next month and I still went totally ‘fan-girl’ when Cassandra Clare’s new release came out! As my grandma used to say, ‘you’re as young as you feel’ – I’ll be sixteen forever πŸ™‚

    1. Hehe thank you – I know right I think secretly were all still teenagers that’s why the genre is so vastly popular. I, like you, refuse to grow up – why be an adult when you can stay young?!

      OMG I’m watching her shadow hunters series on Netflix at the moment it’s sooo bad but I bloody love it I saw the film too her book is next on my list! U hear she’s quite flowery as a writer though…?!

  4. A wonderful guide! Thanks, Sacha as always.
    Also, good for you for taking a break on the blog! You do fantastic work, you owe it to yourself to slow down and focus on your books for a bit. Good luck. πŸ™‚

  5. Your intro here could be so many of us (you put it so well though!) My dad used to tell me when I was a teenager “don’t wish your life away. The older you get the faster it goes”. He couldn’t have been more right. I’m coming up on a milestone birthday and I have no clue where the last twenty years went.
    Great post!

    1. ah thank you so much – it’s actually nice to know I’m not the only one that feels that way! I hope you have a wonderful birthday. I have a milestone next year so I created a list of small bucket listy type things to achieve πŸ˜€ nothing like a to do list to focus the mind!

  6. Enjoyed this post, Sacha and it was informative, I really didn`t know what the difference was between YA and NA so thank you for clearing that up. I have recently finished a two book series by David Baldacci, Starts with the Finisher and I would recommend it to any age above 12 if you have the time check it out. His world building is amazing. Have a great week and some really good sleep.

    1. Is it fantasy??

      I will add it to my list thanks for the recommendation – I know right, because NA is so new there isn’t much info out there on the differences – it’s a frustration

      1. it is fantasy, the author usually writes spy fiction but he should do more fantasy, it is a really great book. NA I mean some of my novels could fall into that category but none of them are published yet. But nearly, just waiting for an editor to go through the first one I want to publish and then I`ll get started. eeeeeeek.

  7. Absolutely right, Sacha! I think there’s a lot of confusion over this. Especially with NA, as you say. Its still such a new category. I think the key point to remember is that the readers are always several years younger than the protagonists, and this has to be acknowledged and respected. Otherwise, just go write for adults. However, it’s got to be realistic, otherwise no young person is going to read it. They know more and are more streetwise than us, these days! There’s no point in wrapping them in cotton wool and going all Enid Blyton. Have you ever heard of her? Probs before your time LOL! πŸ˜‚

    1. Yeah agreed – kids read older for a reason – and that reason is they want to know what its like to BE older. They ain’t dumb, they know if you’re bullshitting them. So there’s no point, because you wouldn’t be seen as credible. hahaha yes I’ve heard of her.

  8. These are so tricky. Children’s books, MG, YA, NA… They overlap to some extent. It depends on the publisher, the agent, the editor. But this is a good guide.
    Happy to hear you are taking time off to finish your book(s). πŸ’–

    1. I agree every publishers requirements are completely different but I think there are some themes that remain the same. 😊 haha it nearly killed me but I have to focus on the goal 😒😊

      1. I know we’re always told to read read read. I barely have time to write write write! That said, what I am writing are two fantasy/adventure novels. What MG/YA would you recommend reading?

        1. Hard to think because I’m at the other end of the YA spectrum – more YA/NA than YA/MG. is it aimed at boys or girls? Do you want comparable reading or same age but different types of stories?

          1. I have just the-read. I wasn’t aware of YA. HMM.

            One is centered around a young boy still at school, and the other is a young woman (college age).

            Whatever you advise. πŸ˜‰

          2. ok sorry – the acronyms are losing me :s whats HMM?

            Ok, well, I’m going to consult a friend who is a fountain of all knowledge on MG fiction and come back to you – I’ve already asked, so hopefully won’t be long πŸ˜€

          3. πŸ˜„ no acronym. I left the capitals button depressed. It’s Hmm..as in, hmm, that’s a nice burger!
            Thanks for your help! In the meantime, could I interest you in some very short, silly stories? If so, have a peek at my page!

          4. So once before I tried to follow you after reading a poem of yours on Esthers blog – but every time I click you it says your site is deleted. Want to link me up.

          5. This WordPress lark has my little brain frazzled. If the lady would be so kind as to tell me how to ‘link’, I will happily oblige. Would be splendid to have two polished writers follow me.

          6. Just send me the website link to your site – pop it in the comments – so the page you mentioned where you have put the stories, pop the address to it in a comment so I can find you. 😊

          7. Hi.

            Can’t make that, sadly. I’ll be on holiday. Besides, I don’t really feel like a blogger. I don’t have an awful lot to say, to be honest. I joined this site on Esther’s request (she’s my tutor). I enjoy reading the posts and taking part in the writing exercises, but I wouldn’t say I blog. When I do get this calamity sorted out, I’ll just post my silly short stories.

          8. Well still – its open to the community – whether that be story tellers or writing challenge participants or bloggers. So maybe you could come next year – I am sure Esther would love to meet you πŸ˜€ hope you’re going somewhere fun on your hols

          9. I’m replying as a test. Apparently this should now work of you click on my name above this.
            πŸ˜„ all this to get you to follow me. Now you’ll get access and be fantastically disappointed! πŸ˜„

          10. Darn and blast. Seeing as It’s messing me around somewhat, and the site is in its infancy, I’m very tempted to start anew. Thanks for trying!

