It All Depends on What You Are Writing. . .

When new children’s writers come to my critique group, one of the first things that I ask them is what they write.  There is one answer that makes me cringe each and every time I hear it.

“Oh, I don’t know exactly.  Its a story for children.”

What many newer children’s and teen writers don’t yet understand is that they need to know what kind of a story they are writing.  And I don’t just mean mystery vs adventure vs fantasy.  They need to know if it is a picture book vs a chapter book vs a young adult.

In part, you need to know so that your story will be suited to your audience.  Obviously, the preschool picture book crowd has very different needs and expectations than do teens.   Less obvious, but no less true, they also have different needs than beginning readers.  In order for your work to be marketable, it must be suited to the needs of the reader.

Here are some quick guidelines for the different types of children’s books, including word counts.  For more on word counts, see the post Word Count Dracula on Jennifer Represents.

Picture books:
Word Count:  I had been told up to 1000.  Jennifer’s count? Up to 1,300 words  with the sweet spot at 300-550 words.
Picture book audiences are generally prereaders — an adult is reading to them.  Their attention spans are not always very long.
Because an adult is reading to a child, you need to think “read aloud.”  Read your manuscript out loud before you send it in because it needs to sing!
Examples:  The David books by David Shannon, Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin, Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner, and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems.

Early Reader:
Word count:  I don’t have a number for this one myself.  When attempting something of this sort, I check an individual book by my target publisher.  Renaissance Publishing, the company that publishes AR tests, includes word count information on books for which they have tests.  Jennifer’s count:  100-2,500 words, depending on level.
These books are meant to be read by the young reader.  Sentences and vocabulary are simpler than most picture books.  Illustrations help readers decipher the words.
Examples:  Mr Putter and Tabby by Cynthia Rylant, Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, Fitch and Chip books by Lisa Wheeler.

Chapter Books:
Word Count:  Again, I check Renaissance on this  one but my target is generally 40 -70 manuscript pages.  Jennifer’s count:  4,000 to 13,000 words with a sweet spot at 6,000 to 10,000.
Again, these readers are independent but by now they are pretty confident.
There usually aren’t subplots yet.
Text is broken into short chapters.
Examples:  Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne and Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park.

Middle Grade:
Word count:  30,000 to 60,000 words.  Jennifer’s count:  25,000-75,000 depending on whether it is realistic or fantasy.
By now, you can have subplots but romance, if it is there, is low key.
This is the age that kids are pulling away from parents and identifying more with their friends and this is often reflected in middle grade plots.
Examples:  The Terrible Secrets of the Tell-All Club by Catherine Stier, Kid vs. Squid by Greg van Eekhout, and The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O’Connor.

Young Adult:
Personally, I always think 45,000 to 100,000.  Jennifer’s count:  35,000-100,000 words depending on realistic vs fantasy and whether or not it is a debut author: debut author’s generally do not get as many pages.
Examples:  Suspect by Kristin Wolden Nitz, Gateway by Sharon Shinn, and Simon Says by Elaine Marie Alphin.


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