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Exact word count?

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Another newbie question here:

When subbing a manuscript, how exact should the word count be? The word count of my PB is 1,082 (I know, I know). Can I say 1,000, or do I need to go up to 1,100, or should this be exact (or to the 5's)?
#1 - March 18, 2014, 10:52 AM

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I would  write 1,082. But unless it's non-fic you really need to get it closer to 500. That's what's selling today.
#2 - March 18, 2014, 11:02 AM
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Thanks! Most of what I'm writing is closer to 500. But this is a fairy tale -- tough to get that structure into such a tight word count successfully (and for this particular story, it WOULDN'T be successful). I don't think it reads wrong or particularly wordy -- there's just a lot of action in the middle.
#3 - March 18, 2014, 11:16 AM

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I actually have a follow-up question.

The agent I want to sub to asks for a query first, without an attached ms. I'd like to get beyond the query stage, and don't want him to be put off by the word count before even looking at the piece. Is it necessary to state the word count in the query? Their submission guidelines don't specifically state that this needs to be included, but will it look unprofessional if it isn't?
#4 - March 18, 2014, 11:24 AM

Hi Jennifer,


Since obtaining an agent is very important to many authors (I'm looking for one too) and the picture book market is very tight, it may be best to query with one of your shorter works. You wrote that most of your other writing is about 500 words. Make one of those manuscripts the best it can be and sub that to the agent.


Queries typically include the word count and the agent may not have stated their need for one in their guidelines due to that reason.


Just my thoughts though.


Brian

#5 - March 19, 2014, 06:55 AM

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What he said.
#6 - March 19, 2014, 07:21 AM
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#7 - March 19, 2014, 07:31 AM
« Last Edit: March 19, 2014, 12:09 PM by Brian H. »

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Thanks so much. Thinking about it, I'm sure you're right. I'm going to start by attempting to viciously cut away at my fairy tale. I don't think I'll get it to 500, but I'm sure I can get it well under 1000. If it's not working or it's still too long, I'll think about subbing something else.

You guys are very helpful (even -- and especially -- if you're not telling me what I want to hear)!
#8 - March 19, 2014, 01:33 PM

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Whatever you do (and it's a very good idea to reduce the word count), give the exact number of words.

Good luck!
#9 - March 19, 2014, 04:16 PM
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I used to read mss. for a living, and I can tell you that readers notice when an author deliberately misrepresents the word count. Having said that, a few words off--either way--is no big deal.

Cut it down, as others have said. Very few mss. can't be tightened.
#10 - March 19, 2014, 04:34 PM
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Agree with all the comments (especially about cutting it as much as possible). That being said, I've had PBs that might be 517 words, and I round to "approximately 500". Or just say 510.  :)


And, FWIW, I had an agent say that he appreciated my saying my MG word count was "46,000" rather than something like "45, 826."  :shrug:
#11 - March 19, 2014, 05:10 PM

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Jennifer,


You've gotten good advice here even though, as you say, sometimes it's hard to hear.


Do you have a critique buddy or group that can look at your manuscript and suggest areas to cut?


I'd be willing to give it a look, if you'd like, and others on this thread might, too.


Jody
#12 - March 19, 2014, 06:25 PM
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This is a great question. It's also where, I believe, the query letter is going to hold more weight than the word count. I attended a picture book workshop last year by Molly Beth Griffin in which she gave several examples of books that were way beyond the recommended word count, as well as several that were way below it. For those published books, it all came down to an exceptional query letter and good content.
#13 - March 19, 2014, 07:50 PM
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Jennifer,


Just sent you an email about exchanging some stories for critique. We should start with this one. Also, take Jody up on her offer. She's critiqued a few of my stories and her suggestions are awesome!


Brian
#14 - March 21, 2014, 07:12 AM

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Hi everyone -- thank you again for your advice! I actually rewrote it to develop the theme (which was originally quite muddy), and unfortunately it's now gotten even longer. Much, much longer. So I'm sure it will go to the archives, and I can just chalk it up to another learning experience.

BUT...

Jody, Brian reached out to me and I'll exchange with him, but I'd be eternally grateful if you could give it a read as well. Not any type of thorough critique (I'm sure there are lines that could be cut out, but that wouldn't do it), but if there's a section that you see that could be removed, I'd love to know. It's now well, well over 1000 words, so if it could get closer to that without absolutely gutting it, maybe that would give it more of a chance to see the light of day. If it would completely ruin it, though, well, the purist in me says that I'd rather not have anything with my name on it that I'm not happy with.

