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Early reader vs Picture Book

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Sending out a question before the conference begins!

I just got told that 700 words is too long for a picture book, and that 500 words is the absolute limit if you're hoping to sell a manuscript.
Which led me to believe that a picture book of over 500 words must be converted to "early reader" or "middle grade" for hopes of a sale.

I'm not familiar with word count limits for early readers at all....but what are your thoughts on writing early readers? I was led to believe that early readers are written by publishing houses, and that there's no market for external writers to submit early reader manuscripts.

Also, I thought "middle grade" was for a completely different age group e.g. Ages 8 and up. Has anyone written a middle grade book manuscript that was aimed at younger kids?
#1 - February 19, 2021, 02:45 PM

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I have sold one picture book that is around 700 words. The rest are much, much shorter. Some are under 200.

I have written early readers, as well. They were submitted in the same way that pb texts are submitted. But early readers are a totally different thing. It would not be easy to convert a pb into an early reader. Generally speaking, I wouldn't recommend it. There's much more to it than word count. Also, early readers are much harder to sell, particularly as a new author.

I'm not an expert on MG but I suspect that converting a PB into an MG would basically be impossible. I mean, maybe you could use a seed of the idea.

I suggest you read lots of picture books and take notes on the ones you really like. You can look up their word counts. It's also a great exercise to type out the text in order to get an idea for how it flows with the page turns, and how it looks without illustrations.
#2 - February 19, 2021, 03:04 PM
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I have sold one picture book that is around 700 words. The rest are much, much shorter. Some are under 200.

I have written early readers, as well. They were submitted in the same way that pb texts are submitted. But early readers are a totally different thing. It would not be easy to convert a pb into an early reader. Generally speaking, I wouldn't recommend it. There's much more to it than word count. Also, early readers are much harder to sell, particularly as a new author.

I'm not an expert on MG but I suspect that converting a PB into an MG would basically be impossible. I mean, maybe you could use a seed of the idea.

I suggest you read lots of picture books and take notes on the ones you really like. You can look up their word counts. It's also a great exercise to type out the text in order to get an idea for how it flows with the page turns, and how it looks without illustrations.

Thanks Diana
I've read so many picture books and looked most of them up on the word count website and discovered they were upwards of 700 words! So I was really shocked to hear that 500 is the limit.
What do you think about converting a Picture Book into a Chapter Book? Can it be a chapter book with only 700 words? Or would you be forced to increase the wordcount
#3 - February 19, 2021, 03:20 PM

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Yes, early readers aren't necessarily written in-house...

To convert a PB manuscript into a chapter book involves much more than increasing the word count. As an editor, I suggest that only when the PB manuscript I'm working on is not ONLY long but also has themes and characters that belong in chapter books. But you'd still need to rework such a story into chapter book structure.
#4 - February 19, 2021, 03:35 PM
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PBs are their own animal because of the rich interplay between the words and pictures. Also, you can expect that a parent or teacher will be reading these to the children so vocabulary is not an issue. But EZs and CBs are meant for children who are learning to read on their own and developing mastery so you expect them to have a simple plot, simply told. There is elegance in the simplicity.

I highly recommend what Diana says--really study some PBs, EZs and CBs to get a feel for each type of book. And typing up the text and seeing it apart from the pictures is a good way to see it in ms format. For a longer CB, write a chapter summary for each chapter to see how it's constructed. It's a very good exercise in outlining.
#5 - February 19, 2021, 04:05 PM
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Mii, study books published within the last year or two. But also, don't take 500 words as set in stone. Use as few words as possible to show the story. Don't use any words that would be clear from the images. Some editors will take longer PBs, especially in nonfiction. Some publishing houses lean that way too. But super short is the trend today. (The pendulum swings, so we'll see if it swings back.)
#6 - February 19, 2021, 06:46 PM
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