          11. Why don’t you tell me the address? It might just be WordPress messing me around when I try to click on your name, if you give me the address it might work

          12. It’s mrmoodysblogtypething.wordpress.com

            If you get through. It’ll be blank, but if it works, I’ll Just cop rand paste my stories. They’re all that’s on the old one anyway,

  9. Great post, Sacha πŸ™‚ I found it really tough when I started out, figuring out genre and age range. Actually, who am I kidding – I still find it tough!
    And well done you for putting your writing first – I’m looking forward to reading the finished book. Yay!

    1. Thanks Helen, it’s ridiculously hard, and like Sarah says every publisher and agent has slightly different requirements. But more than that – society keeps changing and therefore so do genre requirements – annoying.

  10. I like the fact you’ve added the appropriate ages for the protagonists in each of the genre groups, as it is something which often gets muddled and books with different aged characters to the main reading age group don’t really work out so well.

    1. I 100% agree Rosie, it’s really important to understand where young readers are coming from. I think these particular genres are really muddied too because society keeps changing, so it’s hard for us writers to stick to genre appropriateness.

  11. Interesting post, Sacha. Enjoy your writing break. We will all be here when you pop back in. Now get some rest and get crackin’ on those books. Hugs.

  12. The category I have heard about was YA… good to learn about Middle Grade and New Adult… I would have never thought that certain details, such as feelings related to sex might determine one or other type…
    I wonder what happens wen a book turns out to be a sort of hybrid resulting of YA and NA… would it need to be edited in order to fit one of those categories…
    Anyhow… All this reminded me of two existing categorization criteria. One coming from movies with their respective disclaimers usually introduced at the beginning of the film. And the other one, coming from Psychiatry, I just thought of how certain behaviours such as Bipolar disorder could have grades. And how bipolar patients are usually labelled in order to fit one of those types…
    This is just a thought crossed my mind, hence I apologize if it is not relevant at all. πŸ˜€
    Such an interesting post, dear Sacha… thanks so much for sharing… All my beoy wishes. Aquileana πŸ™‚

    1. Hey thank you for reading and commenting.

      With regards to when a story is a hybrid. I would say it depends if you want to self publish or if you are keen to get a publisher. If you want a publisher then you kind of have to be genre bound – which means editing it to one or the other. I am sure there are publishing exceptions but thats kind of the point – they are exceptions rather than the norm.

      Funny that you mention bipolar – there are actually more extreme and less extreme versions of it. Having studied psychology at uni I know that the less extreme version is called cyclothymia.

      hope you have a lovely week

  13. I never understood New Adult, I must admit. It sounds like Romance only with grit and aimed at young folk not ready to pay their own bills! ; )

  14. Solid analysis.
    (Although there’s quite a number of adult women that read and adore YA/NA….it’s the short chapters and easy vocabulary ….yeah, sad, but true. They were in our office among other places….and giggled a lot. (Those squirrels must drive their kids nuts). Big point: They aren’t the target audience, just ones a writer is happy to pick up along the way…besides they have money and buy.
    Now go write.
    Get some sleep
    We’ll wait

    1. Yeah SO SO SO Many!! Like me!!!! haha, it’s totally my guilty pleasure. But you’re completely right! It’s the women readers who have all the money to buy books! think we are missing a trick there! thanks… appreciate it…. I should be writing now damnit! :p

  15. Helpful as always you are, great post! Now stop beating yourself up already and go forth and create! Every writer goes through it – the pressures of daily life, keeping up appearances and trying to get our books written and published. Sadly, I’m barely keeping up at the first two and not even thinking about my book, which hurts most. My valuable time outs have been used up on life issues. And if I ever get back to true and happy living, I will most certainly be abandoning ship again to get my book out this year. So I hear you loud and clear. Go create! xoxo

    1. haha ok ok I had best stop replying to comments then! glad its not just me that has to abandon ship! maybe ill end up dropping to one post a week, but i’ll see how two goes for now. sending you love xx

      1. That would be more than adequate when you’re so busy. I did that a few years ago after writing my first book and went into publishing mode. I’m still here! xoxo <3

  16. I’ve never been a lover of any of these genres. I did try reading Harry Potter, but I gave up halfway through. Did you know that Goosebumps has been made into a movie?
    Of course, I’ll read your YA book when it comes out. Maybe it will do the trcik and I persaude me to read YA books?
    Nothing wrong in taking a blog break either, Sacha. In fact, it’s very good for you and I’m glad to read that you are doing it for a very good reason.
    Keep on writing.

    1. I did know that about goosebumps – its why I chose it as a book – the film reminded me of my childhood books. Glad you agree – although taking the break is killing me! and so far I haven’t actually taken a break! lol

  17. Very helpful! I’m sharing it at a workshop with my writers’ group and may get them to do a short outline using the same prompt to differentiate the different categories. Do you (or any other writers here) think that’s a very difficult exercise?

    1. Hey, thanks for stopping in. Actually I think it’s a fab idea. There will be a lot of differences, dialogue and styling would be hugely different so yes, I think that would be a fab idea. Let me know how it goes

  18. Thank you, Sacha! I am writing a YA novel and wondered if I was on the right track. You confirmed that I was. Take the time you need. Just know that I love your newsletter and love being able to find all your great posts. <3

        1. eek. Well exciting, although I’ll admit editing is the bane of my life at the minute. What a lovely thing to say πŸ˜€ <3 glad the lessons I'm learning are useful to others too πŸ˜€

  19. Funny thing, I had so much required reading in high school and college that it zapped my interest in “pleasure reading” until my 20’s. These categories came back when my kids were avid readers as teens. Great post. Very informative. ☺

    1. The same thing happened to me at uni. I was so saturated with reading journal papers I couldn’t bear to pick up a book for pleasure. Glad you enjoyed the post πŸ˜€

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