What wordcount should my children’s book have?

Posted on October 6, 2010

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Following on from my blog post on which publishers are accepting unsolicited manuscripts for children, I thought I’d put together something else I had difficulty finding on the web – a guide to word counts.

The reason there isn’t a definitive list is that publishers vary considerably in their requirements and so you will see that the range is large within each category.  Before submitting, make sure you check the publisher’s website.  If they don’t specify a word count, and many don’t, take a look at some of their books in your local library and do a quick word count by counting three lines, dividing by three to get an average, multiplying by the number of lines on the page and then by the number of pages.  If it’s illustrated, adjust the word count by the percentage you feel the pictures take up.  You will only have an approximate guide but at least you won’t be wildly off course.

Picture books

Generally around 500, maximum 1,000.  Less is more as the pictures do the talking.  Classics include The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney.  You won’t be expected to provide illustrations – the publisher will match you with an artist (unless you are one yourself!).  The whole text is usually submitted for this length book.

5-7 years

Sometimes called early readers or chapter books, these books bridge the gap between picture books and novels with plenty of line drawings within the text and can be 1000 to 6000 long.  Some publishers ask for the whole manuscript, some for sample chapters depending on length and their requirements.

7-10 years

8-15,000 words long.  May still include black and white illustrations.  The Horrid Henry books by Francesca Simon are a good example.  (The audio versions narrated by Miranda Richardson are brilliant, by the way!)  Series books for this age range are popular and include Beast Quest, Rainbow Magic and Cows in Action.

8-12 years

Called middle grade in the US, these can be 20,000 to 75,000.  Established authors can get away with more.    Derek Landy, JK Rowling, Jean DuPrau and Charlotte Haptie are all great writers for this age group.  Publishers will usually ask for a synopsis and the first two or three chapters.

Young adult

At least 30,000, going up to 100,000.  Increasingly, these books are appealing to adults who are not put off by length.  Examples include How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, Angel Blood by John Singleton, Numbers by Rachel Ward and the brilliant Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.

Useful links

guidetoliteraryagents.com

This post by writer American Chuck Sambuchino is a great guide to required word lengths for American markets, children’s and adults’.

sarah webb

Another blog from across the pond with useful advice on word counts.

tall tales and short stories

Tracy’s interviews with children’s agents and publishers will give you the low down you need before submitting.

I would love to know if there are any more resources on this area, so please get in contact if you know of any so I can add them to my links!