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Longer picture books?

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The Sunday New York Times online has reviews of two picture books. One is 40 pages, the other is 56.

Are editors now open to longer PBs?

Thanks,
Gatz
#1 - September 17, 2012, 12:00 AM
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I have heard there is a trend toward longer picture books. Right now the super short ones are targeted really young, but there are certainly longer ones with stronger narratives too. For example, the Ladybug Girl series is really popular, and many of those are over 900 words.
#2 - September 17, 2012, 04:33 AM
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I think both of those authors were already established with some pretty major successes under their belts, so it's kind of different.

Writing something with more than the standard number of pages might be a particularly hard sale for a debut because it's more expensive to produce.

But you can write longer text that is still formatted as the "standard" 32 pages.

The main thing is to make it good.
#3 - September 17, 2012, 06:24 AM
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Not sure which two books you are talking about, but a 40 page book could actually be very close to a 32 page book, if it has endpapers. When there are endpapers in a pb, it takes away from the total page count instead of being 40 pages + end papers. There ends up being maybe one extra spread over what a 32 page book (without endpapers) would have.

The 56 page book seems long though. Which book was that? I found several 40 page pbs on the NYT site, but not the 56 page one. I might have been looking in the wrong place though.
#4 - September 17, 2012, 06:45 AM
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Regarding page count, here is a quote from Editorial Anonymous:

Printers set bundles of paper sheets into the cover in sets of four. Once bound in, and counted front-and-back as pages, those four sheets make 16 pages. This is a signature. A 32-page book has two signatures of paper in it.

It costs a little extra to split a signature into smaller units, and so a publisher may be reluctant to do this. It is for this reason that many books have page counts in multiples of 16. (It is still possible to have a page count in a multiple of 8 or 4, but never 2--as you'll realize if you try building a book this way.)

So most picture books have 32 pages.


http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/2008/10/basic-book-construction.html
#6 - September 17, 2012, 07:12 AM
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
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Thanks for the link!
#7 - September 17, 2012, 07:24 PM
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Thanks, everyone.
#8 - September 18, 2012, 01:54 PM
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Funny you should post this because I was just discussing longer PBs yesterday.

I'm under the impression that the ever-shorter trend might be inching back up a bit. I feel as though there's been a lot of very slight PBs lately and readers may be longing for more story. Of course, I feel that there's room for all lengths/kinds of picture books (if they would just kick Dora/Diego/TV/movie books and toys out of the bookstores) but I especially miss some of the longer format.

The general belief is that parents are to blame for pushing their kids toward chapter books and novels at earlier ages. We've heard this a lot the last two years, ever since that infamous NY Times article. But I know my daughter in particular was one who clung to picture books as long as possible...way into 3rd grade (although her teachers would not let her check out PBs from the school library)...and in fact the only longer books she has read have been of the graphic type--Ellie McDoodle, Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries. This week she finally chose a Carl Hiassen book and I was so surprised, I had gotten so used to seeing her with graphic novels!

Anyway, since little to no market research is done in this area, it's up to the public to change the publishers' perspective on this. I know I've had manuscripts rejected not because they're too long, but because they're for the "older" PB range and some lists are focusing on the younger set instead.

If parents insist on more story, then books may get longer. But it may be tough considering all the apps that now play games and tighten attention spans...

Anyway, it's a debate for the ages. Longer, shorter...why can't we all just get along? LOL
#9 - September 24, 2012, 02:41 PM
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Thanks, Taralazar.  Very interesting points.

My impression, judging by the near-unanimous consensus during the plenary marketing session with all the editors at the 2001 SCBWI New Jersey conference, is that the great majority of all editors (perhaps ordered by marketing types) do not wish to see PBs over 500 words, with a few exceptions like free-thinking Steve Meltzer at Dutton/Dial. With his record, maybe he's not someone the marketing people can push around.

I wonder how much of this is dictated by the marketing types, who seem mainly concerned with what grandparents will buy for 2-5 year-olds, and the older kids who would like more substantial stories can just get lost. And, of course, "shorter attention spans" is used to justify any decision. The little ones I know do not have attention spans that are all that short. They all seem to be disappointed that the PB stories that I read to them aren't longer.

I know, I'm setting the marketing execs up as fall guys. Maybe so. They do have to answer to the boards of directors, and ultimately it's stockholders' greed that drives these decisions.

Gatz
#10 - September 26, 2012, 11:06 PM
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A higher page count doesn't necessarily mean that the word count is higher. I'm still hearing the 500 words or fewer at conferences and the longer pbs I've seen at the store lately still have short texts.
#11 - September 27, 2012, 09:20 PM
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Agree that word count and page count are different things, but disagree that longer (more words) picture books aren't being published. It just depends on the topic and target age. I guest blogged about this on Cynsations not too long ago: http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2012/04/guest-post-mara-rockliff-on-writing.html.

