Whether you’ve written a series of 100-thousand word novels, or are working on the first page of your first manuscript, knowing what goal word count to shoot for is crucial to your writing success.
Different genres fit into different word count goals. Children’s books word count are no exception. Some types of stories take more words to tell than others. Some require pictures from an illustrator.
How long your book is should be based on the story as well as the developmental stage of your target audience. This is especially true when you are writing a children’s book. There are sub-genres within the genre.
While which way a plot should go and which character makes the best protagonist are subjective, word counts are usually strict.
To see the best success for your book and your writing career, it’s helpful to know what amount of words to shoot for. This is especially important to note as you begin marketing your children’s book.
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Of course, your word count will depend on the genre of book you’re writing and some genres can break the rules (as the Harry Potter series does), but overall, it’s important to follow word count rules.
Knowing the exact word count number you should aim for prior to plotting your book (or writing that first sentence if you’re a pantser) will save you lots of time.
Imagine sitting down to write the fantasy novel you’ve dreamed of writing since you were ten years old, only to finish at 90-thousand words and realize it’s twice as long as it needs to be.
“Wait a minute,” you might say. “I’ve read fantasy novels twice that length! How did this word count goal work for that novel?”
While genre does impact your ideal word count goal, the audience you are writing too is the main contributing factor.
Eight-year-olds don’t have the capacity to read through four hundred pages of story, while adults usually want to read about 100-thousand words of story.
What word count goal is right for you?
How long should a children’s book be? By Age-Range
As you read through this article, try to envision the story you want to tell as well as the audience you want to tell it to. Your target audience determines the length of your book, so it’s important to have that reader in mind.
1. Picture Book
Picture books are some of the shortest books out there. Writers need to be extremely cautious concerning the word count of picture books, because industry standards are very firm. Picture book word counts are not guidelines, but rules to be followed.
According to Writer’s Digest, “The standard is text for 32 pages. That might mean one line per page, or more. 500-600 words is a good number to aim for. When it gets closer to 1,000, editors and agents may shy away.”
Remember, one double-spaced page with 1” margins and 12-point font is about 250 words. Creating a picture book within the word count limits means typing less than three double-spaced pages.
Many picture books follow a single character through one scene of life (such as going to bed in Goodnight Moon). It will likely work in your favor to focus on one character rather than two or three. You will be able to go into more detail about this character’s experience and draw the reader (or in this case, listener) into the story.
Especially in picture book writing, every word counts.
When plotting your story, try choosing your point-of-view (POV) character the story will be most interesting through. Tell it through their eyes, and their eyes only. This will help you as you pack an entire story into just a few short pages.
As a general rule of thumb, resist the urge to write from the POV of a protagonist, villain, the stray cat next door, and the mother. While this may work for a young adult (YA) novel, it will be tough to tell a good story from that many POV characters in less than 600 words.
2. Early Readers
The target age range for early readers is between 5 and 8 years old, with a word count 1000 to 2500 words.
Children’s literature specialist Jenny Bowman says, “Early readers are books with slightly more text than found in your average picture book. They have 32 to 64 pages, with simple, repetitive text. Usually every page or every other page has an illustration.”
When writing for early readers, keep in mind that your book is one of the first they will ever read. This is a new and hopefully exciting experience for them.
As a writer, you want their experience to be enjoyable and for them to quickly come back for more.
While your word count is a bit longer than it would be if you were writing a picture book, just because you have a larger word count doesn’t mean every word should be different.
Early readers are new to reading. Using words repetitively, going back to the same phrase over and over (as fits the story), and cutting most words that they wouldn’t be able to sound out will make their reading experience more enjoyable.
You could also incorporate phrases that rhyme or use words that sound similar.
This should help build their excitement for reading. Instead of getting frustrated at all the new words they don’t know, they’ll enjoy coming back to phrases they’ve mastered, and likely feel a sense of accomplishment at learning a new word or two by the end of the story.
3. Middle Grade Chapter Books
Typically, middle grade (MG) word counts are from 20,000-55,000 words. However, this number is dependent on the subject being written about as well as the age of readers as middle grade encompasses a wide age range.
On the subject of age range, Writer’s Digest says, “When writing a longer book that is aimed at 12-year-olds (and could maybe be considered ‘tween’), using the term ‘upper middle grade’ is advisable.”
Upper middle grade is usually 40,000-55,000 words. This type of writing is the bridge between early readers and young adult.
While your word count can include some themes acceptable in YA, young adult themes should not be the focus in middle grade writing.
Writer’s Digest explains that, “With a simpler middle grade idea (Football Hero, or Jenny Jones and the Cupcake Mystery), aim lower. Shoot for 20,000-35,000 words.”
What word count is right for your children’s book?
Ask yourself who your target audience is, and then see if you can fit your story’s plot into that word count goal.
If you can, it’s time to get to work.
If your story is too intricate for the specific word count you’re going for, consider trimming down characters, combining a few characters into one, or cutting a subplot.
If your story is not long enough, consider using another POV character, adding a subplot, or starting the story with a different inciting incident.
And as you write your story, enjoy the process!
Writing is a joy and when the appropriate writing guidelines are followed, countless readers have the potential of enjoying your work.
Remember, the enjoyment of story is for all ages. While different aged readers need different word counts, the art of storytelling is the same.
Choose your audience, then write that story. It’s time to share your dream with readers!
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