Anyway, let me know, and of course I'm happy to return the favor.

Thanks!
#15 - March 21, 2014, 08:55 AM

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Thanks, Brian. ;)


Jennifer, Happy to look. I PM'd you.
#16 - March 21, 2014, 04:47 PM
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I have read multiple places to use the exact word count unless otherwise specified. I would try and cut it down just a bit, but aiming for 500 is going to cut it in half and it doesn't sound like that would be good for the story. If you have written a memorable, beautiful story I am sure he would be willing to work with you to get it to a more appropriate length. I am a firm believer in "GREAT STORY TRUMPS ALL!"
#17 - March 28, 2014, 07:03 PM

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I am a bit confused. I thought picture book word count was supposed to be around 500-1000, depending on who you are writing for (audience).


But then, I am thinking of picture books for older elementary readers with more complex themes, content, language and sentence structure, such as Saltypie by Tim Tingle or Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco. Saltypie is around 1800 words and I haven't counted Pink and Say's words, but it is definitely a longer picture book. I'm not talking about beginning picture books or ones that kids are expected to read on their own.


What is the collective wisdom about these more complex types of picture books?


Thanks!


Kara
#18 - May 06, 2014, 06:07 PM

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Hi Kara,

The collective wisdom is that picture books are skewing younger and shorter. Patricia Polacco writes great books. I'd like to think they'd sell today if she were a first time author, but I'm not sure a longer one would. That said, use as few words as you can to do justice to your story. The story still comes first.

Also, note that non fiction word counts are higher.
#19 - May 12, 2014, 06:24 PM
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Thank you so much, Debbie!


Kara
#20 - May 14, 2014, 04:11 PM

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I wrote a longer picture book, around 1000 words, and my agent even liked it well enough to submit. We did so to about 5-6 places with no luck and the majority of comments were along the lines of "love the concept, but it's too long for our taste". I took it back and tried to cut. Got it down to 950, which really wasn't enough. I didn't think I could make it shorter. I had written plenty of 500-and-less manuscripts but this one was different, a little more complicated than my typical story. Finally, I gave it to a friend and she was relentless with her slash-and-burn. She got it down to 700! I was amazed. I didn't feel it had lost anything, but I did add some language back and ended up with 730 words. It's now being shopped at this shorter length and we'll see what happens.

While I'm not saying you can't sell a 1000-word picture book, your odds are just so much lower if you do choose to submit at that length. If you and crit friends have tried to cut significantly but haven't been successful, your story is probably best told in another format.

It's a shame that longer PBs are not being produced en masse, because I do believe there is a market for them among the reluctant readers who don't want to move to chapter books as quickly as their parents and teachers would like. Patricia Polacco's books are meant for that audience. (I remember being in second-third grade and still wanting pictures with my stories but being forced into novels.) I still read to my kids every night, and they're 7 and 11 years old, and we enjoy longer stories. I'm sure many families do.

Flashlight Press publishes 1000-word stories, but they only produce 3-4 annually, with perhaps 1 new author in that mix. So the odds, once again, aren't in our favor.

As writers, we can write whatever we wish, but there remains the fact that to be published, we do have to fit into some pre-ordained boxes. Sometimes we can break out of those boxes, but typically only after we've proven ourselves in the marketplace.

Good luck to you and your story. I hope it finds the perfect home.
#21 - May 29, 2014, 11:24 AM
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A good resource if you want to know the word count of a particular title is AR BookFinder US.  Just plugged in Patricia Polacco's PINK AND SAY and it's 3913 words, targeted to grades 4-8.  The ATOS reading level, though, is grade 3.8.  And it's worth noting it was first published in 1994.


Enter the title you're looking for in Quick Search, then click on the title for the detailed information. 


I agree that for an agent submission these days I'd go with my strongest (but not my longest!) manuscript just to up the odds.[size=78%] [/size]



#22 - May 29, 2014, 12:28 PM
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Regarding word counts, you can either give the exact count: "My book, (title), is 724 words."

Or you can round it off. If you choose to round off, the general rule is to round to the nearest ten words. You indicate that your word count is rounded by using the word "about." 
As in: "My book, (title) is about 720 words."

Despite their very long length, Trisha's books sell because she's built a reputation as a storyteller and because of her awesome artwork.
#23 - May 29, 2014, 09:49 PM
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