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Writer's Room => Picture Books (PB) => Topic started by: Rena on June 17, 2008, 03:52 PM

Title: Picture story books
Post by: Rena on June 17, 2008, 03:52 PM
What's the difference between a picture book and a picture story book?

I saw Verla Kay mention it in a thread, but when I searched, that was the only reference to it.  Is the difference word count?  I'm curious because I have a fiction story that's about 1995 words.  I've managed to cut out over 500 words today, after having the darn thing put away for awhile.  The main character is 5 years old and I wrote it with 4-8 year olds in mind.  I pictured it being a story that a parent would read to their child, not so much one they'd read on their own.  I don't know if I should change it and try to market it as an early chapter book, early reader or a picture story book.  Does anyone use "picture story book" anymore?

Sorry if this has been addressed before and I just didn't find it.  This board is huge! 
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: carrots on June 17, 2008, 04:56 PM
My understanding is that the text and illustrations of a picture book are equally important - even interdependent - whereas the text completely tells the story in a picture story book and the illustrations are supplemental.  Based on word count, age range, and your vision, what you've described sounds exactly like a picture story book.

  I don't know if I should change it and try to market it as an early chapter book, early reader or a picture story book.  Does anyone use "picture story book" anymore?

Gosh, I wish I knew.  I'll be eager to learn what others say about this, too.  :)
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: carlynnw on June 17, 2008, 05:22 PM
I have the same understanding as carrots.  In case you are interested, the excellent by "Writing with Pictures" by Uri Shulevitz contains a section on picture books v. picture storybooks.
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: Betsy on June 17, 2008, 05:50 PM
Chapter books are much easier to sell these days.  The market for picture story books has really diminished--unless you have a truly unique and commercial theme.

Ellen Jackson
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: Rena on June 18, 2008, 06:37 AM
Thank you carrots, paperdoll and Betsy.  I appreciate your replies. 

Some of the best advice I've found on this board are comments people made about putting your manuscript away for awhile and come back to it later.  I wish I had known to do that before I submitted it!  After having it on the backburner, I got it out yesterday and have been able to cut the word count down a lot.  I am around 1925 now and before it was close to 2500.  I think my biggest surprise is that not much changed in the story.  I studied it more and am leaning towards an early chapter book, so maybe I can work that way. 

Paperdoll -- Thanks for your recommendation on "Writing With Pictures".  I would like to read that so I hope to get a copy of it soon.

Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: ghost on July 04, 2008, 11:47 AM
If I remember it correctly -- I learned it a while ago -- the general consensus goes something like this:

> PICTURE BOOKS sometimes referred to as picture story books. Usually for ages 4-8, about 32 pages, manuscripts between 1000 and 1500 words. Plots are pretty simple and most often only one main character. Profuse illustration, as important to the story as is the text, on every page or two. 

> EARLY PICTURE BOOKS - While technically for ages 4-8, have more appeal to ages 6-8.
Usually no more than 1000 words.
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: Rena on July 04, 2008, 05:42 PM
Thanks ghost.  That makes sense.  It's confusing for me because there are so many forms of a PB.  There's the longer one with a full story that seems like it's supposed to be read to a child by an adult.  Then there are the ones that are simple sentences to go with illustrations that aren't really telling a detailed story. 

Not hard to confuse me --  :duh
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: ghost on July 04, 2008, 08:06 PM
Rena, it really can be confusing. There are so many categories that on the surface can seem fairly identical.

I haven't written picture books for quite a while. My concentration is on MG and YA. So again, I offer up the folowing from memory pnly,

After Picture Books comes the category of Easy Readers -- For youngsters who are beginning readers -- in general, 5-8 year olds. Subject matter a bit more serious, but written simply. Profuse color illustrations. Text generally 200-500 words but up to 2000 on rare occassions. Generalyy up to 64 pages maximum.

Followed by Transition Books -- ages 6-9 -- Longer than Easy Readers (about 30 pages). Some illustration but usually B&W. Primarily written like Easy Readers.

