How Long is Middle Grade Fiction?

I’m often asked when I do school visits–how long are your manuscripts? Since I write middle grade books, the question becomes–how long does a middle grade novel need to be? Or should be. Another words, is there an ideal length for both reader and the writer?

The short answer is no.

Long answer. Well, it depends on what kind of book you are looking to read or what kind of book you want to write. There are certainly guidelines. Nancy Lamb in images-5The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children defines the average length of middle grade fiction this way: “Most middle-grade novels are 15,000 to 35,000 words long or 64 to 150 pages.”

Editors will often advise aspiring authors to write a book until they feel it needs to end. Also, sometimes different publishers and different imprints have guidelines, especially with original paperback fiction. For example, the manuscripts that are accepted in the Simon & Schuster MIX imprint for tween girls (where I have been publishing) run usually two hundred typed pages, while a similar imprint at another house may run shorter or longer.

dorkdiariesWith graphic novels, word counts go down, while page counts remain the same as conventional fiction. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books come in at around the 200-page mark, but the word counts are at the lower end of the spectrum. Graphic and illustrated epistolary novels have their own norms and standards. It is a hugely growing field and includes not only boy books like the Diary of Wimpy Kid series but also the Dear Dumb Diary, Baby Mouse, the Dork Diary series for girls and speculative fiction like the Bone books.

Although word counts for illustrated books are naturally at the lower end, I would argue that in in recent years, conventional middle grade fiction has actually expanded in length. This is, no doubt, because of the popularity of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, which started as a middle grade series (although aged up). Both of the first books in that series are over 300 pages. And the first book in the Magyk series by Angie Sage comes in at 564 pages. Deborah Wiles’ Each Little Bird that Sings, a National Book Award Finalist, comes in at 247 printed pages, and it’s not considered particularly extra long. This is not to say that shorter books are unacceptable or not wanted. I’m sure there are many incredible novellas and short form fiction out there, but are they not yet receiving high visibility in big publishing. However, with the growing popularity of ebooks, I predict we will begin to see a new offering of short stories and novellas from major New York publishers.

Hillary Homzie‘s second tween novel for girls,The Hot List, was published last year. She has three boys so she must become a spy to write about tween girls and remember her own experiences, which is easy since Hillary claims that she’s still thirteen.

Hillary Homzie
  1. Liked what you shared, Hillary about the idea of the status of a longer MG for some readers.
    I’ve begun a fast-paced story by Elise Broach called MISSING ON SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN. And paging to the back I see that rolls in at 260 pages.
    Always good to receive your tips/ resources.
    Thanks to you & From The Mixed-Up Files blog!

  2. Both my FOX STREET books were about 39,000 words, though this genre can easily go to 70,000. I try never to use two words when one will do, no matter what I’m writing!

  3. * Thanks for this post, Hilary! As I go on with my revisions I’ll keep your words in mind.

  4. So agree with you that the word count varies, especially based on genre and whether it’s upper MG or lower. Fantasy tends to be higher as your example shows.

    • @Natalie Aguirre, yes, it does seem fantasy runs higher, unless it’s obviously hitting the younger end of middle grade (for example, a novel like Well-Wished).

  5. “Editors will often advise aspiring authors to write a book until they feel it needs to end.” I try to take this approach rather than get caught up in my word counts. Not to say I don’t still pay attention to where I’m at… 🙂

    • @Tracy Abell, yes, I think this is wise, unless you’re writing for a specific imprint with strict word count guidelines.

  6. Now that’s a very good question. I think the answer is–it depends. My middle son is a reluctant reader and will look for shorter books, and especially illustrated books and graphic novels. However, if he’s had a positive experience with a longer book, then he won’t hesitate to test the waters with the sequel.

    On the other hand, readers who enjoy the challenge and perhaps even status of reading a longer book, might actively seek longer works while ignoring novellas.

    Personally, I find that I alternate. I guess I just like a varied diet.

  7. I was a little surprised by the “average length,” but curious how much it influences the readers decision.

  8. Thank you for sharing this. I always have a target word count of 50,000 when I write my first draft. I usually end up either 10,000 below or over that goal by the time I get done with revisions and edits.

    • @Susan Lower, it’s funny how some manuscripts need more pruning while others need more shearing. It would be interesting to explore why.

  9. You must be able to read minds. The MG I’m working on currently is growing in the revision stage (after a manuscript evaluation) and I was just wondering what the accepted length was. You’ve answered my question. Now on with the revisions…

  10. Nice post! Both of mine have come in just under 40k.

  11. Enjoyed the post. The two MG manuscripts that I have written hit in the middle. One is 21,500 words and the other is 24,000 words.