Recently, during a #MGLitChat session on Twitter, a discussion arose concerning the category names that the publishing industry uses for marketing books to kids. These categories are supposedly age, or reading maturity, based, but frankly it just seems to be a whole lot of … something, which I cannot figure out.
Here are the categories as I understand them. Corrections, of course, would be greatly appreciated.
- Picture book – ages 4-8, 32 book pages or about 500-1000 words
- Easy reader – ages 6-8, 32-64 book pages or about 800-1200 words
- Chapter book – ages 7-10, 45-60 manuscript pages 0r about 5,000-25,000 words, 3-4 chapters
- Middle grade – ages 8-12, 100-150 manuscript pages or about 30,000-45,000 words
- Young adult – ages 12 and up, 130-200 manuscript pages or 40,000 words and up
The first thing you notice is that the categories are not discrete. That is, their definitions overlap with respect to age and length. So, what else comes into the picture? Two things; first, the reading level, or ability of the child, and second, social maturity. Which means, of course, that the size of a book does not automatically place it into one of these categories. You could easily see a Middle Grade book that is decidedly longer than a Young Adult book.
To make this even more interesting, a la the curse of living in “interesting times”, consider that there are two new categories emerging. The first is “Teen” which is supposed to fit between Middle Grade and Young Adult. This recent addition seems to shrink the Middle Grade range towards its lower end, and Young Adult towards its higher end.
But wait, there’s a second new categories being tossed around, “New Adult”, which will supposedly sit between Young Adult and Adult, shrinking the age range for Young Adult even further. To say this makes a writer frustrated is, well … let’s just say it goes without saying. BTW, I purposely skipped the categories below Picture Book so as to not muddy the waters even further.
Me? I think that instead of fewer categories, we need more! Here are my additions to the fray.
- Pre-puberty – For those readers who are aging out of Middle Grade but who have not reached the maturity level of Teen because there hormone surge has been delayed.
- T-1 – In elementary education, students who are academically ready for second grade, but not mature enough, are sometimes placed in a transition grade called T-1, so, why not do the same for those aging out of chapter books, but not ready for Middle Grade?
- Reticent Young Adult – Somewhat older in maturity than Teen readers, but not ready for the sex and dating issues often presented in Young Adult. In fact, this could even be an alternate category to Teen, between Middle Grade and Young Adult.
- Delayed Adult – For those readers who have aged out of Young Adult, but do not wish to be adults, nor read adult literature. Basically, they want to stay young forever. This might be an alternative to the Adult category.
There, now we have plenty of categories with which to determine to which audience to market a given book. Still, we might need a further discussion relating to a book’s genre. I mean, it’s too easy to label books drama, or comedy, or science fiction, or fantasy, or whatever. We need new, hybrid genres, crossover genres, meta-genres, etc. Now this sounds like fun!