MG: How Gritty?

Farnham

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What I thought were YA books and manuscripts has turned out to be MG. They're set in a 14th Century Central European country that never was. There are wars. There are raids. In the final manuscript is famine, disease, and all that goes with it. Most violence happens off screen. In one there is a scene with graphic violence; in another a scene with somewhat graphic violence. In some manuscripts there are scenes with a hint of prostitution without it explicitly stated.

Is this too gritty for MG?
 

Brigid Barry

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I don't write MG but it sounds more teenager than middle grade.
 

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What I thought were YA books and manuscripts has turned out to be MG. They're set in a 14th Century Central European country that never was. There are wars. There are raids. In the final manuscript is famine, disease, and all that goes with it. Most violence happens off screen. In one there is a scene with graphic violence; in another a scene with somewhat graphic violence. In some manuscripts there are scenes with a hint of prostitution without it explicitly stated.

Is this too gritty for MG?
Only you know the exact details of your books, so only you will know where they fit within the genre and market. There really is no substitute for reading widely within your genre/market, but a quick and dirty answer can be provided by our usual friend Wikipedia:
In addition to differences in word count and the age of the protagonists, middle grade and YA differ in content. Middle grade works don't include profanity, graphic violence, or sexuality, and they tend to focus on the characters' friends, family, and immediate surroundings as opposed to the world beyond their friends and family.

YA books are generally chosen and bought by the YA reader. Such books can and do feature swearing, violence, drugs, etc, because those are true features in the lives of YA readers. And often their parents have no idea what they're reading.

MG books are generally chosen and bought by the reader's parents (or school librarian). Parents expect those books to be family-friendly, the kind of tales that the parent and child would (and do) happily read together.
 
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CMBright

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My knowledge of MG is old. Like Johnny Tremaine, Bridge to Terabetha and Misty of Chincoteague old. Definitely not comp title time frame. Accident where someone is maimed. A kid dies and a lot of swearing. A horse. I have a vague memory of a series of historic events told from the POV of someone utterly forgettable like a cabin boy on the ship Columbus was actually on.

Read comps. You said you were writing above the usual level for MG (the 9-14 quoted from your Amazon marketing, if I recall) because of a precocious reader. It might be you are actually writing YA when you are thinking they must be marketed to under YA because of the reader you knew.

If you are writing MG, I think the dealbreaker for a significant number of American (and perhaps other) parents would be any implying of sex more graphic than parents locked the bedroom door and nine months later there was a baby sibling. I suspect wars would be an easier sell depending on how graphic you get. There is a difference between a muddy battlefield that smelled of iron or the scent of gunpowder and going into graphic, gory detail of the fallen bodies.

As a datapoint, my 12yo goes back and forth between books in the Captain Underpants series and the English print of the Cells at Work mangas. There are probably others I am unaware of. For some bizarre reason the kid is getting really knowledgable at the circulatory system. (Cells at Work has a Red Blood Cell as a main character.)
 

Farnham

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As a datapoint, my 12yo goes back and forth between books in the Captain Underpants series and the English print of the Cells at Work mangas. There are probably others I am unaware of. For some bizarre reason the kid is getting really knowledgable at the circulatory system. (Cells at Work has a Red Blood Cell as a main character.)
This is where I'm at a loss. By that age, I'd read a novelization of The Sting, and I think The Godfather. The closest to MG was A Wrinkle in Time because it was SF, and thought it was juvenile. My own children were into the Narnia series, which was age appropriate, but really into The Hobbit (also age appropriate) and the Ring trilogy, the latter arguably not MG. Couldn't spark interest in Ender's Game, which I read as an adult and thought they'd like. OTOH, I don't think Mort is called MG (I think they liked it). The novel True Grit, to my surprise, also struck me as MG. The Graveyard Book was interesting (read as an adult), and I suppose categorized as MG.

My point? I don't know what's MG and I thought I was writing YA. If the latter, I have the age listing all wrong. The answer, of course is to "Get me to a library."
 
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MG caters to a wide range of ages & reading levels, so make sure you’re getting books that are targeting the same age group that you will be.

My guess would be that the graphic violence is too much for even upper MG, but I don’t read a lot of MG & haven’t read the scene in question, so I can’t say for sure.
 
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Farnham

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I've just talked to one of the beta readers who's also a middle school teacher. She recommended I look at the Percy Jackson series because it starts with the title character at about the same age as the MC characters, and ages through the series, as these MC do. Her assessment, from reading the text, is that the first two books are right on the edge of MG and YA. Since what the characters have to deal with grows more advanced with their age, her assumption (without reading the manuscripts) is that it's in YA territory.

This means I have to change the age in the Amazon listings. No problem. Didn't really want to press her on this, but will see if I can get an age recommendation. I may also have to do a sliding age recommendation with the manuscripts.
 
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djfinlayson

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My two cents say that violence is usually okay if it's framed more "action adventure-y" rather than "gory".

The MG tolerance for sex is pretty much zero, so you can describe the prostitutes to provide ambience/setting, but cannot provide any description of what they're doing.

As others have said, MG is bought by parents/teachers/librarians so the rule of thumb is "would a parent buy this for their child?"
 
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Aenelis

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My MG story is kind of gritty and an agent is interested. I think it depends on the story. It's not necessarily the content, but how you execute them.
 

John Berkowitz

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The main place to start is with the age of your MC. I've written two books which are categorized as Upper Middle Grade; the MCs were 12 and 13. Any older than that, and you're knocking on YA's door. There is such a think as "Tween," which has characters 14-15, but you can't really pitch that as the Tween category is more of a wish than an actual market. An agent can't sell a Tween book, because there's almost nothing to comp it with.