Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Critique Choice Giveaway and post by Margo Dill: What Makes My Novel MG

This week we have a special giveaway from our guest, Margo Dill, who's blogging about "What Makes My Novel Middle-Grade (And Not YA or a Chapter Book)." She's offering the winner the choice of:

  • professional critique of the first 5 pages of any novel, nonfiction work, or short story
  • professional evaluation of a blog or social media profile with a written summary of what works and suggestions
The rules for entering the contest are a bit different this week, too:

To enter: comment on this post between now and midnight, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. Please include your email address so we can reach you if you win.

MARGO DILL is the author of Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength atVicksburg (White Mane Kids, October 2012) and has two picture books under contract with St. Louis publishers. 

She is an editor, columnist, instructor, and social media manager for WOW! Women On Writing. She enjoys speaking to groups on various topics from writing to the Civil War while she is also busy running her freelance editing business and blog ( 

She lives in St. Louis with her family and boxer, Chester.

Guest post by Margo L. Dill

            When I teach the online course about writing a middle-grade novel for WOW! Women On Writing (link to, one question my students seem to struggle with is whether or not they are actually writing a middle-grade novel. I don’t kick them out of class if it turns out they are writing for a younger or older audience. But it does help to understand what you are writing and whom you are writing for before you get ready to submit, publish, and market your book! If you don’t know your audience, it is definitely harder to write.
            So, what makes a book middle-grade? Let’s take my recently released middle-grade historical fiction novel, Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg, ( and look at it closely. First, the characters in a middle-grade novel are between the ages of 10 and 13—generally being 11 or 12. There’s an unwritten rule that children don’t like to read about main characters younger than them. You may be able to think of examples where they do; but if you are a new author to this age group, follow the rules as closely as possible and create a character that is somewhere between 9 and 13. In my book, I have the main character, Anna, who is 13. Then I also included a boy character to appeal to boy readers—that’s James, and he is 11.
            Besides age of characters, the biggest thing that makes a book middle-grade is the voice and way that the author deals with various subjects and themes. In Finding My Place towards the beginning, Anna and her family have to run to a cave built behind their house because the Yankees are bombing their city. During the escape, her mother is hit with a shell and dies. This is a pretty serious theme for middle-grade. However, if I was writing it for a YA audience, I would have described more of the death and the body as well as the devastation that the main character was feeling. Because it is a middle-grade novel, I explained that the mother was hit and killed. Then  I have one scene where they are all sad and trying to figure out what to do. There’s a difference in the “war”—it is not as graphic in my middle-grade novel as it would be if I was writing a YA novel for teens.
            Here’s a more contemporary example. In a middle-grade novel, the characters who like each other might kiss and hold hands. In a YA novel, they are going to be faced with whether or not to have premarital sex. I like to compare these novel ideas to TV shows: Middle-grade is like Hannah Montana; and Young adult is like Beverly Hills 90210 or Glee.
            The most important thing you can do if you are interested in writing a middle-grade novel is to read current ones. You will see the different ways authors deal with serious subjects without crossing the line to YA.


  1. This is a great description of middle grade. I know I struggled with it early on until two people at the MO Writer's Guild Conference told me I had a MG rather than a YA. Ever since then I've been doing a lot of research into it.

  2. Great post. I've read first pages in contests where the writer thought the book was YA but the voice was MG. The choice of topic and characters plays a big role, too.

  3. Thanks, Jamie and Stina! I appreciate your comments. I think it is sometimes hard to figure out--especially if you have like a 13 year old character dealing with tough stuff, but not tough enough to be YA! :) And it is important to know WHAT we are writing, so we can find the correct person to publish it AND then market it to our readers!

  4. One of my crit partners had some intense issues to deal with in her MG historical novel on the Donner Party too. But it's not like kids that age are unaware that bad things happen in the world--in fact, in most cases it's when they're forming what they're going to do about it.

  5. I find that MG heroes are more concerned with what's happening around them; they think and look outwardly; they are concerned with the fates of their friends/family and they are immensely generous, wanting to do the right thing. In all the YA novels I've reviewed there is intense absorption with self; their own instant, personal, and sometimes deeply visceral reaction to what is happening concerns themselves first. There is usually a first-person POV via the main protagonist. This can be a bit limiting. I must say, I enjoy MG more than YA, although I am about to try writing my first YA novel (in between helping my MG heroes save the world in Book Three of my adventure series!)

  6. Angelica--you make a good point--I guess it's adults that don't want to admit that our kids know more about the world than we want them, too. :)

    Fiona--good luck with YA. When I started my YA novel, it sounded MG--I had to really work on my voice. ;)