Agency Lessons: YA vs MG

Queries are hard and they stink like three-day-old baby poop. There, we got that out of the way. Because I understand this, I try to be flexible when it comes to queries that miss the mark. But I've seen a lot of something lately that makes it hard for me to move forward.
"This is my MG/YA novel about ..."

Yes, I represent MG & YA. And I'm happy to rep writers who write for both age groups. However, your story is either MG or YA. Not both. And not knowing the difference is a problem.

Again, this isn't me being picky (see baby poop reference above). This is about you, as a writer, knowing your audience. There is a big difference between a book that will appeal to a 7th grader and one that will appeal to a high school senior. Even though they are only 5 years apart in age, they are completely separate on the scales of emotional maturity, world view and self-image. Three areas that are crucial in both age groups.

Sometimes, I'll hear people say, "Well, you're the agent. You figure out how to sell it. I don't know who my audience is." To which I say, "WRONG!"

Without identifying your audience how do you know what voice to use, what thought processes to give your main character, what subject matters are appropriate? The answer is, you can't. This is a big red flag that say, there are probably a lot of problems with this manuscript.

When a writer fails to identify their audience before starting a project, the result is usually a mixed bag of awkwardness. We'll get a ten-year-old protagonist, who has the voice of a Sophomore. She's solving a ghost mystery to save her dad, while dealing with a friend who has a drinking issue. It's just all over the board.

If you aren't sure what the differences are between MG and YA, the first step should be to read widely in both age groups. In my town's library, MG books are actually shelved in the children's library, so don't forget to check there. Then read this great post from Middle Grade Minded. Writers and agents weighed in on the differences between the two age groups and how to write them both better.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. What are the biggest differences between YA and MG?