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how long does a book have to be?



Knowing the typical word counts of different types of children’s books will help you understand what goal you need to hit. These are only guidelines. If your word count comes in too high or low, you could raise eyebrows with publishers. Some might not even consider your work.

  • Picture books – you’ll hear many people say the shorter the better. A good goal is 500 words or less. Definitely strive for under a 1000. Today’s editors and agents are looking for more story with less text.
  • Emergent readers – Emergent readers might have as few as 32 words.
  • Easy readers - word count will vary depending on the level. But the longer the book, the higher the level. Your best bet is to look up word counts of existing books written for the level you are writing. A level 1 reader might have 200 words. A typical level 3 or 4 reader might have any where from 800 to 1200 words.
  • Chapter books - once you move to chapter books, word counts could range anywhere from the high-5000s to 25,000.
  • Middle grade novels -here’s where you’re going to see a big spread, too but a good minimum goal is around 30-35,000 words. The upper end would be around 45,000. But it’s not that uncommon to see novels that exceed this.
  • Teen novels -your minimum target will be slightly higher, starting from 40,000 and up.

There are figures based on my own research and numbers given to me by editors and agents. If you want to run your own analysis, Renaissance Learning is the best place for this kind of research. You may also hear people swear by different ranges. But in the end, try to come in at something “normal.” And don’t get hung up on word count if you just can’t get your work any shorter or longer. Sometimes your story won’t “fit” perfectly in the box it’s supposed to be in. And if that’s the case…I’ll tell what you can do.

Now go back to step three – write.

Order WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS: A CRASH COURSE

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38 Comments »

Comment by Maureen
2007-02-24 21:41:53

Hi Cynthea. I had a comment about the length of picture books. I subscribe to the Children’s Book Insider (from Write4kids.com) and they say the average length is around 1000 words. You mentioned about 500–much lower than I would have thought. I know you said they’re guidelines, but is 800-1000 (mine is around 900) too much now? (By the way, I like your site! Thank you for all your “tips!”)

Comment by cynthea
2007-06-03 01:11:20

The average length of picture books coming out today is NOT 1000. It’s going to be much closer to 500. It used to be around 1000, but as parents become more pressed for time, the market is now delivering books these parents can read to their kids without passing out. Picture books published near 1000 words or more are quickly becoming the exception to the rule.

 
 
Comment by Cynthea Subscribed to comments via email
2007-02-26 10:06:40

Really the appropriate length of the text has everything to do with your story and how it’s written. Every word does count and careful consideration must be taken to ensure the pacing of the story and the illustratability is supported in a way that fits a picture book format. (See the article Revision 9-1-1 for Fiction Picture Books). Today’s contemporary picture books often come in at 500 words or less. But that is a guideline and not something to get worried about if your text “requires” more. The key word being “requires.” I’d say a word count over 1000 words will certainly raise some eyebrows for many editors. And 500 words or less will certainly get the attention of many editors, provided the story is appropriate and well-written for the PB market.

 
Comment by Cathy Stroud
2007-07-06 21:53:50

Best sources for critique groups for young children’s picture books? Love so love your site, your tenacity, your giving. Bless you and that beautiful Snoop Boy. Cathy Stroud

Comment by Cynthea Subscribed to comments via email
2007-07-20 16:41:13

Critique Circle is one option at http://www.critiquecircle.com.

Or if you prefer something more personal, put out a call on the Blue Board.

Another place to get hooked up with picture book writers in your area is your local SCBWI chapter.

Hope that helps!

 
 
Comment by Tara
2007-10-03 21:01:35

Cynthea, do you have any wisdom on picture story book length? Is anyone publishing in this genre anymore? Supposedly it’s a picture book for a slightly older audience–a little more words, a little less illustration. A classic example is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” (although that one is fully illustrated). Love the site! Thank you!

Comment by Cynthea Subscribed to comments via email
2007-10-04 13:12:45

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has about 1200 words in it. That’s not that far out of range for a publishable manuscript if the story warrants the length.

