how to write middle grade fiction

This article is all about how to write a middle grade book, sometimes called “MG” in the industry, including advice on middle grade age group, middle grade word count, middle grade page count, how to write a middle grade query letter, and how to find middle grade literary agents and publishers for this fun and exciting book market!

How to Write middle grade fiction

If want to know how to write middle grade fiction or “MG” as it’s called in the industry, pull up a chair. Writing middle grade fiction is fun and rewarding because you’re targeting readers who are on the cusp of developing their independent identities. There’s also much more room for nuance in a MG novel over, say, a chapter book. Characters, plots, and storylines can become more complex. Middle grade writing can also showcase more voice and literary flair.  

Writing middle grade fiction is also potentially very rewarding in other ways. The MG novel market is red hot, with publishers eagerly looking for new voices. These books are as varied as their creators and story ideas, but they do tend to hit a few hallmarks of the category. Read on below to learn more about how to set yourself up for success in writing middle grade fiction.

MIDDLE GRADE Age Group

For the most part, the middle grade age group is considered to be 9 to 12-year-old readers. That’s really the sweet spot. Remember that, by this age, readers tend to “read up,” or be interested in characters who are slightly older, so most protagonists are in the 11 to 13-year-old range. (I’d warn against going to 14 because those characters are technically in high school—another world.) On the younger end of the spectrum, or young middle grade, you can find readers in the 8 to 10 range. There’s also a shade to the middle grade age group of older readers, sometimes called “upper middle grade.” These upper middle grade readers and novels tend to be longer and geared toward those 12 to 13-year-old readers. These books are sometimes referred to as “tween.”

MIDDLE GRADE Word Count

How many words in a middle grade novel? Now this question is a little less clear-cut than the middle grade age group. There’s a basic MG word count, but there are also a few different ranges. Upper middle grade word count can be a little longer, as can middle grade fantasy word count, since those novels require more worldbuilding and tend to have more plot. Here are some general MG word count guidelines:

  • Young Middle Grade Word Count: 15,000 to 25,000

  • Middle Grade Word Count: 25,000 to 45,000

  • Upper Middle Grade Word Count: 45,000 to 65,000

  • Middle Grade Fantasy Word Count: 65,000 to 85,000

Other middle grade genres that tend to have higher word counts include historical and sci-fi, since more elaborate worldbuilding is required there, too. The thing to keep in mind about middle grade word count is that you do want to stick within the core range, if you can. There is such a thing as too long, no matter what J.K. Rowling is allowed to do with her books. There are going to be reluctant readers in this age group, which are sometimes (fairly or unfairly) stereotyped to be middle grade boy readers. Very long books seem forbidding to them. By sticking to the 30,000 to 40,000-word count, unless there’s a good reason to do otherwise, you are including more skill levels. (The category younger than middle grade is chapter books, if your manuscript is quite short compared to these figures, you might want to investigate those.)

MIDDLE GRADE Page Count

When we start to talk about novels, page count varies greatly, and middle grade page count is no exception. That’s why unpublished manuscripts are mostly discussed in word count. Printed novels are formatted differently, with variables like font size and layout making a big difference. Some middle grade novels also feature spot illustrations throughout (usually black and white), which change middle grade book length quite a bit. Here are some rough middle grade page count guidelines:

  • Young Middle Grade Page Count: 64+

  • Middle Grade Page Count: 100+

  • Upper Middle Grade Page Count: 160+

  • Middle Grade Fantasy Page Count: 180+

Special middle grade considerations

There are several special issues to consider when writing middle grade books. The first is that middle grade readers are still largely protected by gatekeepers, who make the purchasing decisions. Older readers often choose their own reading material, but older elementary kids and younger teens tend to be more influenced by parent, teacher, and librarian recommendations. That makes middle grade books tough for controversial material sometimes. Romance, swearing, violence, and any other kind of gritty matter needs a light touch, if it’s to be included at all. That’s not to say that you should “dumb down” your book or avoid tackling tough real-world topics. Middle grade books can and should portray our world as it is, because readers in this age group are beginning to see the world as more than black-or-white. (That’s why neat unicorns-and-puppies endings that wrap up everything nicely are unrealistic for middle grade books, for example.) But there’s still a certain limit to how dark or gritty you can get in this category.

Writing middle grade characters also has some unique challenges. These kids are developing their own identities, but they’re still children, in large part. They are full of contradictions, feeling adult one moment, craving home and comfort the next. The secret to writing middle grade characters in an empathetic and relatable way to real kids is to be able to put yourself “back there” and remember what it was really like. This time period is tough for a lot of kids, and a lot of adults don’t remember it fondly. If you’re able to channel all the highs and lows and complex issues of this time period, you’ll see that writing middle grade characters comes more easily to you, and that your fiction for the MG age group sings on the page.

how to publish middle grade

We’re living in the golden age of middle grade publishing. So if you’re wondering how to publish middle grade, you have many options. Middle grade book publishers abound, and every children’s book publishing house is doing them, which is a very different story from the more limited early reader and chapter book market. If you have your eyes on bigger middle grade book publishers, however, you will need a literary agent, as most are closed to unsolicited submissions.

To get in front of middle grade literary agents, you need a complete novel that follows the guidelines above. If you strike out wildly in terms of MG word count, for example, your project won’t get serious considerations. Then you write a middle grade query letter that pitches your story, focusing on character and plot. You’ll want to target middle grade literary agents who represent what you’re writing. There are many genres in this exciting category, from heartfelt “coming of age” to fantasy and sci-fi. Agents will have different tastes, and it’s always worth reading the bios on their websites, interviews, and blogs by them to see if they might be a fit for your middle grade story idea.

The great news is, middle grade books are thriving, so you will also find a lively middle grade writing community online. You can connect with others for potential writing feedback or solidarity in the submission process. You can learn more about the book submission process here.

hiring a MIDDLE GRADE EDITOR

Now you know more about how to write middle grade. It always helps to have professional on your manuscript before you submit into such a competitive market, ideally with extensive experience in middle grade fiction. Check out further resources on how to find an editor, and get insight into editorial service rates.

Please don’t hesitate to check out my writing craft book or reach out for editorial services via the contact form, below.

Click here to purchase Writing Irresistible Kidlit, my book on fiction craft for MG and YA novels, out from Writer's Digest Books. This will show you my writing craft philosophy and give you lots of valuable advice, including tips for the novel revision process and self-editing. There are over 35 example novels cited and discussed throughout. It’s a valuable resource for any writer’s toolkit.

It genuinely feels like you’ve handed me a golden compass so I can trek off in the right direction now to ultimately find buried treasure. I’m so excited to not be wandering around aimlessly on this story any more. I can move forward on it now with confidence.
— Kendra