Here is Ellen Brock, a freelance editor talking about writing Middle-Grade books.

Check out her site: http://thewriteditor.wordpress.com/

You'll find her advice very helpful and her channels on You Tube are fantastic! Check her out!

Age range for this group is changing slightly as children are being challenged more and more at younger ages. Typically, middle grade children are between seven and nine, however, some advanced six-year-olds may drift into this reading classification. On the other end of the spectrum, some struggling ten-year-olds may prefer this reading classification.

The main thing to focus on:


In literature, a conflict is a literary element that involves a struggle between two opposing forces usually a protagonist and an antagonist. To create conflict:

  1. there has to be something your main character values,

  2. does this 'thing' provide a potential quandry, struggle, or difficulty?

  3. how can you reveal this to the reader?

  4. or are there more than one thing creating difficulties?

  5. how would you break down the issue causing problems to show conflict in your story?

  6. Remember:

  • What creates conflict must be of value to the main character: person, place or thing?

  • Because of its importance to the main character, what struggles does this cause of conflict force the main character to face?

  • Events and emotions are not what creates conflict. The may enhance the conflict, but they are not the cause.

  • A good villain can help create conflict through his/her/its actions. ie. Taking over a city. The villain isn't the conflict, but he is the cause. He conquered the main characters home. His city is of value to him, the villain is threatening to kill all within the city. Therein lies the conflict. The main character struggles with how to save his city and all who live in it. Begin writing.

Middle-grade books

  • are longer,

  • have multiple chapters

  • its chapters drive the protagonist into risky situations and complicated relationships.

  • They enjoy suspenseful moments that eventually work their way out.

Readers of middle-grade readers should be able to manage the protagonist's internal conflictions, and self-analysis. Of course this group loves action packed books that mimic what is seen on television. However, never settle for action simply for the sake of having action. This particular style must be woven skillfully into the plot where the main character will be challenged, but in the end is changed for the better because of the journey. They devour books on a wide variety of subjects. For series in this genre, they can't seem to get the next out fast enough. They form one of the biggest readerships out there right now joining the fastly growing young adult market place.

For writers, middle-grade readers represent a large market eager for our work. Because they want everything and anything to read as long as it holds their interest, this could be a great place to start with writing.

Middle-grade novels for grades 5 and 6 are:

  • standard adult size, although usually shorter than adult titles.

  • They may have a few pictures.

  • The plots are more complicated and include subplots.

  • There are more complex themes

  • There can be some figurative language for these older readers.

  • Fiction for upper middle-grade students can be about:

  1. school stories,

  2. mysteries,

  3. fantasy,

  4. sports,

  5. humor, and

  6. historical novels.

A lower middle-grader reader has a format that looks adult, with a longer text, often a lot of illustrations, and with medium-large print. The plots of these books are often in episodes, where each chapter can almost stand on its own. Most chapters for this age group run ten to twelve manuscript pages, and the overall manuscript runs from about a hundred to a hundred fifty pages.

Know Your Audience

You can't achieve a win with any target audience until you study and learn all that you can about them. Every middle-grade wannabe author needs to do a lot of research into this readership before beginning that book. This knowledge can come from a variety of places:

  1. Childhood memories as a setting but be careful, using just childhood memories could ate your story and issues of this time may not be enough.

  2. Observing children in grades 3-6 and when they interact with their friends. Watch body-language, choice of wording used in dialogues. How are they dressed?

  3. Observing kids in malls, libraries and movie theaters is another idea, just refrain from stalking them :).

Author, Kristi Holl, the author of 24 middle-grade novels, two nonfiction middle-grade books, and a book for writers, Writer's First Aid suggests in addition to direct observation, to research web sites like Girls' Life at www.girlslife.com, where you can check out fashion and music trends for middle-grade girls. The Nickelodeon site at www.nick.com also shows current middle-grade music, games, sports and slang.

She further suggests, "Middle-grade girls may be as much as two years ahead of the boys in physical maturity. Both boys and girls are bigger and stronger, growing rapidly at the end of this age period. They like to join clubs and are more interested in competitive sports. They may develop an interest in special collections or hobbies. They like rituals, rules, secret codes, and made-up languages. They may play musical instruments. Activities such as camping, biking, building models, skating, and playing board games are popular.

Middle-graders are beginning to realize that parents and authority figures can make mistakes; some kids will defy parents at this age. They are often "black and white" thinkers, seeing things as right or wrong, with no room for differences of opinion. Upper middle-graders prefer spending time with friends rather than parents, and they show interest in the opposite sex by teasing, joking, and showing off. They may sometimes be verbally cruel to classmates, with name-calling and nasty put-downs."

Things To Remember About a Middle-Grader

During the middle grades, friends and school become more important than home and family as kids try to figure out their place in the social structure. Parents disappear from many middle-grade novels, or (as in the Nancy Drew books) they play a minor role and are barely needed. Children of this age feel more capable and like to see self-sufficient heroes venture out and conquer new territory.