If your manuscript is geared toward the upper range of the 4-8 bracket and it’s longer than the typical contemporary picture book, the range of publishers who will take a chance will become quite narrow. Unfortunately, a lot of it has to do with the house and the editor acquiring the manuscript. And there’s not a trade publisher I can think of off-hand who specializes in what you speak of. That doesn’t mean they’re not out there. I just don’t know of any.
One broader market you may want to consider is the magazine market (if the text is older and the length is longer). Some stories just fit better for the magazine market (Highlights, Cricket, etc.,) than they do for the picture book market.

Hope that helps. Cynthea

 
 
Comment by All Adither
2008-11-30 14:45:43

Hey, this is great info. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!

Comment by Cynthea Subscribed to comments via email
2008-12-12 07:29:04

You’re welcome. Much success with your writing!

Cynthea and Snoop!

 
 
Comment by Fiona Griffin Subscribed to comments via email
2009-02-02 08:55:50

Hi Cynthea,

I’m onto my 22nd story and going through a lot of caffeine in the process. I came across a competition for short story writing. I would like to enter it. Is it advisable or would possible publishers frown on the fact it has already been seen?

Also, what age is a 3 to 4th grade child? We have a different age categorisation over here. Would it be 6 to 8 year olds?

Comment by Cynthea Subscribed to comments via email
2009-03-08 20:53:38

Hi Fiona,
Kindergarten starts at age 5 here. So 3rd to 4th grade would be 8 to 9 years old. Competitions are fine so long as they don’t require you give over rights if you don’t want that to happen. Even if it’s one time rights, that can hurt your chances for later publication of that particular story. So keep that in mind.

 
 
Comment by Rod Subscribed to comments via email
2009-08-05 19:41:24

Hi. I’m new to the site. I want to know what is the average length of a transition (illustration) chapter book? This is before actual chapter books.

Comment by Cynthea Subscribed to comments via email
2010-04-13 14:48:56

The length varies significantly. But for the younger chapter book, if I had to take a guess – anywhere from a couple of thousand words to 5,000 words.

 
 
Comment by Jan Millehan m Subscribed to comments via email
2009-09-30 13:40:10

Thank you so much for the insight on the number of words for a chapter book. My book has around 7,400 words, and I didn’t know if it would be a picture or chapter book. Thanks to you, I now know it is a chapter book.

Comment by Cynthea Subscribed to comments via email
2010-04-13 14:50:11

You’re welcome. Keep in mind – word count is not the only determinant of genre/format. You must also consider content, complexity of plot, and age of the MC as well.

 
 
Comment by Fiona Griffin Subscribed to comments via email
2009-10-01 03:01:09

After reading Cynthea’s book “How To Write for Children & Teens”, I was under the impression that a picture book should be no more. I got told this at a conference in September.
Is this correct?

 
Comment by Alexa
2010-01-12 17:17:28

I am a middle schooled author of twelve. You’re layout is so acute, even I can understand it! Thank you for these wonderful tips. They help very much.

 
Comment by Fiona Griffin Subscribed to comments via email
2010-01-13 07:26:07

Yes, it is very good, but I am still unsure as to how detailed I should be when submitting a synopsis.
Any tips?

 
Comment by cynthea Subscribed to comments via email
2010-01-13 10:32:47

Hi Fiona,

Check out the synopsis article on this website.

For Picture Books, a standard synopsis really isn’t necessary, Instead, read the article on creating aquery letter and how to summarize your picture book in an enticing way.

For longer works, you need to be detailed enough so that the reader understands where the story takes place, who the main characters are, the major sub-characters. You should also identify the primary plot and the secondary plots. Theme should be somewhat obvious from the synopsis, however if it’s not clear, it should be worked into the synopsis. See the article on Synopsis writing for more info. Thanks!

Cynthea

 
Comment by Jan Millehan m Subscribed to comments via email
2010-01-14 13:38:18

Thanks! This is really good information.

