SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

How do you know if your books has the right length?

SCBWIcaribbeansouthLogo

How do you know if you books has the right length?

PICTURE BOOKS
Picture books in its broadest definition, a picture book is a book in which the illustrations play a significant role in telling the story. Under this umbrella are several types of books:
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.
1. Baby Books – For infants and young toddlers, these books are generally lullabies, nursery rhymes, finger plays, or wordless books. The length and format varies with the content.
2. Toddler books – Very simple stories for ages 1-3 (fewer than 300 words) familiar to a child’s everyday life, or concept books (teaching colors, numbers, shapes, etc.) Books are short (12 pages is average) and the format can be board books (sturdy paper-over board construction), pop-ups, lift-the flaps or novelty books (books that make sounds, have different textures, etc.) See the “Max” series of board books by Rosemary Wells (Dial).
Traditionally, picture books (also called “picture story books”) are 32-page books for ages 4-8 (this age may vary slightly by publisher). Manuscripts are up to 1500 words, with 1000 words being the average length. Plots are simple (no sub-plots or complicated twists) with one main character who embodies the child’s emotions, concerns and viewpoint. The illustrations (on every page or every other page) play as great a role as the text in telling the story. Occasionally a picture book will exceed 1500 words; this is usually geared toward the upper end of the age spectrum. Picture books cover a wide range of topics and styles. Nonfiction in the picture book format can go up to age 10, 48 pages in length, or up to about 2000 words of text.
 3. Early picture books — A term for picture books geared toward the lower end of the 4-8 age range. These stories are simple and contain fewer than 1000 words. Many early picture books have been reprinted in the board book format, thus widening the audience. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Philomel) is an example.

EASY READERS
Also called “easy-to-read”, these books are for children just starting to read on their own (age 6-8). They have color illustrations on every page like a picture book, but the format is more “grown-up” – smaller trim size, sometimes broken into short chapters. The length varies greatly by publisher; the books can be 32-64 pages long, with 200-1500 words of text, occasionally going up to 2000 words. The stories are told mainly through action and dialogue, in grammatically simple sentences (one idea per sentence). Books average 2-5 sentences per page. See the “Amelia Bedelia” books by Peggy Parish or other “I Can Read” books published by Harper Trophy.

TRANSITION BOOKS
Sometimes called “early chapter books” for ages 6-9, they bridge the gap between easy readers and chapter books. Written like easy readers in style, transition books are longer (manuscripts are about 30 pages long, broken into 2-3 page chapters), books have a smaller trim size with black-and-white illustrations every few pages. See “The Kids of the Polk Street School” series by Patricia Reilly Giff (Dell) or the “Stepping Stone Books” published by Random House.

CHAPTER BOOKS
For ages 7-10, these books are 45-60 manuscript pages long, broken into 3-4 page chapters. Stories are meatier than transition books; though still contain a lot of action. The sentences can be a bit more complex, but paragraphs are still short (2-4 sentences average). Chapters often end in the middle of a scene to keep the reader turning the pages. Look at the “Herbie Jones” books by Suzy Kline (Puffin) and the “Ramona” books by Beverly Cleary (Morrow).

MIDDLE GRADE
This is the golden age of reading for many children, ages 8-12. Manuscripts suddenly get longer (100-150 pages or 20,000 – 30,000, words), stories more complex (sub-plots involving secondary characters are woven through the story) and themes more sophisticated. Kids get hooked on characters at this age, which explains the popularity of series with 20 or more books involving the same cast. Fiction genres range from contemporary to historical to science fiction/fantasy; nonfiction includes biographies, science, history and multicultural topics. 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. With upper middle grade, you can aim for 32,000 – 40,000 words. These are books that resemble young adult in matter and storytelling, but still tend to stick to MG themes and avoid hot-button, YA-acceptable themes such as sex, drugs and rock & roll.  You can stray a little over here but not much. With a simpler middle grade idea (Football Hero, or Jenny Jones and the Cupcake Mystery), aim lower.  Shoot for 20,000 – 30,000 words.
This is the area that the Manuscript Challenge for the Burt Award will be focusing on.

