Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Picture Books vs. Picture Storybooks

As I navigate through shelves of PB's and books about how to write PB's, I am slowly learning that it is easy to turn something simple into something not-so-simple. I have a few posts on PB's already. The *asterisk indicates ones that mention word count.

Picture Books vs. Picture Storybooks | writing for children | children's books

Wow! I didn't know I had that many. 

HOW MANY CATEGORIES ARE THERE? As I continue to read and study about types of PB's and recommended word lengths, I wonder who is right. I think there is a lot of overlapping info. Here's my latest discovery and interpretation. In the 2010 Book Market for Children's Writers, the index lists three categories: Early Picture Books, Picture Books, and Story Picture Books. I had originally thought it to be three completely separate categories, but now I'm beginning to rethink this one. Some of you may think that I'M the one making this difficult by over analyzing this, but that's okay by me. NOW, I wonder if there are just TWO main groups, Early PB's (2-5) and Story PB's (4-8). And the "regular" PB's encompass both of those categories (2-8). So my new concensus is that publishers who publish PICTURE BOOKS do BOTH kinds!

EARLY PICTURE BOOKS. This category is often simply called a picture book, as Aaron Shepard describes in his book, The Business of Writing for Children. When publishers talk of pb's, they are probably talking about this group. Especially when the "new word count" is considered to be no more than 500. Children under two will be squirming by 500 words, if they even make it that long. But 2-5 year olds (what I had deemed as Early PB's) can sit still for longer periods of time. According to Ann Whitford Paul (among others), the average manuscript page contains about 200 words. A PB for this age child should be about 2-5 ms pages, or 400-1000 words (although she said 400-900 and looks for ways to cut when it gets to 700 words). Shepard says a typical ms page is 250 words and the number of ms pgs for this age pb is two to four, or 500-1000 words.

The main difference between Early PB's (or simply PB's) and STORY PB's is that: 
  • Early pb's require the illustration to help tell the story. OR that the text is left open enough for the illustrator to ADD to the story by creating another level of story by creating a second story line. The text to picture ratio is either balanced or heavier on the pictures. This group also includes concept books such as alphabet, counting, opposites, etc. For preschoolers.
  • Story pb's (also called picture storybooks) do typically have more words, so the text to picture ratio is heavier on the text. In these longer story pb's, the illustrations are meant to help hold the listener's attention and aren't really an integral part of the story, at least not in the same way. These books often "have large chunks of text that might even take up the entire page (Paul)." Shepard says these are  books "with more text and plot development. Typically, text and art are separated on the page, and the text could stand alone." Historical fiction and biographies tend to fall in this group. For kindergarten to grade 3 or higher. 
STORY PICTURE BOOKS. This group is for 4-8 year olds.  Paul says mss that run from six pages and up (at 200 words per) are for older children and adults. Word count can be 1200-2000 words. Shepard says they run five to nine pages (at 250 words per), or 1250-2250 words. So if your story is 1000-1200 words, I guess it could maybe fit in either category?! And actually since the word count has gone down for early pb's, it probably has for this group, too. Probably 700-1500.

So there you have it. QUICK RECAP:
  • picture books (or early picture books) 
    • 400-1000 words (or the "new" 200-700)
    • preschoolers 
    • ages 2-5
    • concept books, such as alphabet, counting, opposites, etc. 
  • story picture books 
    • 1200-2000 words (or the "new" 700-1500)
    • kindergarten to grade 4
    • ages 4-8
    • stories with more plot development, such as historical fiction, biographies, etc.
That's not to say that they can't overlap, not to confuse you or anything. So, aside from my rambling, and my personal interpretation, and being over analytical, what do YOU think? (My books tend to be 800-1300 words).


  1. This post is great, Christie.
    I'm attempting to write a picture book for the first time, and I need all the help I can get!

  2. Christie - great synopsis of something that, as you say, should be simple but isn't.

    I think there's a word count range in general, and then I think there's what's selling right now. At the Sept. SCBWI conference, an editor, and agent and a PB author all said, in separate sessions, that 500 words or less is what editors are acquiring for PBs right now - especially from new authors.

    The agent said something to the effect of, if you are Patricia Polaccio and have a wide following, it's okay to write 1200 words, but if you are a first-time author, it's best to hit the sweet-spot of what's selling, build a name for yourself and then maybe sell longer stories.

    I was left with the impression of, first follow the rules, then break them.

    Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule, but for now I'm trying to keep my stories in and around 500 words or less (it's VERY hard to do).

  3. Florence, Glad I could help.

    Julie, Yes, and so disheartening, too.

  4. Great analysis Christie. Don't worry about yours being long. Do one short one to get your foot in the door and then wow them with your epic pbs, they are truly brilliant!

    Btw I have an award for you and Julie on my blog.


I love hearing from you! Share your thoughts below.


Link Within

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...