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Genres & Age Categories => Non-Fiction (NF) => Topic started by: elia-ben-ari on March 30, 2019, 01:23 PM

Title: Reading level for NF PB biography
Post by: elia-ben-ari on March 30, 2019, 01:23 PM
Hi fellow nonfiction writers-- I'm getting close to submitting my picture book biography and am wondering how concerned I should be about the Flesch-Kincaid reading level. I'm aiming for ages 7 to 11 or so for the trade market and my manuscript is coming out at a much higher grade level (7th). I think this is due primarily to sentence length.  How concerned should I be? Should I revise to make the sentences shorter on average? I've received one encouraging critique from an editor and when I asked her about this she told me that editors don't look at Flesch-Kincaid. I've typed out the text of multiple mentor texts and they come out anywhere from 4th grade to 6th grade reading level according to F-K. Many thanks for your insights.
Title: Re: Reading level for NF PB biography
Post by: dkshumaker on March 30, 2019, 05:27 PM
Hi Elia,
I've written a lot of NF PB bios but not have had any success in selling them, so take this with a grain of salt. But I would be a bit concerned about a reading level at the 7th grade. I understand that editors probably don't run MSs through the FK scale, but if the mentor texts are generally coming  out at 4th-6th grade, I do think that is likely what the market is looking for. I have definitely found that breaking up some (but not all) of my compound sentences helps to bring the "feel" down to a PB bio vs. an piece for older readers. Plus, having shorter sentences seems to pick up the pace of reading. I think it would be worth trying to do before you start to submit!

I hope others chime in.

Good luck!!!!
Title: Re: Reading level for NF PB biography
Post by: A. S. Templeton on March 30, 2019, 06:07 PM
My current 3rd draft 59Kw MG project scores fairly consistently in the various readability metrics:

Automated Readability Index: 6.6
Coleman-Liau: 8.9
Dale-Chall: 5.6
Dale-Chall Grade: 5 - 6
Flesch Reading Ease: 71.7
Flesch-Kincaid Grade: 6.5
with >75% of paragraphs scoring "easy to read".

Ignoring the Coleman-Liau outlier suggests that my project sits solidly at upper MG reading level, fine for the 11-y.o. protagonists and readers who enjoy a little challenge in vocabulary and complexity.

Did I set out to write at that level? No.

But as a writer, more important for me are such figures of merit as
Rich variability in sentence & paragraph length;
Low adverb %age in prose (I strive for <0.5%; many published works run at 2-3x that);
Excruciatingly correct grammar;
Low tagging of dialogue (I aim for <35%);
Weeding out local and global overuse or words & phrases.
Title: Re: Reading level for NF PB biography
Post by: Debbie Vilardi on March 30, 2019, 06:38 PM
One thing I've noticed with leveling non-fiction is that jargon can increase the level. I wrote a piece on the Indy 500. For the youngest readers, Indianapolis put me over on level. It's a very long word. I avoided it as much as possible.

I recommend looking at Lexile level over Flesch-Kinkaid. There is a free Lexile analyzer on their website. You do have to sign up for it, but I've used it for every leveled reader I've done. I also check my other work to make sure I'm not far above or below where I'd like the reader to be. (In fiction, it can indicate that your main character/narrator's voice is off target.) Check your level with and without terms that you must use that you know are more difficult. (Thanks to our very own Vijaya for this advice).
Title: Re: Reading level for NF PB biography
Post by: RebeccaL-G on March 30, 2019, 07:31 PM
 Flesch Kinkaid isn't a very helpful tool. Try ATOS. It's the Accelerated Reader (AR) leveling tool that most educational publishers use.  I use it for all my writing.
Here's the link

Nonfiction often skews a little higher than fiction with regard to reading level, but I would be very concerned with a 6th or 7th grade reading level for a pb format. 

One of my books (not a pb) aimed at grades 6-8 has a 7th grade reading level and has consistently been reviewed as YA nonfiction. Scholastic Book Clubs picked it up for their high school level book club.  I mention that because 7th grade reading level is often aimed at high schoolers.

Perhaps you can play with sentence and paragraph length to get it down. That's what I often do. tweaking it and rerunning portions of it through the ATOS leveler to see if my changes brought down the reading level.
Title: Re: Reading level for NF PB biography
Post by: elia-ben-ari on March 30, 2019, 08:00 PM
Thanks so much for all the helpful replies so far! (For some reason I can't figure out how to reply to your individual responses above.) I will check out the recommended resources and keep revising if necessary.
Title: Re: Reading level for NF PB biography
Post by: lauriew on March 31, 2019, 05:34 AM
Although my pb bios are longer and come out at a higher reading level (mathematics has four syllables), I've found even preschoolers can listen and appreciate them. Yes, older kids will get more out of them, but so will the littles. Do pay attention to those sentence lengths, though, since that's something you can fix to make it easier for your young readers. Good luck.
Title: Re: Reading level for NF PB biography
Post by: Vijaya on March 31, 2019, 06:57 AM
Debbie, thanks for the shout out. Elia, here's a link with several useful links:

NF does tend to skew higher on the FK level. Sometimes you can substitute a simple word (my favorite is cat)for the complicated one and you can see how simply the vocabulary can drop it down. But lexile is my favorite tool. Splitting a complex sentence into two is a quick way to bring down the level. However, unless I'm writing to a specific grade level, I don't worry about it at all. Too many short sentences can give a choppy feel to the story. You want yours to sing. Good luck!
Title: Re: Reading level for NF PB biography
Post by: elia-ben-ari on March 31, 2019, 09:13 AM
Thank you, Vijaya, for the useful links and advice, and Laurie for the perspective. As it happens, Laurie, your Grace Hopper bio is one of my mentor texts. 😊