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picture book length (a question with a twist)

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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!
#1 - June 20, 2012, 12:42 PM

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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
#2 - June 20, 2012, 02:23 PM
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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.

#3 - June 20, 2012, 07:07 PM
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Who was the editor??? Because I write a bit long and I struggle to cut! 500 words sounds like the target most editors want.
#4 - June 20, 2012, 07:48 PM
Kell Andrews
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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!
#5 - June 20, 2012, 08:13 PM
Being Frank (Flashlight Press)
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DonnaE's chiming in reminded me that Flashlight specifies they are looking for longer stories. But they are unusual.
#6 - June 20, 2012, 08:36 PM
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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?
#7 - June 20, 2012, 08:59 PM
Being Frank (Flashlight Press)
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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
#8 - June 20, 2012, 11:17 PM

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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?
#9 - June 21, 2012, 04:05 AM
Being Frank (Flashlight Press)
http://flashlightpress.com/

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
#10 - June 21, 2012, 10:41 AM
WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN, Flashlight Press, May 2011
GOOD NEWS NELSON, Story Pie Press, Dec 2012

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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!
#11 - June 21, 2012, 01:59 PM

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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.
#12 - June 21, 2012, 07:08 PM

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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.
#13 - June 27, 2012, 02:26 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
#14 - June 27, 2012, 02:51 PM
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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.

#15 - June 27, 2012, 03:58 PM
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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.
#16 - June 27, 2012, 07:03 PM
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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.
#17 - July 07, 2012, 07:05 PM
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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.  :)
#18 - July 08, 2012, 09:57 AM
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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!
#19 - July 14, 2012, 12:04 PM
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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.
#20 - July 14, 2012, 03:22 PM
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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!
#21 - July 14, 2012, 05:12 PM

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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!
#22 - July 14, 2012, 06:01 PM

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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!".
#23 - July 14, 2012, 06:27 PM

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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.
#24 - July 15, 2012, 09:22 AM
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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.

#25 - July 16, 2012, 05:15 AM
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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.
#26 - July 17, 2012, 10:45 AM
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That's a great example, Lori! I didn't even realize it was that long.
#27 - July 17, 2012, 04:17 PM
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At the SCBWI winter conference they were saying 800 word count
#28 - July 18, 2012, 02:41 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.
#29 - July 18, 2012, 10:40 AM
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Agreed! I'm a big MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL fan. It's 1688 words.
#30 - July 18, 2012, 01:56 PM
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