Kristi Holl says, "While I don't get rid of parents altogether, I have novels (e.g. Patchwork Summer, No Strings Attached, Mystery By Mail) where the parents work long hours, are gone due to a divorce, or in jail, letting the kids operate independently. Upper middle-grade readers (grades 5 and 6) especially like books where the protagonists manage just as well as adults. Readers this age daydream about their future and enjoy planning and organizing tasks and events. Middle-graders have great imaginations and creative ideas, but can have difficulty following through. They like games with more complex rules. Their language abilities have grown to the point where they appreciate jokes, riddles and tongue twisters. Common childhood fears for this age include being late for school, finding out you're adopted, someone in the family becoming ill or dying, the house burning down, someone close having an accident, being followed by a stranger, and being kidnapped."

You can read more about Kristi and her work at www.KristiHoll.com

The Middle-Grade Novel


  1. Riveting Main Character:

  • Readers must identify closely with the MC.

  • Readers must care about the MC Reader wants only good things for the MC.

  • MC must be achievers.

  • Readers want to feel like they are involved in the story with MC, or, by pretending to be the MC.

  • MC doesn't need an adult to save them or resolve the conflict for them.

  • Give the MC believeable motives for what they're doing.

  • MC must care deeply for things and people.

  • MC must take realistic risks, ie. standing up to a bully or defending an unpopular friend.

  • MC heroes/heroines must be or appear as people who use their brains, have strong personalities and strong beliefs not only on a personal level, but also for the world.

  • Make the MC speak and sound like real kids

One of the best books on developing captivating characters is Elaine Marie Alphin's Creating Characters Kids Will Love, published by Writer's Digest Books.


Dialogue is an essential ingredient in a middle-grade novels. It must be believable to your reader. All characters must speak in ways real children of the same age group speak. Try eavesdropping shamelessly in stores, schools and fast food restaurants. Listen carefully for cadence, pacing, and subject matter. Since slang expressions come and go use them sparingly. You don't want your story to be outdated before it's even published.


  1. Is also critical in a middle-grade novel. If a character has no problem to solve, there is no point to the story.

  2. The story plot consists of an urgent problem confronting your main character and how he or she goes about solving it, against tremendous opposition.

  3. Early in your story planning, decide what one thing your main character wants more than anything. (It must be something that cannot be easily obtained.)

  4. There must be something vital at stake.

  5. What terrible thing will happen if your main character doesn't get what he or she wants?

  6. The consequences of failure need to be serious.

  7. For possible conflicts:

  • brainstorm ideas based on the common fears of middle-graders listed above.


Every good novel has a setting that contributes to the plot. For example, mysteries have frightening settings, but they aren't scary unless you, the author, convey through sensory details the eerie sights and sounds and smells in each scene. To make the reader believe in your story, you must create a setting so vivid the reader feels as if he can step into the pages of your book. Children react strongly to the color, size, shape, sound, smell, and feel of things. Learn to see the world through a child's eyes. Be sure to include in your setting details about the changing weather, seasons, general background (city, farm, forest), plus specific details. Just keep it under control. The book will be 90% action and dialogue, with maybe 10% (or less) description. Work description into the action when possible. Young middle-graders (grades 3-4) are more willing to read books where home is the setting. Older middle-graders are drawn to books revolving around school or trips away from the home.


When it's time to market your novel:

  1. first decide which type it is.

  2. Did you write a chapter book for grades 3 and 4, or a book for a reader in grades 5 or 6?

  3. When you're finished with your novel—after it's been critiqued and revised many times—it's time to market it.

  4. Study publishers' catalogues. They always list tips, what they represent, contact information. Write for the. Freelance writing is a great way to connect with a publisher. Study them online by looking at their websites, checking out what other books similar to yours they've published. Ask to study your children's librarian's copies.

  5. When you have chosen the publishers you want to submit to, find the names of their editors in a market book. Many guides are available:

Writer's Market published by Writer's Digest Books, The publications by The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (www.scbwi.org), Literary Market Place (usually available at your library's reference desk,) or The Writer's Handbook. Some writers prefer to study the market books first, then study the catalogues.

Now What?

Check market listings for the format in which to submit your novel. Some publishers still ask for the whole manuscript, some want three chapters and a synopsis, some just a query. A few will take only agented submissions now. Be careful to submit exactly what they ask for, and include an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) if they require it by snail mail.

If sending via email, most want all attachment in the body of the email and won't open the email if it has attachments. Read website submission requirements carefully. Do not telephone.

If you want to send multiple submissions, and the listing says the publisher accepts them, note it in your cover letter. Then be patient while you wait for a response. That can be hard if you don't have another project in the works.

"The real secret of patience is to find something to do in the meantime."

What you, the writer, need to do in the meantime is to focus on your next middle-grade idea—and keep writing. I found this to be a great time to read a few middle-grade novels. After all, you should know what you write and write what you know.

Here is a great video regarding Middle-Grade Readers. Grab a coffee and enjoy!

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 Ontario, Canada | Author J.L. Slipak | awritersconnection@msn.com
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