Now, for those who don't know, MG is Middle Grade and YA is Young Adult.
Got that out of the way? Good. Now the problem.
MG and YA overlap. Yep. You can have a 13-year-old protagonist in both MG and YA. Take Harry Potter (yeah, yeah, I know not Harry Potter anything but that! Bear with me...)
Harry Potter starts the series out at 11 years old. Well, that's clearly an MG, right? Nope. Harry Potter, even just the first one, is YA.
How about Dan Gutman's book, The Genius Files? The twins are turning 13 during their trip that across the United States (and two books), so it must be YA, right? Nope. That one's MG.
So age doesn't determine YA or MG. Nope. OK, SO WHAT DOES?
Here's my Aha moment. And I want to link back to Laura Backes of the Children's Book Insider Club. The difference between MG and YA is simple: MG is about kids who are still kids at the end of the book. YA is about kids who deal with adult-sized conflicts on an adult-sized level and never go back to just being kids.
That's it. That's the secret. Artemes Fowl = YA. The Wizard of Oz = MG. I could do this all day.
OK, a word of caution: The publisher is always right. If you think your work is YA and your publisher is going to market it as MG, I really hope you don't let that be the deal breaker. All I'm trying to say is that I've finally figured out why my work is MG and why my friend's work is YA.
UPDATE: A new Aha moment - the difference between YA and NA
Like I said, YA is for Teens all the way through high school, with a little cross-over in Jr. High or Middle School (which over laps in ages anyway). If a teen is handling adult problems on an adult level, then it's definitely YA (rather than MG).
NA is for college-aged readers (about 19-30). But if you get graphic with the sex, go super harsh with the language, and are really explicit with the violence, then NA is a good choice even if your protagonist starts younger.
That's my Aha moment and Update Aha moment. Thanks for reading.
If you liked this, you might enjoy my Aha Moment on my new blog: Character-Driven Stories vrs. Plot-Driven Stories