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I have written and thoroughly reviewed/edited three novels that I don't know if they would be marketed as Middle Grade or Young Adult. I am currently working on a fourth. Okay, the first novel is about a girl, twenty years of age, who enters Purgatory as she explores the meaning of life and everything in-between. While suffering from her traumatic past, she wrestles with her identity and unbelief before her fate is tested in being damned to the Inferno. This is Christian fiction inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. Would this novel be considered YA or just a coming-of-age story?

Also, I have another one. It's about a group of teenagers (ages ranging from 14 to 15) who get stranded on an island in the South Pacific to only die and enter the realm of the dead where the righteous and unrighteous lie, as well as mysterious creatures that would haunt their souls. This place being Sheol, a Jewish afterlife. This story has one character narrating and the book is an exploratory novel that explores Sheol, this Jewish afterlife, as this character tries to reunite with their friends.

My next novel is about a twelve year old boy who gets dumped into Sheol, the same universe as the previous book, and meets a group of orphan youths as well as an adventurous girl. They explore Sheol and meet the main antagonist in the book called, the Adversary (or the Devil) and are caught up in the Adversary's quest to take control of Sheol.

My last one novel is about siblings, one male one female, about 12 to 13 years of age, who meet a special little boy in an iceberg, and that little boy (12 years of age) is really the boy that's supposed to bring peace to a broken world, but ran away 100 years ago.

So, what do you think?

  • This isn't answering your question but all of those premises are f***ing awesome. Like my mouth literally opened as I hit your third sentence. – Tasch Mar 5 at 1:23
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    At least for the last one, have you ever watched Avatar: The Last Airbender? Because that is the exact plot of the show. The first episode(s) exactly... – Artsoccer Mar 5 at 17:47
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You haven't really provided enough details to make definitive calls for these, and to be honest you'd probably struggle to do that in the context of an SE question anyway. What I can do is give you some guidance on how you might be able to work out the classifications for yourself and see what we can do:

Reader Age: As a rough guide you're talking 8-12 for Middle Grade (MG) and 13-18 for Young Adult (YA)

Protagonist Age: Yes, as weird as it might seem to adult perspectives this matters to readers on the younger side of things. And in general kids will look to read slightly "up" - they prefer to read about characters who are similar enough in age that they can still identify with and relate to them but slightly older than they are right now. 10 year olds aren't generally interested in reading what 8 year olds are up to. So for the maximum appeal in a bracket the age of the protagonist should be right on the upper age of the bracket you're writing for or at most slightly over.

Length: Typically YA novels are going to be in the 50,000-75,000 range, whereas MG is going to be shorter, around 30,000-50,000. Fantasy works (for which dealing with kids going to the afterlife probably counts) can get away with being a bit longer to allow for world building.

Content: It probably goes without saying but MG stories need to be much more kid-safe than what would be permissable in YA. So no profanity, no graphic violence and no sexuality (you might get away with some chaste romance for older MG), in YA you can pretty much go to town - anything barring erotica is basically on the table.

Themes and Tone: The above content restrictions not withstanding that doesn't mean MG novels can't be a bit dark or scary, they generally will be looking to end on a hopefully if not happy note. The MG themes will generally be more orientated towards a immediate world - family, friends, daily life etc, and there doesn't tend to be much introspection or relection, YA will look wider and deeper, and the characters will look at themselves more. You can deal with darker themes and sadder endings.

OK let's see if we can classify your novels:

First Novel

OK, so the themes are pretty heavy - we're talking death, trauma, damnation, meaning of life. And it's a 20 year-old protagonist. This is not an MG book - it's older YA, possibly even "New Adult" - 18 to 20 is quite a leap in terms of life stage so depending on how the 20 year old was living life (before she died obviously) school kids may not be able to identify with her.

Second Novel

OK, so again heavy-ish themes (they die), again we've got some damnation/horror themes bubbling along. Pretty safe to say it's not an MG book, depending on how graphic it is you probably sit on the lower age-range of YA, maybe some advanced readers of MG age.

Third Novel

Hmm, again I'd go with younger YA - although the age of the protagonist may be an issue.

Fourth Novel

The only one that sounds to be MG to me.

As I cautioned earlier these aren't definitive - I don't have enough information and doubt I could have that without reading substantial portions of the books in question (and opinions do vary - there's no ironclad standard of what is or isn't MG/YA). But hopefully you can have a look at them yourselves and bearing this info in mind have a better idea.

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    Yes, content, themes and tone are extremely important. Protagonist can be young, like in The Tin Drum, but the book can be too much even for some adults. – Alexander Mar 4 at 19:06
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    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. – JRosebrookMaye Mar 4 at 22:55
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Consider this article.