Gatz, did you mean 2011??? I'd be curious where those editors were from . . . I've sold picture books of 700, 800, 900 words and up to Candlewick, Knopf, Peachtree, Houghton Mifflin--seems like a reasonably representative assortment.
#12 - September 28, 2012, 05:52 AM
« Last Edit: September 28, 2012, 05:57 AM by Mara »
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Quote
A higher page count doesn't necessarily mean that the word count is higher.
Stephanie, that's what I was trying to point out but you said it much more clearly! :)

As a mother, I find that anything over 1000 words gets difficult to finish in one sitting. My daughter (7) reads picture books on her own now. It takes her longer to read and she also likes to stop and pore over the illustrations and discuss them (I love that about pb's!). So it's a long process.

Also, I feel that books in a series can get away with being longer because readers are already hooked on the characters. Someone mentioned in another thread that the Ladybug Girl books sometimes approach 1000 words, however, the first book in the series was only about 720 words.

FWIW, the picture book manuscripts I recently sold were 500ish and 700ish words.

But as Tara said, there's room out there for all sorts of books.

I wonder if they say "500 words or less" at conferences because new writers tend to make their manuscripts too long and descriptive? That must have something to do with it.
#13 - September 28, 2012, 06:40 AM
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
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http://www.dianamurray.com

Thanks for the link, Mara. Great post!
#14 - September 28, 2012, 06:48 AM
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I'm on the long PB team! The ones I've written are 650-900 words (alas, none contracted yet). There is a push towards chapter books for first and second grade, but four- and five-year-olds certainly aren't ready for them, and my children at those ages (and including my now-seven-year-old) enjoy more story (especially school stories), 700 words or more.

Many agents prefer author/illustrators instead of authors alone, and anecdotally, I'd say that author/illustrators tend to have less text to their stories. Is it a chicken and egg thing? Author/illustrators are easier to sell, so agents think shorter is best and want it from everyone? Or is the "problem" that parents buy more toddler books (since toddlers like to reread endlessly) and use the library for preschool and older (we reread library picture books two or three times only, perhaps check them out again eventually)?

Just musing. I do agree that picture books over a 1000 words are often too long -- we read one recent one at 1500 words that definitely got tedious. And yet it was published -- the paperback came out this year (hardcover 2007).
#15 - September 28, 2012, 07:03 AM
« Last Edit: September 28, 2012, 07:07 AM by Kell »
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My daughter is six and definitely prefers longer books. She always has, even when she was 3. She'd go for Berenstien Bears and I'd groan. She still loves picture books, but she is slowly moving on to chapter books, and I think it's just because they offer the length she is looking for.
#16 - September 28, 2012, 10:18 AM
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I just wrote a LONG picture book (1000 words) with a very strong sales hook and no wasted words. I don't know if it will get picked up, but it's a story that's been brewing in my head for about 2 years and I finally got it down on paper. Although it's 1000 words it's not "wordy". Nothing in the story is unnecessary. Still, I think the length just might turn some editors off.

But I read Neil Gaiman's "8 Rules for Writers" yesterday and he said one rule was to write the story how it's meant to be written and do it with confidence, even if it goes against the grain. I LOVE this story. I'm CONFIDENT about it. So we'll see!

My agent is reviewing it now and I'm dying to see what she says!
#17 - October 01, 2012, 06:43 AM
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Tara, I agree 100% with Neil Gaiman about that rule. Especially for experienced writers who know what makes a good story.

Hope your agent loves it!

#18 - October 01, 2012, 06:53 AM
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
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Thanks, Diana!

And you sold a pirate story when many editors were saying "no more pirates"...so you know what you're talking about!
#19 - October 01, 2012, 07:56 AM
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True -- you have to write the stories RIGHT.

This is a secondhand story, but one of my friends was at a conference where an editor was talking about their new lead PB title, and then mentioned that they wanted PBs under 500 words. The friend pointed out that the lead title was over 1000 words.

The editor said that was the right length for that particular book, but they STILL want PBs under 500 words.

I suspect that they want books under 500 words until they get a book they like that's longer.  So hopefully that's Tara's, Mara's, mine, and all of the longer writers.
#20 - October 01, 2012, 08:13 AM
Kell Andrews
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Bottom line is that editors want good stories! And they never know in which form good stories will arrive.

They say "500" because many new writers (who are the majority of conference attendees) write long without being tight, or write too descriptively and don't leave room for illustrations. (Plus you know the old joke, I wrote you a long letter because I didn't have time to write a short one, LOL.) And yes, the bulk of PBs are in the 500-word range.

There are general rules, but rules can definitely be broken. One of my picture books is completely in dialogue! That's typically a no-no (no "talking heads"), but I made it work.
#21 - October 01, 2012, 08:40 AM
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