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Writer's Room => Picture Books (PB) => Topic started by: KMT on June 20, 2012, 12:42 PM

Title: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: KMT on June 20, 2012, 12:42 PM
Has anyone had an editor tell them that a text of 500 words was "too short for a standard-length picture book"?

Especially considering that this was about a rhyming picture book with plenty of story (prince, evil wizard, "damsel in distress"... yes, there's a twist at the end!) and a stanza breaks accounting for a single page or sometimes a two-page spread for a 32-page book, I'm puzzled!
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: Vijaya on June 20, 2012, 02:23 PM
Nope ...  but considering what the content is, most of these sorts of stories are more picture-story-books. That said, submit it elsewhere ... because folks want short PBs with plenty of action and yours sounds like it reads at a rollicking pace.
Good luck, Vijaya
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: DianaM on June 20, 2012, 07:07 PM
No! 500 seems very reasonable. Even ideal, from what I've heard.

Perhaps they meant that there aren't enough varied/distinct illustration opportunities?

The description sounds really fun though!

If it's just one opinion, I wouldn't worry. Opinions vary.

Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: Kell on June 20, 2012, 07:48 PM
Who was the editor??? Because I write a bit long and I struggle to cut! 500 words sounds like the target most editors want.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: DonnaE on June 20, 2012, 08:13 PM
hmmm... maybe they just didn't feel it was right for them. I dunno! Send that baby out again!

Or if you are feeling unsure, send it out for another critique round and get some feedback first. Then revise according to what you think works and submit to other editors!
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: 217mom on June 20, 2012, 08:36 PM
DonnaE's chiming in reminded me that Flashlight specifies they are looking for longer stories. But they are unusual.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: DonnaE on June 20, 2012, 08:59 PM
That's true... they are one of the few pubs out there specifically asking for longer manuscripts. BUT, some of their stories are not that long. I believe that Jodi Moore's fabulous book, WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN, is under 500 words.

I could go get our copy and count the words...but it's late. And I'm lazy tonight. Maybe Jodi will chime in?
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: SYoon on June 20, 2012, 11:17 PM
That's true... they are one of the few pubs out there specifically asking for longer manuscripts. BUT, some of their stories are not that long. I believe that Jodi Moore's fabulous book, WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN, is under 500 words.

I could go get our copy and count the words...but it's late. And I'm lazy tonight. Maybe Jodi will chime in?

DRAGON is 397 words. I just checked. (sorry for the ugly link. I don't know how to make it pretty!)
http://www.renlearn.com/store/quiz_home.asp?cmd=specific&i=224405&root=TITLE&ftextoption=allwords&y=When+a+dragon+moves+in&q=When+a+dragon+moves+in&x=10&w=1&autoscroll=NO&quiztype=ALL&RPMatch=

And if you need to check any other published pb's for word counts,... use this link. Just type in the EXACT title, click on it,... and it'll show the word count.

http://www.renlearn.com/store/quiz_home.asp?c=MA+05%3A90%3A1+2102%2F12%2F6
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: DonnaE on June 21, 2012, 04:05 AM
Oooh SYoon! Thank you! I am going to use that when doing my research on chapter books and such. Fabulous!

Sooo... back to the original topic... does that help, KMT? You could research different companies and the pbs they publish and get a good idea if the length of yours fits in. Then you can see if the topic fits, too. KWIM?
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: Just Jodi on June 21, 2012, 10:41 AM
Chiming in (sorry, I just saw this)...

Yes, Flashlight does indicate they look at longer PBs. When I first queried (they ask for queries only - they will request via email if they want to see the manuscript), I was told DRAGON was a bit short for them, but Shari agreed to take a look...and (still *Tigger dancing*) ended up taking it.

So maybe this would be a good fit, KMT. Flashlight is amazing to work with! *sends out love to entire Flashlight family* :love4: Jodi
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: KMT on June 21, 2012, 01:59 PM
Thanks, everyone, for the replies. I've wondered if there was a trend toward longer picture books and was hoping there might be, because I do have a couple of manuscripts that... well, they just aren't "short." :)

The editor did praise the manuscript otherwise; this gave me hope, especially because it's a rhyming picture book and we've all read the warnings about that! It's out to other editors who I hope like it even more. (For who this was, see my recent post in the Response Times topics.)

I will keep fingers crossed for everybody!
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: TMarie on June 21, 2012, 07:08 PM
I went to a First Pages event in March of this year and the word from an editor who attended was, 400-800 words for PB's today.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: CaroleB on June 27, 2012, 02:26 PM
I'm a bit confused. I've been hearing pubs want SHORT pbs, fewer words, so my writing is very sparse these days, but I just saw a pub that wants 1500 words. What's going on? This is wild.
I can't imagine a 1500 word pb. I mean how much telling would a book like that have? Show, don't tell, yanno?
I need to figure this out. *SIGH*

Thanks for the link, Salina.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: KatyD on June 27, 2012, 02:51 PM
As I mentioned, I've been hearing shorter is better as well, but you never know. There may be a particular reason why a publisher is looking for longer works. But, having said that, I wouldn't necessarily immediately think that they want "more telling" to fill out that word count. I would think maybe they would want a more involved storyline, a slightly more complex plot. Thoughts anyone?

