Monday, May 24, 2010

Bootcamp Wisdom SKILL #5.5: Picture Book Length, Differences, and Word Count

Picture Book Types, in further long is a picture book?

According to the Book Markets for Children's Writers 2010, there are three different types of children's books: Early Picture Books, Picture Books (or “Classic” Picture Books), and Story Picture Books. From what I can tell from also READING lots of pbs, here is the average breakdown for word count:

Early PBs (based on about 40 books that I have read): age 0-4 (most commonly called 2-4, 2-5, or even 3-6 age range). (think toddlers and preschoolers), words average about 370 and range from 80-650. Upon further research, I've read the average is 400-500, but no more than 700.

Classic PBs (AKA traditional)(based on about 50 picture books): age 4-8 (think K-3), AVG. word length 870 (RANGE: 450-1250). Further research for this category says average is 900-1000, but no more than 1500.

Story PBs (based on about 15 books): age 4-10, or 6-10 (draws in a few older readers via a longer story; think 1st gr.-5th gr.), AVG. word length 1550 (RANGE: 800-2000). I would place Patricia Polacco in this category.

Overall, the average pb length is 1000 words. I know some publishers won't accept anything over that amount. Just check the specific word count for each publisher. I have a story that began at 1125 words, but is now down to about 960 or so. In general, I would say to 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.

I read lots of info on the web that gives word length for picture books. The best research tool is really to read lots of books and see which publishers print books at which lengths. For the classic pb 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. I think that 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. And 4-5 is also a tough age in terms of pbs. It's the overlapping age. They get lumped into the Early PB category AND the Classic PB category.

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

Aside from the whole word count issue, this is the MAIN difference:

Early PBs 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 preschool age child. I personally believe this group to be harder to break into even though you see more of these in bookstores. The reason I think this is a harder age group to get published for is 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 PBs, some of those parents may not read as many books to their children, or may skip straight to chapter books. Classic PBs 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. So, there is still hope for us, yet!


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

  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.

  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.

  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. :)


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