Comment by Cynthea Subscribed to comments via email
2010-04-13 14:53:04

You’re welcome!

 
 
Comment by sonya Subscribed to comments via email
2010-03-28 21:30:49

Hi, I really like your website, I have recently found it and have been following it a lot.

I am curious about which age group of girls are interested in princess stories, I have stories aimed at 7-9 year girls and it is a chapter book( 8500) words.

Can you guide me if the word count is alright for that age group and for their tastes.

Thanks

Comment by Fiona Griffin Subscribed to comments via email
2010-07-10 09:59:37

Hi, I haven’t visited for a while because I simply haven’t been writing (more’s the pity!) But, I have ano.ther question re: book clarification. I have another anthropomorphic story which I know will be longer than a picture book, probably just under 3000 words. What age group would this enter and is there room in today’s market for such a book? I am not particlarly phased by whether it is marketable, it is only for my own creativity, but I am curious.
Thanks.

 
Comment by Cynthea Subscribed to comments via email
2010-07-15 09:13:16

Hi Sonya, you’ll find princess stories in picture books all the way through teen novels. So it really depends on the age of the main character of the book and if that character is operating within a plot that is suitable for a specific format (Picture Book, Chapter Book, Middle Grade, YA and so on…) Based on the info you gave me, it’s totally possible to have a chapter book princess story aimed at 7-9 year-old girls that is 8500 words long. Particularly if the main character’s age is 9 or 10.

 
 
Comment by Fiona Griffin Subscribed to comments via email
2010-07-15 09:25:14

Cynthea,
Are kids still interested in anthropomorphic stories, even after kindergarten? I tried moving away and working with humans, but they bug me too much! I can’t express myself properly.
My current story is a long one, not sure of the word but I know it will be in the thousands. Is that too long for this kind of story?
Thanks

 
Comment by Debbie Riley Subscribed to comments via email
2010-08-15 13:09:48

Hi Cynthea, I’ve just discovered your website and it’s great!

I would love some advice from you regarding the whole word count/age placement issue.

I’ve just written a rhyming story which I’ve aimed at 5-7 year olds (I hope).

I would love it to be fully illustrated, but could cope with partially. My worry is that it is 1,900 words, and I can’t lose more than 100 of them, and even that would be painful.

My worry is that this wont fit in any of the boxes it would need to for publishing. Can you advise (or reassure!) me at all on this?

Thank you!
Debbie

 
Comment by Ken Chandler Subscribed to comments via email
2010-12-02 12:46:52

Cynthia,

How many printed pages long is a middle grade novel with 45,000 words (roughly).
How many words fit on a single page of a printed novel?

Thanks,
Ken

 
Comment by Harry
2011-10-12 12:07:29

Thanks for the great comments!

 
Comment by Pam Subscribed to comments via email
2012-05-13 19:21:43

I am writing short stories for children that are written at the 4-6th grade reading level. I know there are different reading levels. I have tried to condense the story but still find that to make it fun and interesting I am at about 1600 words. Is that too long for a short story for this age and reading level?

 
Comment by Rick Crawford
2012-06-30 17:08:35

Hi Cynthia,
I’m writing for 7-9 2nd-3rd grades. I was told by an editor that word count for
Early Readers: 200 – 3,500 words, depending on age level.

Chapter Books: 4,000 – 10,000 words.

Is that right?
My book is 16,000. Is that too long?

 
Comment by Joyce Gilkerson Subscribed to comments via email
2012-08-22 12:40:31

I truly love this website, it has been very helpful to me. I am writing a children’s book, that I hope becomes a series. It’s about 3 girls and their friendship, from ages. 9 and up. So far I have 32000 words and around 52 pages written.
Is this too long, not long enough? The time frame is mid 1960′s small town life. Is this something that age group would like?
What should the print look like? Do publishers like large print, small print?

Thanks so much.
Joyce

Comment by Cynthea Subscribed to comments via email
2012-08-22 21:27:07

Hi Joyce, the print size is not anything you need to be worried about. That’s what the publishers decide. You should be focused on your story. Historical fiction (something set in the 60s) is often called a tougher sell, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write it. The fact remains, historical fiction still sells, they just don’t buy as many historical titles as they do contemporary ones. It is impossible to know if your book is too long or too short without having seen the actual writing to gauge whether or not there is a lot of extra in there or not enough. But the word count you gave, if complete, is not out of bounds. See my articles on word count and mansucript format, too, since you asked about print size.

 
 
Comment by Cynthea Subscribed to comments via email
2012-08-22 13:35:00

It all depends on margin, font, font size, layout, etc. So to estimate page count, a typical standard is 250 words per page. This does not mean that your book will be exactly this page length though when it’s printed.

 
Comment by Melissa Hayslip Subscribed to comments via email
2012-09-08 21:36:07

I am very new to your website, but I love it already. It was extremely helpful to me during the writing of my synopsis. I have just completed an early chapter book (ages 6-8) and it came in at 11,710 words. Does that sound about right? It is eight chapters long and around 1500 words per chapter. The main character is a girl and it is written in a similar style to Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park…but this book DEFINITELY has it’s own voice and flair. I want to see if I’m on track with the length because I am submitting the synopsis and first two chapters to a publisher (through a writing conference) soon. Any advice that you have to give me will be very much appreciated!

Thanks for your input,
Melissa J. Hayslip

 
Comment by A.C.Johnson
2012-12-29 20:55:22

I just discovered your website and found it very useful. I am writing a novel for ages 11-13 and maybe 14 and i had wondered for a long time if it was going to be long enough. thanks to your website, I now know it will be long enough. it’s about 44,000 words currently but I’m still not quite done. Thanks for the help!

 
Comment by Jack Nelson
2014-02-03 11:01:08

My observation of this whole word count thing for a picture book having to be under 1000 doesn’t make sense. That would mean that Walt Disney doesn’t have a clue as to what they are doing. I have a copy of their Jungle Book Picture Book and it has in excess of 5300 words. It is not a chapter book, it is a picture book. This same thing holds true of some of their other story/picture books. Does this simply imply that Walt Disney is the ONLY exception to the rule? I think not.
It is beyond me that parents can sit in front of a TV for 6+ hours a day and never blink an eye, but they can’t sit with their children for 15 minutes to read them a 2000 word count book. What’s wrong with us?
Have we become so dull-headed? I for one will not bend to a publishers idea of what is right or wrong. I will decide that for myself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a 2000-4000 word picture book. It is only if you have to bend to the will of a know-it-all publisher. Publish your story yourself, and finance it too. It’s the best way. It’s the American way! God bless you all!!

 
Comment by Cynthea
2014-02-03 11:25:31

Disney Books, like the ones that adapt movies to books, are often licensed products and work-for-hire. Disney/Hyperion create a number of anthologies and what the industry calls, “picture story books.” Those books, like the licensed ones, are not really the subject of this website, which is primarily geared toward original fiction titles written by authors, who are not contracted to ghostwrite or write the work as work-for-hire, and published by major trade publishers.

Yes, there is nothing wrong with a longer picture book (or picture story book, per se. And there is certainly a market for it. Write on!

 
Comment by Gloria Thiele
2014-04-16 11:36:36

This retired children’s librarian never talked down to small children. I used books for preschool storytimes with “big” words. Asked about that, I said that they were necessary to the story. The children would hear the words and when they were older would remember and understand them. They would enjoy the whole of the story anyway. I told stories to 3-4 year olds without a book and kept their attention. We don’t expect enough from children. I did save picture books with a lot of text for 5 and up; but if the story is good, the language skilled, there is no reason to think that children will not listen. There is also no reason – no reason – that parents, no matter how busy their lives, can not spare the time to read to and with their children. If they don’t, shame on them.

 
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