I still think that it all comes down to writing the best, tightest story you can in which you tell a complete, engaging story, with a distinct beginning, middle, and ending.  :grin
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: DonnaE on June 27, 2012, 03:58 PM
Many of my books are right at 1,000 words.  Some I have been able to cut down to less than 900 words, but in all the books i believe there is plenty of room left for the illustrator.  Longer doesn't necessarily mean someone is doing a lot of telling.

Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: Pam on June 27, 2012, 07:03 PM
My math adventures are 1500 words. I needed that much because of the difficult math concepts. I think it's too long, though. I've tried to shorten them but the shortest is about 1100.

My trade books run around 650. 500 sounds fine to me.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: taralazar on July 07, 2012, 07:05 PM
I did have an "editorial consultant" tell me that 500 words was too short and that I had room to add 500 more words. However, this person had just re-entered the business after several years of not working in publishing and was not aware of what had changed during her hiatus. I was puzzled until I found this out, then I dismissed her advice. Good thing I did because that book is now under contract.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: AmyD on July 08, 2012, 09:57 AM
500 is what I have been hearing is the "sweet spot" for pbs right now. That being said, I was at a conference last year where an editor at Random House was asked about word count and said, "around 1000 words," was just right. Also, MARATHON MOUSE was right around 700 words when I sold it, and I was sure I was going to have to cut during edits. Imagine my surprise when I was asked to add things! But the things I was asked to add really make the story better, and my hope is that it won't feel long when people read it.

SO, all that to say, it varies.  :)
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: taralazar on July 14, 2012, 12:04 PM
I wanted to add to this discussion and see what others think about lengths increasing.

It is my belief that picture book lengths may start rising again, at least for the upper part of the age range. I think the general industry perception that parents want shorter books to put their kids to bed is now waning. I think that some parents thinks some books are too short to warrant spending the money on them. (Especially if parents feel they aren't re-readable.) I don't know if this is truly the case, it's just a feeling I get from talking to some local parents who are not in our business. And everything in this business tends to be cyclical...so...I see a rise coming in the future...perhaps...

What are your thoughts!
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: Kell on July 14, 2012, 03:22 PM
Hmm, Tara, I hope so! I definitely believe there need to be good picture books for older kids (PK-2) because they're such good stories to share.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: JennaWren on July 14, 2012, 05:12 PM
I hope so, too. While I've enjoyed many newer picture books with very few words, I miss the longer stories that allow the author to do more with characters and plot. I think the shorter-is-better trend led to too many "picture books" that were actually almost concept/board books. Nothing I'd spend $16 on for a hardcover (unless it was a blueboarder, of course!  :) )

Still, I continue to be amazed by those who can do such incredible things in under 300 words!
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: Franzilla on July 14, 2012, 06:01 PM
As a parent I used to shy away from very text-heavy picture books for my daughter (ie those that are well over the 1000-word mark) but that's because I always read her three books before bed, so a very long story would get her to bed late! Now, though, she seems more able to handle longer texts - she doesn't need a new image for each new paragraph. And, funnily enough, she has started rejecting picture books with just a line on each page, saying they're for babies. This, despite the fact that some of her favourite PBs feature just one line per spread! (Chicken Cheeks is one example. Mo Willems pigeon series being another.) I definitely like 'getting my money's worth' from a PB and being able to spend time reading it is part of that – which means more than just a couple of lines on each spread UNLESS the book is hilarious, fantastically clever or something equally spectacular (as the above examples are). Getting my money's worth might also be down to the illustrations - anything by Caralyn and Mark Buehner, for example, is value for money because you can spend hours hunting for animals/forms in the clouds/shadows etc.

I think it's far harder to make a picture book with so few words but I think Mr Joe and Mrs Jo Public just can't see that so they're probably less likely to splash their cash on something that, to them, looks as though it's not value for money.

Blimey, what a waffler I am. Not feeling very succinct today! But in brief, I agree with your belief!
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: JennaWren on July 14, 2012, 06:27 PM
Ah, yes, that's a good point -- it *is* incredible difficult to write/illustrate quality, complex stories in few words. Those who can are my heroes!

My favorite such book is "Goodnight, Gorilla." Now that is a book worth the price! I can't tell you how many hours we spent poring over the illustrations, and how the kids delighted in following one detail (like, the floating-away balloon) for pages. Then, we read again to follow another small detail. And so on. It continues to delight the kids, even though they know it by heart.