To paraphrase, according to this article middle-grade books should have no profanity, typically have protagonists aged 10-13, have no sexual content and no graphic violence, and tend to have shallow plots.

Young Adult novels meanwhile can have profanity and tend to have older, teenaged protagonists, and often grapple with more abstract ideas, but their level of sexual and violent content can vary considerably.

This article from Writer's Digest echoes all these points. Furthermore, MG novels tend to be limited to 30,000 to 50,000 words, something both articles agree on.

Given this, it sounds more like you're in the YA camp. If that's not where you want to be, then consider the points raised in these articles. If you're fine with being YA, then tune your novels to that audience.

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  • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. – JRosebrookMaye Mar 4 at 22:56
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I would personally label that as young adult. I showed my fifteen year old daughter that, and she had no idea what half of those words meant. I also didn't think she really got the deepness of the plot. I would personally label that as young adult. I really hope this helped you!

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Book 1: Young Adult, as your protaganist would be too old to relate to kids in middle or early high school (or even early middle school).

2 is probably Young Adult but could borderline be MR if you play your cards right... age wise it's probably on the cusp.

Book 3 is going to be reliant on what you classify book 2 as, and how close it is tonally, and alternatively. Since it's set in the same universe, it's dependent alot on how much it references the plot in Book 2 and characters and how closely the tone reflects (It's possible to have Book 2 be tonally darker than this one and thus one is for older teens while the other is for younger teens/pre-teens. Consider Harry Potter 1 vs. Harry Potter IV which the later is notably more mature than the former... when it was still in releases, it actually aged with the original target audience of Book 1 through the sequels).

Book 4 is plagiarism on the highest order. You know what you did wrong, and you shouldn't market it to anyone.

Keep in mind that books tend to get away with more graphic descriptions for kids than other media aimed at them (largely because to "see" the content you have to imagine it, so if a kid sees something really dark while reading, it's more on the kids imagination than the actual printed words... essentially, they are already "handling" the violence to a level they can handle, where a violent cartoon or movie locks the scale of violence in and leaves nothing to the imagination.).

To point, Compare Harry Potter, a highly successful book series that scaled with it's first readers age and maturity in content to the next most successful book series marketed to Middle Reader boys, Animorphs, which by all measures was a much more graphically violent book than even some of the worst violence in Harry Potter (Harry Potter was much more prone to villains killing named characters, but deaths were quick, clean, and painless while Animorphs killed very few named characters, but did not shy away from inflicting graphic and painfully described injuries that while they survived, clearly caused some PTSD as the books wore on. Many of the main characters were maimed, mutilated, eviscerated, or otherwise inflicted with injuries that made death more desirable (luckily, their ability to morph animals allowed them to heal any non-genetic injury so long as they lived through the process and within a 2 hour window... not that the morphing process was a pleasently described experience... and one character who knew about how it worked mechanically does say that the tech that pulls it off used to be painful, until a work around was found.) and it probably more realistically dealt with what happens to kids who are forced to fight in a hopeless guerilla war without any psychological support against an enemy that will given them some really sick trust issues. And while most on screen deaths are of the main villain's unnamed minions, they are often graphic and pretty much cannibalistic on most counts and most minions follow his orders out of rightfully stressed fear of the villain than any kind of respect or ideological common ground (Voldemort at least had some minions respecting him and agreeing with his cause.) and for much of the series, the main villain is at least tempered by his direct superior, who is much more pragmatic with her power... but he becomes nastier once he's freed from her authority.

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  • Your plagiarism remark was unnecessary. Just because my idea for a book sounds familiar doesn't mean I plagiarized. There are a lot of books that have similar ideas but IT IS THE EXPRESSION OF THAT IDEA that differs. – JRosebrookMaye Mar 4 at 22:56
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    @JRosebrookMaye: Then you might want to express your summery of the novel you intend to write with a focus on the dissimilar nature of the idea. Person frozen in arctic ice isn't limited to one concept (Avatar, Captain America, Frozen Cave Man Attorney (SNL Sketch))... but a brother/sister pair finding a boy frozen for a century and destined to save the world... that's pretty much half the title sequence of Avatar. – hszmv Mar 5 at 14:24
  • I went ahead and researched U.S. Copyright Law and the "Substantially Similar" test/doctrine. It seems my expression for that novel is not wrong. I did not infringe upon the Avatar copyright. However, the aspect about the boy in the iceberg and the whole children going on an adventure bit. This is similar but IT IS NOT substantially similar. A writer can certainly inspired by one another but doesn't mean they violated someone's copyright. There a lot of books out there that copy Harry Potter and the Hunger Games, but yet they did not violate the copyright. – JRosebrookMaye Mar 6 at 18:51

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