Followed by Chapter Books -- ages 7-10 -- Contains about 4 chapters and a total up tp about 60 pages. Subjects more advanced.

Followed by Middle Grade -- ages 8-12 and manuscipt up to about 150 pages.

I hope this helps.
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: Rena on July 06, 2008, 08:21 PM
Thanks ghost -- that helps a lot. 
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: Tammi on July 06, 2008, 08:31 PM
A picture story book has a much higher word count than a typical picture book. It is my understanding that picture story books are pretty hard sells. Editors, for the most part, are after pbs that are 500 words or less.

My advice? I would go back through the ms and cut every word that is not necessary to the story. If some of the text would be made obvious in an illustration, cut. If some of the text does nothing to advance the story, cut. If you have lots of adjectives and adverbs, cut.

Then cut some more. :)

If you decide to make this an early chapter book, you will have to go through the text and make it the sort of text a reader of an early chapter book can confidently handle.

Best of luck!
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: Rena on July 06, 2008, 08:55 PM
Thanks Tammi.  All this advice has been appreciated.  I'm at a standstill with this particular story I mentioned when starting this thread.  I did manage to cut it from something like 2400 to 1925 words, but it's still too long for an average picture book.  My problem is that there's a lot of dialogue and that's hard to illustrate.  I've tried to take some of it out, but the MC is a little boy who asks a lot of questions about a certain event, so, the dialogue plays a big part.  Whether I can work it into something sellable is another question, especially at the length.  I'm still playing around with the idea of making the words simple enough for an early reader or chapter book.  Lots to think about anyway ...

Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: taradawn on July 23, 2008, 10:16 PM
I consider some books by Trinka Hakes Noble to be wonderful examples of picture story books. Check out "The Orange Shoes" (my favorite book this year) and "The Last Brother" as examples. Also the "Brambly Hedge" series by Jill Barklem ("Spring Story", "Summer Story", "The Secret Staircase" these books).  I just came across a new PSB title a few days ago by a small publisher. If I find it again, I'll post it.

The stories are somewhat longer than a traditional PB, and in the case of Barklem's books, the illustrations are often opposite a full page of text. The illustrations complement the tale rather than carry half of it.

I wrote what I thought was a PSB last year, but it turned out to be a novel in disguise! You may find it easier to lengthen your tale than to continue cutting it down. I keep reading that publishers are looking for PBs to be around the 500-word mark, but there are still several who prefer closer to 1,000 (like Flashlight Press).

Good luck with your story!
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: Rena on July 24, 2008, 07:10 AM
Thanks Taradawn -- and everyone who responded to this thread.  I've had it on the backburner for awhile.  I should look at it again.  Atheneum Books said it "showed much promise", so maybe it's worth re-evaluating.  It has a lot of dialogue because the MC is curious about something and the only way he can learn is by asking questions.  I'm not sure if that's a disadvantage or not, since dialogue is hard to illustrate.  That's why I was thinking along the lines of an early reader.  Thanks again -- I'll see what I can do with it.

Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: MaudeStephany on July 24, 2008, 07:17 AM
I've been struggling to identify the difference between a PB and a PB story book... but I had an AHA moment just recently that made it all come together.

All Aboard the Dinotrain is a PB
Robert Munsch books are picture story books. 

I also recommend reading Jan Fields' article which is up in the Rx for Writers section at the Institute for Children's Literature - I think it's called "I Wrote It, What is It?" and really helped me put it together. (If you're reading this, Jan THANK YOU!) The ICLwebsite has a host of other transcripts from chats, as well as other articles about the art of crafting PBs - so read those too... that should help!

I now feel much more confident about my PB that I've slaved over... so much so that I think it's ALMOST ready to go. (It would help if I had money for postage, right???)

Maude  :broccoli
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: Rena on July 24, 2008, 07:22 AM
Thanks Maude!  I'll definitely check that site out too.  LOL @ needing the postage for it.  I usually get something all ready to go, only to find out I don't have enough paper or my toner is too low to print a decent copy.