On it's surface, say, a quick flip-through at the bookstore, a title like that -- with so few words, mostly all saying "goodnight" -- wouldn't seem worth it. But it so is. I think for word-light books, amazing illustrations can truly tip the scale from "eh" to "awesome!".
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: 217mom on July 15, 2012, 09:22 AM
I wanted to add to this discussion and see what others think about lengths increasing.

It is my belief that picture book lengths may start rising again, at least for the upper part of the age range. I think the general industry perception that parents want shorter books to put their kids to bed is now waning. I think that some parents thinks some books are too short to warrant spending the money on them. (Especially if parents feel they aren't re-readable.) I don't know if this is truly the case, it's just a feeling I get from talking to some local parents who are not in our business. And everything in this business tends to be cyclical...so...I see a rise coming in the future...perhaps...

What are your thoughts!
We can hope, Tara.
It wasn’t long ago that I was a parent of very young children. It was also about the time I started writing PBs with publication in mind.
I started with much longer stories than the current market embraces, in the 1000-2,000 range. I grew up reading and re-reading these, (I wasn’t read to much) and kept the best for many years as books of both art and literature. I wanted to pass the same experience to my kids, both of whom were very early independent readers. (They read themselves and were read to, as family-time, everyday.)
There were still some books of that text-length to be bought then, only ten years ago. You know what? They are still the books my kids have kept and didn’t pass onto others.
I have learned that I can write a full PB text of almost any length, from 200 to 1,000 words. But what I wish the market had more of are the longer richer real-stories of yore, that long-long ago of only ten/twenty years.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: DianaM on July 16, 2012, 05:15 AM
If you get the pacing right and make sure that every word counts, a longer manuscript can move along quickly. Conversely, even a short manuscript can feel long if the pacing is off, or there's no compelling reason to turn the page, or there are unnecessary descriptions.

Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: LoriA on July 17, 2012, 10:45 AM
DianaM, I've heard that exact same argument for the super successful BETTY BUNNY LOVES CHOCOLATE CAKE. It's 1075 words, but moves along so quickly, it feels much shorter.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: DianaM on July 17, 2012, 04:17 PM
That's a great example, Lori! I didn't even realize it was that long.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: Stephen on July 18, 2012, 02:41 AM
At the SCBWI winter conference they were saying 800 word count
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: CarrieLee on July 18, 2012, 10:40 AM
Chiming in a bit late, but I'm on that upper end of the scale word count wise.  My first PB with Flashlight Press, (wave and hugs  :grouphug2 to the other Flashlight family members out there)  Victricia Malicia, was accepted at 800 words and ended up published at around 750. 

My second PB, just accepted by Holiday House is currently only about 650 words, but it could change  in either direction as it progresses.   

A third, under serious consideration (fingers crossed) weighs in at a whopping 925.  But I'm not counting that chicken, or it's words, just yet.  (please, please, please... lol)

I dream of the days when really rich stories could be accepted regardless of word counts, small or large. My childhood would have been sadder without great books like the Lorax and Blueberries for Sal.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: LoriA on July 18, 2012, 01:56 PM
Agreed! I'm a big MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL fan. It's 1688 words.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: frogs on July 18, 2012, 03:09 PM
Agreed! I'm a big MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL fan. It's 1688 words.

Wow! That seems like a lot of words.

 :frog: :frog: :frog:
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: taralazar on July 20, 2012, 02:52 PM
I love BETTY BUNNY and I bought the newest one last month--BETTY BUNNY WANTS EVERYTHING!
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: AnnS on August 27, 2012, 08:11 PM
My PB's tend to be between 1,000, and even 1,200 words (getting shorter as I go along) and my sense is that this is a lot of text compared to much of what's out there. I'm tremendously surprised -- but kind of reassured -- that an editor thought 500 words was too short for a PB.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: CarrieF on August 29, 2012, 06:12 PM
Oh, I LOVED Mike Mulligan growing up. It was one of my favorite books, and my kids now love it, too.

I'm not sure where this idea that people want only short picture books got started -- though there is merit to the bedtime limitation. The fact is, I think many parents ARE reading their kids longer picture books. They're reading them the classics.

While on the subject, does anyone else sometimes get annoyed by wordless/sparsely worded picture books? Some of them are so wonderful and I love the illustrations BUT as a parent I sometimes get annoyed by having to make up the words that go along with the pictures when I'm tired and in the middle of 5 other things. I was reading one a few months ago and I thought I should really just write down the words that I say on each page so that I don't have to make them up/remember them every time. Oh well -- at least it's a good writing exercise!
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: crookedbook on September 05, 2012, 12:52 PM
Carrie F - as a mom of two I do get annoyed by wordless/sparsely worded picture books, especially if the illustrations are lacking. Hey, it's 8pm, I've been running around all day, and now I have to invent text for someone else's book? Sometimes fun, usually irksome.