YOUNG ADULT
Young adult is for ages 12 and up, these manuscripts are 130 to about 200 pages long. Plots can be complex with several major characters, though one character should emerge as the focus of the book. Themes should be relevant to the problems and struggles of today’s teenagers, regardless of the genre. A new age category (10-14) is emerging, especially with young adult nonfiction. These books are slightly shorter than the 12 and up category, and topics (both fiction and nonfiction) are appropriate for children who have outgrown middle grade but aren’t yet ready for the themes (fiction) or who aren’t studying the subjects (nonfiction) of high school readers
NB: Perhaps more than any other, Young Adult is the one category where word count is very flexible. For starters, 55,000 – 70,000 is a great range. When it gets into the 70s, you may be all right—but you have to have a reason for going that high. Again, higher word counts usually mean that the writer does not know how to edit themselves. A good reason to have a longer YA novel that tops out at the high end of the scale is if it’s science fiction or fantasy. Once again, these categories are expected to be a little longer because of the world-building.

ADULT NOVELS:
COMMERCIAL & LITERARY

Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for. This is a 100% safe range for literary, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere. Passing 100K in word count means it’s a more expensive book to produce—hence agents’ and editors’ aversion to such lengths.
In short:
80,000 – 89,999:       ok
90,000 – 99,999:       Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999:       Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999:   Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000:           Too short
110,000 or above     Too long

SCI-FI AND FANTASY
Science fiction and fantasy are the big exceptions because these categories tend to run long. It has to do with all the descriptions and world-building in the writing. 100,000 – 115,000 is an excellent range.

WESTERNS AND ROMANCE
These stories are generally shorter that the usual novel, 50K to 80K. 60,000 is a solid number to aim for.

MEMOIR
A memoir is the same as a novel and that means you’re aiming for 80,000-89,999. However, keep in mind that these are true stories so that the length would vary with the story, don’t be afraid to come in less or more if you need too – because it all really happened.

PAGE COUNT
In most cases, industry standard preferred length is 250 words per page… so a 400 page novel would be at about 100,000 words. If you want to see what size book is selling in your genre, take a look on the shelves. If the average length is 300 pages, you’re looking at a 75,000 word manuscript (approximately). One reason it’s harder for a new author to sell a 140,000 word manuscript is the size of the book. A 500+ page book is going to take up the space of almost two, 300 page books on the shelves. It’s also going to cost more for the publishers to produce, so unless the author is well known, the book stores aren’t going to stock that many copies of the ‘door-stopper’ novel as compared to the thinner novel.

WORD COUNT
There are two ways to calculate word count.
MSWord or iWork Pages
The program you use when writing will keep track of the word count. This may seem the best way to keep track of how long your story is, but publishers use a different formula.
Page Count x 250
Publishers calculate word count by multiplying the page count by 250. One reason this method is used is because when an editor receives a manuscript, it isn’t an electronic file. It’s a stack of paper.

When sending a query to an agent, you will not send the entire book. You will usually just send the first five or ten pages, along with a one or two page query. When putting the word count in the query, you can use either formula. Publishers prefer the second method, while agents tend to like the first method. Don’t cheat. Using a tiny font won’t work. With screenplays, if you use anything other than Courier 12 point you’re likely to get an instant rejection. With novels, a good font to use is Times New Roman 12 point.

CONCULSION
These are guidelines and there are always exceptions to the rules as a writer, you should edit but don’t sacrifice your story or exaggerate its length for a word count. Most first novels are usually shorter; a great example is Harry Potter.
Harry Potter
The Philosopher’s Stone – 76,944
The Chamber of Secrets – 85,141
The Prisoner of Azkaban – 107,253

As the books became popular the words increased.  Check with the submission requirement for your agent or publisher and keep writing.