Monday, May 24, 2010

Picture Book Length, Differences, and Word Count


How long is a picture book? According to Book Markets for Children's Writers 2010, there are three different types of children's books:

  1. Early Picture Books
  2. Picture Books (also known as “Classic or Traditional” Picture Books)
  3. Story Picture Books

From what I can tell from personally reading well over 100 picture books, here is the average breakdown for word count.

Picture book length, differences, and word count || average picture book word count | early picture books | classic picture books | story picture books

Early Picture Books

  • Age 0-4, sometimes 3-6
  • Babies, toddlers and preschoolers
  • Word count RANGE: 50-700
  • Word count AVERAGE: 400
  • Examples: Sandra Boynton, Eric Carle, Margaret Wise Brown, Deborah Diesen, Bob Shea, Laura Numeroff

Classic Picture Books

  • Age 4-8 
  • Pre-K through 3rd grade
  • Word count RANGE: 450-1250
  • Word count AVERAGE: 850
  • Examples: Jane Yolen, Tara Lazar, Rob Sanders, Tiffany Strelitz Haber, Victoria Kann, Lisa Wheeler

Story Picture Books

  • Age 6-10 
  • 1st grade through 5th grade
  • Word count RANGE: 800-2000
  • Word count AVERAGE: 1500
  • Examples: Patricia Polacco, Fairy Tales, Nancy Farmer, Enid Blyton, Diane Stanley


Overall, the average picture book length is 1000 words or less. 


Some publishers won't accept anything over that amount. Just check the specific word count for each publisher. Some publishers won't even list a word count. I have a story that began at 1125 words. Over time, I got it down to 950. Now it's down to 300 words. In general, I would say write the story first. Try to pace it as you go along and then cut back later.

Don't let the word count dictate what you want to write, but definitely keep it in mind.

The best research tool is to read lots of books and see which publishers print books at which lengths. For the classic picture book group, I realize that 4-8 is a pretty big age range. Something that would appeal to a 4-5 year old may not necessarily appeal to a 7-8 year old. If thinking about this gives you a headache, then maybe this will help.

Most of the topics will be appropriate for the 4-8 range. It's the presentation of the topic that will determine whether or not a 4-5 year old will want it versus a 7-8 year old. The language, the story, the illustrations, the length of the story. It all works together.

The 4-5 age range is also a tough age in terms of picture books because it's the overlapping age. They get lumped into both the Early Picture Book category and the Classic Picture Book category.

Just tell your story how it needs to be told. Think about the age of reader. At least decide in which category your manuscript belongs. Typically in the revising and editing stages, a story will be cut by a minimum of 100-300 words.

Aside from the whole word count issue, this is one of the MAIN differences:

Oftentimes, Early Picture Books typically don't have a real plot. The character doesn't really solve any problems. They are "slice-of-life" pieces, day-to-day vignettes. A classic example is the Give a Mouse a Cookie series. Remember the preschooler. This group may be harder to break into, even though you see more of these in bookstores, because a lot of parents read to their children at this age and start thinking they can write books, too.

By the time the child is ready to hear the Classic Picture Books, some of those parents may not read as many books to their children, or may skip straight to chapter books. Classic Picture Books must have a problem that the child character solves on his or her own. This is the type of picture book most often found in school and public LIBRARIES, another huge purchaser of picture books, not just parents browsing through a bookstore.

Update:

Average picture book length recommended by most editors is 500 words. A few have secretly declared that the actual "sweet spot" is closer to 750. Just write your story, and then trim and perfect it. It will be however many words it needs to be, so long as you truly trim all the excess away. Above all else, DO NOT GET CAUGHT UP IN WORD COUNT.

4 comments:

  1. That's very interesting Christie, I was under the impression that classic pbs should be around 500 words too. Thanks for the info.

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  2. Nowadays, that seems to be the advice given by everyone. But there are still plenty of books being published that have longer word counts.

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  3. 2016 update: Average picture book length recommended by most editors is 500 words. A few have secretly declared that the actual "sweet spot" is closer to 750. Above all else, DO NOT GET CAUGHT UP IN WORD COUNT WORRY. Just write your story, and then trim and perfect it. It will be however words it needs to be, so long as you truly trim all the excess away.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for the update! I've always been the verbose type..soaring beyond the word limit. I think the info you've shared will help me to be more succinct as I write. :)

    ReplyDelete

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