Anyhoo, on the same topic, I'm thinking of submitting to Flashlight. Their submissions page requests MS in the 1000 word range. Most of my work is 450-600 words, and the story I plan to submit will probably be about 650/700 tops when I stop messing with it. Wonder if that's too short?
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: CarrieF on September 05, 2012, 05:10 PM
Oh, good. I thought I was the only cranky one.  ;)

I don't know much about Flashlight, but I think they are really onto something with their longer PB length, and I've been impressed with the books I've seen from them. Good luck!
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: LoriA on September 06, 2012, 08:45 PM
Last year, Flashlight published WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN by the fab Jodi Moore. It's just shy of 400 words. So 700 is not too short...don't go adding words if you don't need them!
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: Christy on September 07, 2012, 03:23 AM
I attended the SCBWI pb workshop in Orlando with Andrea Pinkney (scholastic) and Sylvie Frank (Holiday House) and they both said between 500-800 words. Less is more. I did a blog post on the workshop here: http://christinafarley.blogspot.com/2012/06/scbwi-florida-picture-book-intensive.html

I found the workshop so intresting since I maily write YA and I was surprised at all the specific rules in pb. Like avoid showing which directions characters are moving (let the illustrations show this). And also really relying heavily on the illustrations to show the story as well.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: crookedbook on September 07, 2012, 07:53 AM
Christy, that's a great link. Thanks!

LoriA, good advice - as usual :)
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: G.R. on September 07, 2012, 03:11 PM
I attended the SCBWI pb workshop in Orlando with Andrea Pinkney (scholastic) and Sylvie Frank (Holiday House) and they both said between 500-800 words. Less is more.

Good to know. :yup In the "Red and Blackie" series (five PBs about a pair of squirrels who are brothers) I've been working on, I've edited down or brought up each story to 600-700 words; depending on illustrations, I may end up bringing them down closer to 500 each...
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: taralazar on October 03, 2012, 11:37 AM
When I started writing PBs 5-6 years ago, they were 1500 words, 1300 words. Very wordy. Eventually they became shorter and shorter...900, 800, then down to 600 and 500. One we just subbed is 350. However, I just wrote a longer picture book that is not "wordy" like my earlier works. Those 992 words are crucial to telling the story. I know the "rules" and I have broken them, but with good reason--the story could not survive in a lesser format. Now we just have to wait and see if an editor agrees!
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: taralazar on October 14, 2012, 02:07 PM
OK, the 992-word story was approved by my agent and is getting subbed beginning tomorrow! It's a long one, but I believe it's a great story (ha ha, don't we all) and I hope it finds a home!

I truly believe story trumps all--tell the best story you can. Some stories need more words than other stories.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: christripp on October 15, 2012, 02:06 AM
What I am finding, now that I babysit my 3.5 year old granddaughter off and on, is if the reading last too much longer then the picture viewing, she turns the page before I have finished. She has a decent attention span for these days so it's not that, it's an age thing I think. She wants to get to the next Illustration, the text seems to need to keep up with the art:)


Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: DianaM on October 15, 2012, 07:48 AM
Yay! Great news, Tara! Here's wishing you a speedy sale.  :clover

I agree that story trumps all.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: KatieC on October 15, 2012, 03:01 PM
That is awesome, Tara! Good luck!
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: Robertvs on June 25, 2014, 01:54 AM
Old but...
When I started writing PBs 5-6 years ago, they were 1500 words, 1300 words. Very wordy. Eventually they became shorter and shorter...900, 800, then down to 600 and 500. One we just subbed is 350. However, I just wrote a longer picture book that is not "wordy" like my earlier works. Those 992 words are crucial to telling the story. I know the "rules" and I have broken them, but with good reason--the story could not survive in a lesser format. Now we just have to wait and see if an editor agrees!
(my bolding emphasis)

This is my favourite way of approaching picture book length. Find the optimum amount for what the story is about and stick to that. You may also need to consider story length and target audience.

For example GOODNIGHT MOON couldn't really be 1000 words, nor could, say, OH THE PLACES YOU'LL GO be 100 words.

To further the 'suitability' argument, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE wouldn't really work as a short story without pictures, nor would WAITING FOR GODOT (not a picture book or for kids, I know) work as a picture book.

In my favourite creative works - books, movies, music, sculptures, etc. - the content and medium both fit pretty much perfectly.
Title: Re: picture book length (a question with a twist)
Post by: SarahW on June 25, 2014, 09:41 PM
Maybe one of my manuscripts isn't to long after all. :P (Around 1637 words, so I would need to cut 137 words.)

I'm still more suited for below 1,000 words though.:/