 :goodluck with your story!
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: joanne30july on July 26, 2008, 06:53 PM
At a writing workshop I attended last fall, they claimed that picture books are books like Goodnight Moon, with very few words, and aimed at ages 2 to 4, while picture STORY books are longer, up to 1000 words, and aimed at 4 to 8 yr olds.   Library Lion is a picture story book (it's actually about 1300 words).

More recently, however, at a conference this spring, they didn't even mention picture story books.  Several editors and agents seemed to agree that, these days, picture books should be much shorter than 1000 words and preferably no more than 600 or 700.   Library Lion is apparently one of those rare exceptions.

In critiquing my picture story book, the agent assigned to me also told me that dialogue is very hard to illustrate and to "place on the page."   In other words, the 1100 word manuscript I'd submitted to her for the professional critique was way too long and talky for a picture book.  She said I either need to cut drastically (and get rid of some of the dialogue) or try to rewrite it as a chapter book.  I decided to put it away for a few months and let it rest.

Right now, I'm working on a new pb.  Have managed to get it down from 960 words to 748 words.  Guess it's still too long.  Arrghh!

So glad to hear I'm not the only one who needs to cut and cut some more.    Good luck with your manuscript, Rena!

Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: Rena on July 26, 2008, 09:23 PM

Thanks for your reply and the insight you've gotten at conferences.  That's interesting.  It's puzzling because my boys are ages 6 and 8 and they prefer having a story read to them, verses the much shorter picture books out there.  I keep hearing people saying how picture story books are harder to sell and from what you said, it sounds like houses aren't even interested in them much.  That's sad because for my own kids, they love books like that.  It's definitely something to think about.  Thanks again.

Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: taradawn on July 27, 2008, 10:07 AM
Rena, what I've heard is that publishers are looking for shorter PBs, even for the 4-8 year-old set, because today's parents feel especially crunched for time. They still want to read to their children, but they want it to be quick. At least that was my interpretation of the information I've collected here and there.

I recently started shopping my shortest PB--573 words. My others are 1200, 1000, and 800. LOL!  I get shorter every time.

Interestingly, an editor I met commented on a first page of a manuscript (which included info that the total word count was 600) and she said something like, "That's really short. It's over before it begins." So she's someone who likes the longer stories. Flashlight Press wants to see PBs that are "close to 1000 words." They don't want them much shorter.

I think shorter PBs may be just a general trend and we may see a swing back to longer picture books. But that's just a guess. Different publishers have different preferences.

My daughter also enjoys being read to and will sit for a longer title. In fact, when I get done with some books she says, "But that was a really short book!" She's often disappointed the tale doesn't go on longer. So I wind up reading 3 or 4 books to her a night, whereas we would enjoy reading just one if it were longer. I think many kids 4-8 can handle a longer story, and they still want to see pictures. I don't know why picture story books aren't more popular.
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: buglady5 on July 27, 2008, 10:22 AM
So many different angles to look at here, with regard to word counts and what pubs. want, etc.  The most consistent guideline I hear at conferences is a pb can't be longer than 1,000 words, but the easiest to sell are those under 500.

Now, as a teacher, this really bothers me.  Some of my favorite pbs that I like to use in my classroom are longer than 1,000 words, and not because the author was too wordy or too talky.  (BTW, most of these were published more than a decade ago...)  I'm thinking Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, for example.  (Not totally sure what the word count is, but I can picture the amount of text on a page, and it SEEMs longer than 1,000 to me).  These stories have some meat in them - not just bones.  I love these stories, and use them as models when we do author studies and writers' workshop.  I understand that parents are pressed for time, because I'm one of those parents.  But I wish that word count wasn't such a defining factor for pub. houses these days.  Some of the world's best authors write pbs that have higher word counts:  Frank Asch, Eve Bunting (not all, but some of her work), Jane Yolen, Patricia Polacco, Cynthia Rylant, Jan Brett, Dav Pilkey...I suppose if you're one of these authors, word counts don't matter all that much in the eyes of a publisher.  Perhaps the lower word count push is due less to what parents want, and more to the fact that publishers know that newbie authors tend to make the mistake of being too wordy?

Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: Jaina on July 27, 2008, 10:56 AM
Word count on Owl Moon is 751.  It just seems longer because it's such a great read, I guess!

I tend to love the higher count PBs for the upper end of the PB crowd, too.

For a really young audience, I think many parents find that the longer word count doesn't quite hold 'em.  So they end up abbreviating the text on the fly.

I tend to think of PBs like Owl Babies (325) as being perfect for the little ones, Owl Moon as being great for the older ones, and Patricia Polacco books as being PBs for adults and older kids (8 and up?) to share.  Mostly because of the content, though.

I'd stick Henkes' PBs in the "middle" range (with Owl Moon) and interestingly enough, they mostly (Chrysanthemum, Lily, Julius) have ranges in the 1100-1200 range!  Doesn't seem like it, does it?  Maybe they count every little word that's in a word bubble, too.
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: Tammi on July 27, 2008, 12:39 PM
My first pb was around 700 words, but everything since has been quite a bit lower. YUCKY VALENTINES, for instance, runs under 350 words.

Some things to consider when trying to lower your word count:

Can you explain the same thing in fewer words?
Can you get rid of unnecessary adverbs, adjectives, and dialogue that might be bogging the text down?
Can a lot of your story be told through the illustrations rather than the text? (<--I think this is a BIGGIE. Many writers feel compelled to include Every Little Detail. The illustrations are supposed to tell half the story. So let them.)
Make sure every sentence is VITAL to your story.

Best of luck to everyone! :)

Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: Rena on July 27, 2008, 08:31 PM
Thanks for all of the replies.

Tammi -- I'm working on cutting this story down, but sadly it has a lot of dialogue and I know that's hard to illustrate.  I really need to sit down with it and see what I can do to either change that or take some of it out.  I think the subject would go well, especially since it's geared towards boys.

Very interesting stuff about the longer word counts verses shorter ones.  My boys are ages 6 & 8 and even though they're both reading on their own, they still love having stories read to them.  They're just not into the shorter stories, but I suppose that's because of their age.  We obviously read much shorter books when they were younger.  I just find it interesting how publishers are going for the shorter ones for the 4-8 year group because at that age, they can grasp longer stories and understand twists & turns better.  I hope it's not because publishers don't think parents take the time to read these longer stories to their kids -- we do!  My 8 year old reads these huge bird field guide books and can totally understand them, but at the same time, he still loves having a story read to him.

Lots to think about anyway --  :thankyou
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: HollyB on July 27, 2008, 09:07 PM
This thread has really helped me whip my wip into shape. It's actually not a wip any more. It's done. 1120 words, written for the "older" picture book crowd (5 to 9).   :thankyou
The comments about older children enjoying slightly longer picture books were encouraging, as I too have always felt this was true.
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: taradawn on July 27, 2008, 09:50 PM
Rena, like you, I hope my children never tire of having a book read to them! It's on of the most enjoyable parts of my day, winding down with them in bed and reading together.
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: lauriew on July 28, 2008, 06:13 AM
My husband was still reading nightly to our daughters even when they were in high school. Now he reads to me.
Title: Re: Picture story books
Post by: Rena on July 28, 2008, 08:14 AM
 :thanks2 This has been encouraging to me too.

I was reading Marianne Mitchell's "Gullywasher Gulch" and "Joe Cinder" stories to my boys and my husband overheard most of them and told me later that he thought they were cute stories.  Even though my 8 year old can read chapter books on his own, he still loves the longer picture story books read to him.  I don't think we ever really grow out of that, to be honest.

I definitely see the market being open to both, so that's why I was confused to hear so many editors are not interested in PSBs.