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Beyond the Picture Book

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 :bewildered
I need help in deciding the best genre to characterize my writing: picture book, storybook, or MG?

I have written several stories in the 900-1000 word count range. I know this is too high for picture books yet I envision my writing to be read to 4-8 year olds. I know things have changed and word count has decreased over the years for picture books. I don't find much on storybook criteria or submission and the main thing that  categorizes MG is ages 8-12, which is so broad. People who read my stories suggest MG but to me that requires much more than the story I have. Easy chapter books are a world of their own.

Are there publisher guidelines for storybooks? What exactly does MG mean? Is there a word count for MG? Know any publishers that may be interested in longer stories?

I'd appreciate any thoughts.

Bewildered,
Karen
#1 - June 18, 2015, 07:45 PM
« Last Edit: June 18, 2015, 07:49 PM by karen-condit »

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A couple of thoughts:

First off, your best bet is probably to go out and read a selection of books from each of these categories. Aim for titles published in the last five years. Think about the kids who would like your books. Which of the categories would work for that type of reader? Ultimately it's the target audience more than the word count that determines the category of a book.

If your stories really work for the 4-8 age range, picture books are probably what you're trying to write. It's almost always possible to cut a couple of hundred words from a story. Try revising them a little more ruthlessly.

Alternatively, if you think older kids would like the stories, you might think about the magazine market. 

MG novels typically start around 20,000 words.

I hope that helps as a start. If you give a bit more information, someone might be able to give you more targeted advice.
#2 - June 18, 2015, 09:11 PM
Twitter: @MelissaKoosmann

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Here in Australia, a Chapter Book is the next step up from Picture Books. They are for emergent readers, and have slightly longer stories than Picture Books, with the occasional line drawing illustration. Maybe this is what you have written.
#3 - June 18, 2015, 11:14 PM
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Melissa has given you excellent advice. Read, read, read in the genre you want to write. If your stories are 900-1000 words, is it possible you've written a picture book but did not leave room for the illustrator to tell their side of the story? Perhaps you might consider taking one of your stories to a picture book workshop or maybe take an online picture book class.
#4 - June 19, 2015, 04:30 AM
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Karen, I just saw this free picture book webinar posted in education! It might be something you'd like to attend. https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=77022.0
#5 - June 19, 2015, 05:14 AM
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Middle grade is for 8-12 year olds who are reading independently. These are the youngest books that can be called novels. Most Newberry winners fall into this category. Your manuscripts are far too short to be MG. 1,000 words is also too short for the early chapter book category (books for children transitioning from picture books to novels - Junie B. Jones, Horrible Harry and Judy Moody are chapter books.)

It is most likely that you have written picture books or short stories. Read some of both to decide which. (You'll find stories in magazines for kids.) The key differences come from the illustrations, which tell part of the picture book story.
#6 - June 21, 2015, 08:45 PM
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Hi Karen,

I'm a debut author so I don't have the wealth of experience that exists otherwise on these boards but, I can share this nugget which echoes similar advice.

I had also written several manuscripts about the 900-1000 word mark (after culling it down from about 1400!) and they were my first manuscripts ever. I thought I had edited it as far as I could.

The feedback I got from my editor when I shared them was that they were looking at 300 words (500 max) for a picture book and I should try and go through and remove whole sentences where I've described something that could easily be communicated in pictures. When I did this, I shed approximately 700 words!! By doing this, I also realised that the story took on a whooole new secondary narrative in the picture content which added greatly to the one that was being told through the words. It's completely changed my way of writing.

I will admit, this process was easier for me than most because I also illustrate but perhaps the advice I can give is to share your manuscript with someone like an illustrator (or someone who thinks in pictures) and ask them to do the same for you. It requires a great deal of confidence from yourself, and a lot of trust but you might be pleasantly surprised about what comes out the other end if you're open to letting an illustrator explore the possibilities of where the text could go. This is something that Debbie alluded to.

Another important point is not just about length, but about the complexity of the words themselves and whether they're suitable for younger or older readers. Obviously words like Cat, Dog, