Author Topic: Why are publishers becoming averse to longer picture book texts?  (Read 1526 times)

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Offline AnnH

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" ... A picture book with a thousand words costs no more to produce than one with one hundred. So why don’t we relax the word count and let some longer, richer storytelling come through? We might find that children will keep reading picture books to an older age if we do."
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Offline Jan Fields

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I think when picture book sales took the serious hit some time ago (in the US anyway), it left many publishers (though not all) with a hesitation to publish ANY picture books and, therefore, a tendency to choose only the ones in the word counts that were still selling with any hope of profit -- namely the really short books that were being bought by parents and grandparents for really young children. Picture books are expensive to produce so when publishers suddenly saw that investment seem to be crashing, it scared them. And once scared, I think they've been slow to return to forms that don't promise the same $$ returns. Picture books are recovering in the marketplace, so we can hope that will result in longer texts. Some publishers (Peachtree and Charlesbridge, for example) never gave them up.
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Offline Anne Marie

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Great answer, Jan.

Also children reading early is a point of pride for educated parents--the ones who buy books.  Anecdotally, I've heard quite a few booksellers complain that parents are pushing kids into chapter books, just because they can.
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Offline KeithM

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Here in Europe I was surprised at first because they have a lot of picture books with lots and lots of text. Basically, they're chapter books done as picture books, exactly for kids who are reading themselves. I'm going to guess that the cost of producing a chapter book compared to a picture book with full color illustrations on every page may have something to do with it, as Jan said.
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Offline Artemesia

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I would love it if PB word lengths got longer again. My mss have all been on the longer side, and even cutting down as much as I can (700 words or so) I still got editors saying it was too long. Probably why I found a home doing the early heavily illustrated chapter books (enabling those pushy parents Anne Marie mentioned, lol). I originally envisioned KPC as a PB (I even have a PB length sketch dummy!), but realized there was no way I could write a story like that in 500 words or less so adapted it for CBs. I love PBs though and hope to still write them in the future.

Do you guys think it has to do with what editors think parents want? Do publishers think parents are busy these days and want the option of a 5 minute read? I think there are times when that's true, but as a parent I'd also like the option of a longer storybook.
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Offline Betsy

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In homes where both parents work, Mom and Dad are both really tired at bedtime and want a book they can read quickly to the toddlers. At least that's what one editor told me.

Also, I used to be a K/1st grade teacher in a working class neighborhood where there were a number of kids with limited English. A book with one line of text on each page held their interest, whereas a whole paragraph was a bit much. I got so I only read books with limited text or left out most of the text if the book was longer. It just didn't work if the book was too wordy.

(The only longer books that held their interest consistently were the Curious George books.)

Also television for kids (including the commercials) is filled with non-stop action these days. I've even noticed a change in my attention span. We just live in a speeded up world.


I would LOVE for it to change back, though.
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Offline Cynthia Kremsner

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I'm thinking that you're on to something with both parents working and the impact it has on reading time. If my children liked a book, found the humor or action extremely entertaining, they would want me to read it again and sometimes again-again. I would never deny them that.  :grouphug2: It happened quite often . . . The thought of reading a 1,000 + word picture book two or three times in a row, well, agreeing to that may have taken a bit more persuasion. 

Back when my oldest was young, those button books with the pre-recorded sounds and tunes were quite popular . . . mostly with the retailers. When you read them and pushed the button at the designated time, the pre-recorded sounds could take up to 10 seconds or so. When there were two or three of them in one sentence, it created AAACK moments. I'm so glad those went by the wayside.

I had noticed anything up to 750 was pretty good for holding their attention. But they faded out with the longer PBs.
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Offline olmue

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I dunno. I read a lot of novels to my kids, and they don't have a hard time sitting still for that. But when it comes to picture books, they get restless when they're too long (and so do I). I think the issue is this: the adult reads the words, and the kid reads along by reading the pictures. In excessively wordy books, the picture runs out long before the words do, and that leaves the kid waiting and waiting for the next page turn. The most interesting pbs are the ones where the text and illustrations work together (as opposed to the pictures merely mirroring the text, or vice versa)--and that is hard to pull off when your whole page is a solid wall of text.

As a parent, I'd much rather read a pb that's short, snappy, and well placed that a kid can "read" along with. Especially when I know I'll have to read it over and over and over again. The one exception I can think of is nonfiction, provided the information is new and interesting and fresh. Chapter books (like Kung Pow Chicken) are a whole different animal, as are novels.

Offline Artemesia

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Oh that totally makes sense about running out of pictures before words! I never really thought of it that way!

(And thanks for the plug, lol  :thanks )
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Offline Kell

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As a parent, I do get weary reading aloud long picture books, but I also  wish longer fiction picture books were published for young independent readers. My soon-to-be first grader would definitely like them -- she reads chapter books but I think they are a little long for her. There aren't that many advanced early readers, and those that exist tend to be media tie-ins or licensed characters, but less funny and exciting than either picture books or chapter books.

Arty, I hope you do get to write your PBs but Kung Pow Chicken really hits all the right notes... We need more books like that too!
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Offline Marcia

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2014, 06:16 AM »
These great comments all make perfect sense, but how I wish the market would turn back to higher word counts. Why can't there be two levels of picture books: short fun ones for story time and more extensive ones for older readers who also happen to enjoy beautiful art? My favorite picture books are usually the longer ones and unfortunately, those are the kind I like to write, as well. I can't even imagine what a loss it would be to chop half the words out of Miss Rumphius, or Library Lion, or Farmer Palmer's Wagon Ride.
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Offline Franzilla

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #11 on: June 17, 2014, 08:10 AM »
I think it's all about the quality of the writing/illustration and pacing. Some longer PBs will see my kids restless, others will hold them spellbound. Sometimes a longer PB simply hasn't been edited as viciously and that's why the kids get restless, I think. The text includes too-long descriptions or dialogue tags that aren't necessary, for example. I find myself avoiding those books but it's not just because they're long, it's because the story simply isn't told or illustrated well.


Personally, I'd like to see more pictures in adult fiction books! I love reading a chapter or section, then taking a breather to look at an illustration, to ponder on how the illustrator has interpreted a scene or to give me a taster of what's to come.


Interesting topic!

Offline AnnH

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #12 on: June 17, 2014, 08:26 AM »
These great comments all make perfect sense, but how I wish the market would turn back to higher word counts. Why can't there be two levels of picture books: short fun ones for story time and more extensive ones for older readers who also happen to enjoy beautiful art? ....

 ^^
 This.
 
Perhaps the lower-word-count books could still be picture books and the higher-word-count books could be picture-story books, and categorized as such in libraries and book stores.
  :bookclub

Offline Artemesia

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2014, 09:34 AM »
Oh totally.  :yup

I think it would help to be famous enough for publishers to let you do whatever you want. (Then maybe the rest of us could slip in unnoticed) :lol4

(And aww, thanks Kell.  :hug  )
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Offline mrh

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2014, 01:28 PM »

 Perhaps the lower-word-count books could still be picture books and the higher-word-count books could be picture-story books, and categorized as such in libraries and book stores.
  :bookclub


We used to have picture storybooks. One of my favorites is Many Moons by James Thurber. That line "surfeit of strawberry tarts" gets me every time. That part of the market has faded. I think it's for all the reasons already given: Parents reading aloud want short books, long text "outlasts" the pictures, parents and teachers are anxious to get kids out of PBs and on to chapter books earlier, plus picture storybooks often ran 48 pp. instead of 32. (Maybe because more words do need more art?) So, expense is a biggie, and why spend the bucks to produce them if they think parents and teachers will skip over them? My guess is they're just too big a market risk.
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Offline SarahW

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #15 on: June 19, 2014, 11:01 PM »
So there was a time when they did longer picture books?

I remember one of my favorites as a kid was Peter And The Wolf.

Mine tend to run around 276 words at most.:/

Offline Robertvs

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #16 on: June 19, 2014, 11:06 PM »
It might also be that if kids can read at that level then they might want to just skip longer picture books and read heavily illustrated chapter books?

From my experience as a kid, the longest picture books I had were probably BERENSTAIN BEARS and the only reason I would read them was because I like the characters. If it was some other story with different characters, I wouldn't have been interested and might have been put off by the length.

I would probably have thought to myself, "I'm a big kid. I don't want to read a baby book. I want to read a real book that my parents read"

Thus, my next stage of my reading wasn't longer picture books, but actually GREAT ILLUSTRATED CLASSICS. I liked the stories and I had the pictures to keep me interested. In fact, even as an adult, having read the unadapted unabridged classics, I find myself wanting to re-read to see how they adapted it.

Maybe I always had an liking to classics? Maybe it's the only things my parents would buy me? Whatever the reason, even if I have read a long picture book, I don't recall any from my childhood.

Offline Kell

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #17 on: June 20, 2014, 06:33 AM »
The best Berenstain Bears books, in my opinion, are the original rhymers!

But I wish for more illustrations in general (more work for my illustrator friends!). My nine-year-old reads 400 page middle-grade novels when they interest her, but they interest her more when they are illustrated. More pictures in MG please!

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Offline lkstanek

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #18 on: June 20, 2014, 09:30 AM »
My bet is simply that publishers saw the shorter-text PBs selling better (maybe not because they were short, but because some short ones caught on and got a lot of buzz) so they started leaning toward those short texts. Perhaps preschool teachers find that the short ones work better for their younger set (in addition to working for the older set), and that might help push the shorter texts as well. In general I think that publishers have to worry about sales first and foremost, so I think that's likely what has driven this change. Maybe someday the tide will change. Maybe not!

Offline Debbie Vilardi

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #19 on: June 23, 2014, 12:29 PM »
I have never met a child who didn't like Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things that Go. Both of my kids, at age 3, sat for the whole book. The whole book took about 45 minutes to go through. We outlawed it at bedtime for this reason. It's 48 pages and the pictures kept up with the words. Of course, we also had to find Gold Bug on every page.

My nine year old also reads middle grade, but he'll pick up a graphic novel or picture book too. Some of the graphics might qualify as longer picture books. It depends on the themes.

Offline elizabeth-mcbride

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #20 on: June 29, 2014, 08:39 PM »
Thank goodness for Peachtree and Charlesbridge! Language is supposed to be heard and given enough attention to support the story and reveal it to the discovering reader. For the language to be be interesting and rich, it needs some room.  We are using the picture books as a regular part of teaching reading comprehension and writing in the upper grades. They are perfect for the amount of time we have, and the ideas can be complex and stimulating. We study the structure of the text, the language, the plot, setting, characters, POV, narration, use of dialogue, etc. We have very little that is new that we can use because the publishers are not aware of the educational need and use! It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Only the shorter ones will sell, because that is all that is being produced.  And that will be taken to mean that the market will only support picture books for the early ages. Eventually they will be right and we will not have the longer, beautiful experiments in language and pictures.

Offline Arona

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #21 on: June 30, 2014, 05:49 AM »
What Elizabeth said!   :fireworks
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Offline SarahW

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #22 on: June 30, 2014, 12:05 PM »
What is considered long? 636 to like 737 is about average here.:/ (Unless I pulled like an all nighter, 20 nights in a row. Never going to do that again.)

I remember the Berenstein Bears books, I also remember that one storybook with like some Bunny-bear boy or something that went camping with him. Don't remember how long they were though.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2014, 12:27 PM by SarahW »

Offline Marcia

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Re: Why are publishers becoming averse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #23 on: July 01, 2014, 05:37 AM »
The books I mentioned are considered long. Miss Rumphius is the shortest at 1243 words. Farmer Palmer's Wagon Ride is 1809 words. Many classics are close to 2000, such as A Birthday for Frances -1912 words.
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Offline SarahW

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Re: Why are publishers becoming averse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #24 on: July 01, 2014, 10:24 AM »
Would someone averaging 1,000 word be considered borderline? That's usually what I average on a good day, or if I'm taking three days to write a longer short story.

The one I'm checking out now, is about 1,450 words. Though it was written in 2002.

Offline iyerani

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Re: Why are publishers becoming adverse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #25 on: July 06, 2014, 06:21 PM »
These great comments all make perfect sense, but how I wish the market would turn back to higher word counts. Why can't there be two levels of picture books: short fun ones for story time and more extensive ones for older readers who also happen to enjoy beautiful art? My favorite picture books are usually the longer ones and unfortunately, those are the kind I like to write, as well. I can't even imagine what a loss it would be to chop half the words out of Miss Rumphius, or Library Lion, or Farmer Palmer's Wagon Ride.

Longer PB are called sophisticated PBs. They have become rarer in recent years.

Offline Artemesia

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Re: Why are publishers becoming averse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #26 on: July 07, 2014, 10:31 AM »
So I had a couple editors reject a dummy my agent sent out saying it was too sophisticated. So do you mean they were talking more about length?? I had no idea that's what that meant. I thought they meant language difficulty/story (it was a hardboiled noir). And it was about 750 words. I did have one editor say it was too long for their tastes, and two who suggested I write it as a chapter book. (I may do that now that I've published chapter books)
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Offline Debbie Vilardi

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Re: Why are publishers becoming averse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #27 on: July 07, 2014, 09:06 PM »
We have a noir picture book on our shelves (self published, and/but good - I know both author and illustrator. It's called Hal, the Hamptons Hound. ) I remember getting one with an insect as the detective from the library; it wasn't self pubbed. That was too long ago for me to remember the title.

I've heard these longer picture books called picture story books.

Offline Artemesia

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Re: Why are publishers becoming averse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #28 on: July 08, 2014, 07:35 AM »
Debbie, was it Ace Lacewing? I haven't read it yet, but I came across it when I was doing mine. I think Charlesbridge published it.
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Offline AnnH

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Re: Why are publishers becoming averse to longer picture book texts?
« Reply #29 on: July 08, 2014, 08:20 AM »
Are The Little Engine That Could and Blueberries for Sal considered picture books these days?