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.
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.
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 6-15,000 words long. 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.
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.
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.
This post by writer American Chuck Sambuchino is a great guide to required word lengths for American markets, children’s and adults’.
Another blog from across the pond with useful advice on word counts.
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!
Skylark Literary Agency blog post
Here’s a very informative post about word counts from the experts at Skylark.
14 thoughts on “What wordcount should my children’s book have?”
Thank you. I found this really useful. I’ve been counting words on the page and multiplying by page numbers to get an average!
Hi Lou. another useful link, albeit American, is http://literaticat.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/wordcount-dracula.html
I’ve re-checked my word count of my children’s fiction book and I have just under 7500. It’s for the ages 7-10, would I need to stretch it up to 8,000? I wrote this book over 2 years ago and have been spending the last few years editing and researching agents etc. I hope you don’t mind helping. thanks, Christine 🙂
You might be okay with that, Christine. If you are sending to agents, they will advise you if it needs to be longer. If you are going directly to publishers, they will often stipulate word count on their submissions guidelines or you could email them to check.
Many thanks for replying Lou. It is much appreciated. 🙂
Your blog is a great resource and much appreciated! I’ve written a picture book that is 429 words which seems to be in the “sweet spot” from what I understand. However, the way I’ve written it, it works out to only 10 pages of my text. I see so much that 32 pp is the norm that many publishers want but I also see many picture books that are less than that. So I’d like your thoughts on whether or not I should try to stretch the book out to more pages or would it be OK to submit it like it is and see what kind of response I get? Also, if one is rejected but gets good feedback on how a story could be improved, is it OK to submit the book back to the same publisher that rejected you after you rework it? Thanks so much!
Sorry for the delay in replying to you, Albert. Your word count sounds good but I would try to divide it up a bit more as 10 pages is very short. Ultimately the publisher will decide on how the book is set out but I think it would help to show that you can cover more ground, as it were! Re resubmitting to the same publisher, I think if they haven’t asked you to resubmit then probably don’t, but if you really get good vibes there’s nothing to stop you emailing them and asking if you can resubmit. I have done this once myself and they were happy to take another look.
I have a children’s book (manuscript) written for children 8-12 which is about 37,000 words and I want to illustrate it. The lead character is a 6 year old little boy and he has a best friend who is a 9 year old girl. I would like to illustrate the book and would like to know if this is advisable. A better question would be, would kids in this middle-school age range think that they are beyond illustrations? And would publishers view the book as an “illustrations book” and apply the 32 page limit to the book?
That’s an interesting question, Bobby. I think illustrations are fine – in fact, they are a bit of a trend at the moment if you look at books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid which is peppered with cartoons and line drawings. However it would work better if they are an essential part of the text rather than just stand-alone pictures. It certainly wouldn’t be viewed as a picture book. The gamble though is that if the publisher doesn’t like your pictures it may be rejected on that basis rather than on the quality of the story. You could always do a couple of illustrations and include them as a possible but not essential part of the package?
Reblogged this on Dragon Knight Chronicles.
Thanks Lou, I’ve written a story that is currently 18,000 words but hope it will be nearer to 20,000 words once i’ve drafted it properly. The problem i’m finding is my protagonist is Eight years old, so the book could fit in the 7-10 category, but what i’m thinking now is would a ten year old kid really read a fantasy story that is in the world of an Eight year old?
Thank you for a very useful guide.
Thank you, this is a really helpful article. I also wanted to let you know we referenced this article in a post recently. Here’s a link. Thanks again! http://thewriteshelf.com/2015/04/15/the-vanishing-text-in-picture-books/