Bestselling Middle Grade Fiction Part 2: Tense & Point of View

This is part two in my middle grade fiction series. Here is part one: Genres & Topics. Future installments will include information and statistics on word count and debut vs. established authors.

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I compiled the statistics below based on the New York Times Bestsellers List for middle grade novels. I included all novels that made the top ten list between April and September 2013 (a six month period).

I did not include media tie-ins (Lego, Disney, Star Wars, etc.) as these books have their own momentum that may have nothing to do with the subject matter, the quality of the book, etc.

I did not include nonfiction.

I did not include books that were sequels because they are not standing alone on their own merit.

I did include books that are the first in a series even if a subsequent book had already been published before the first book made it on the bestsellers list.

Purpose of Research

While there are a lot of factors that go into a book’s success, I wanted to break down the elements of the most popular middle grade books in the current market.

My primary motivation in doing this is to answer some of the most frequently asked questions by aspiring middle grade authors, such as appropriate topics, genres, word counts, point of view, tense, etc.

Bestselling Middle Grade Tense & Point of View

Present Vs. Past Tense

Whether or not agents, editors, and readers like or hate present tense has been a point of speculation for a lot of writers for quite some time.

Of the 22 books on the list, 16 were in past tense and 6 were in present. While past tense remains more popular, present tense is clearly acceptable in middle grade fiction.

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 9.04.23 AM

Present vs Past Tense in Realistic Fiction

Present tense was slightly more common in realistic fiction than in fantastical fiction. Out of 10 books, 3 were in present tense.

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 9.09.41 AM

Present vs. Past Tense in Fantastical Fiction

Present tense was slightly less common in fantastical fiction than in realistic fiction. Out of 12 books, 3 were in present tense.

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 9.10.55 AM

Third vs. First Person Point of View

First person point of view has been becoming increasingly popular. It turns out that first person point of view has actually surpassed third person point of view among bestselling middle grade novels.

Out of 22 books, 12 were in first person and 10 were in third.

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 9.19.27 AM

First Person vs. Third Person in Realistic Fiction

This is where the statistics get really interesting. First Person is far more popular in realistic fiction.

Out of 10 books, 7 were in first person and only 3 were in third.

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 9.21.56 AM

First Person vs. Third Person in Fantastical Fiction

In fantastical fiction (fantasy, paranormal, etc.), third person was slightly more common.

Out of 12 books, 7 were in third person and 5 were in first person.

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 9.26.44 AM


Realistic fiction is both more likely to be in present tense and more likely to be in first person, while fantastical fiction is more likely to stick to the traditional third person past tense.

However, no clear conclusions can be drawn from this data since we don’t know whether there is more first person and present tense in realistic fiction simply because more writers choose to write it this way (rather than that it is preferred by agents, editors, or readers).

My primary conclusion from this data is that anything goes. If you want to write a present tense, first person middle grade novel, it certainly doesn’t seem to be an inherently tough sell.

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