Age Group and Genre: Targeting Your Manuscript

Are you certain you know who you are writing for and what species of story you’ve concocted? These two significant pieces of information must be at the top right of each manuscript when you submit, and while you can label the story with your best guess for its age range and genre, you don’t really want a publishing professional to go into snark mode if you guessed wrong, when they read your manuscript sample.

W-Target

I’ve recently wrestled with whether a novel of mine is actually YA, as I intended. A knowledgeable author friend felt that the novel is definitely Adult because of some events that occur in the story. Or could it perhaps be New Adult? My critique group buddies, who have each read the manuscript, feel it is appropriate for ages 14 or 15 and up, back in YA territory. Hmm. Some decisions to be made here before submitting the manuscript. So I went onto the New York Public Library’s site and used the Ask a Librarian feature to chat with a librarian. According to her, my novel is okay as YA. While I was on the NYPL site, I read a librarian’s blog post about fictionalized biography. I had previously classified my story as historical fiction, but YA fictionalized biography is a better fit.

Don’t know where to verify the target age and genre for your book? These questions haunt anyone writing for kids. Laura Backes’ post Understanding Children’s Book Genres is a good place to start. Two categories sometimes not included in lists like these are Tween, between Middle Grade and YA, and New Adult, which is geared for 18- to 25-year-olds.

Each age range and genre has its own word count range. There are guidelines out in the interweb that suggest appropriate numbers. Here’s Chuck Sambuchino’s version, which pretty much agrees with similar lists. Obviously 2,500 words does not a picture book make. And although Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix is 257,045 words long, you’re not likely to sell a first novel for young readers that’s anywhere near that word count. Want to know how many words are in a published book? Look it up at the Accelerated Reader Quiz Store.

Some age-range genres also have sub-genres. Classifying your manuscript as Young Adult, you’ll also need to include one of these categories in the heading on your manuscript:

  • Contemporary
  • Fantasy
  • Historical fiction
  • Paranormal
  • Romance
  • Science fiction
  • Dystopian
  • Steampunk
  • LGBTQ
  • Mystery/thriller
  • Horror

And there are more, even down to crazy-specific sub-sub-genres like Memoirs or Nonfiction written by You Tube Stars as in this YALSA list.

An aspect of genre beyond the word count is its content: what age is the subject matter appropriate for? Commonsensemedia.org is a dragon’s hoard of ratings for specific books, not only listing the word count and age range for each, but also a designation for its levels of violence, romance, and other categories.

Most importantly, familiarize yourself with successful books for kids and be honest with yourself about how yours compares.

  1. Read scads of books in the category you are writing for. Look at their word count, theme, and level of complexity using the tools described above and information that may be on the book itself – on the copyright page or back cover. It will soon become obvious through comparison whether your book belongs beside those on the shelf.
  2. Note that the age of the characters in a story is a huge hint at the target audience’s since most kids like to read about people their own age or slightly older.
  3. Ask yourself whether the voice, the length, and the theme/subject matter of your book are for the same audience. In general, you usually wouldn’t want a 125,000 word middle grade first novel or a 20,000 word first YA novel unless there is a specific reason the book should be non-standard.
  4. Since some things change at warp speed in the publishing industry, be sure to choose books from the library – thereby reading lots without zeroing out your wallet – and also your local bookstore, where you can find the most recent titles. Acceptable content for some genres is shifting. For instance, tolerance for steamy romance scenes that are more graphic than previously published and books containing brutal violence are becoming evident. The edges between things shift, so be aware of what’s out there now.
  5. Advice in blogs and other sources is great, but the bottom line is, you need to take it all in, then decide based on what feels right for your book.

Targeting your book correctly is step number one in getting a publishing professional on the same page with you.

Do you have age or genre sources to add? What age range / genre is your current work in progress? Is it what you expected it to be? Share your ideas in the comments!

16 comments

    1. Thanks, Jim. WR is a fantastic resource. Marianne Knowles’ article relating to Amazon’s new payment policy for authors, which is coming soon, will raise some eyebrows, for sure. I am pleased you are finding useful info here. That’s what it is all about – children’s book people helping one another.

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  1. Thank you for the useful links. I too am questioning my novels proper place on the genre spectrum. I’m writing it as a ‘young’ YA but won’t be sure till it is complete. And, yes, you will have the opportunity to add your two cents. BTW – couldn’t agree more with the YA fictionalize biography decision…spot on.

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    1. My pleasure. It is of course the result of looking up this information for myself. Marianne added the link to the Accelerated Reader Quiz Store. We’re all aiming to be as useful as possible, for sure.

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    1. Zeroing in on these specifics helps with the first impression an agent or editor gets. Not to mention that the first 30 seconds to a minute (seems like) the pro has with your submission can mean life or death to the query. We have to try to get every detail right.

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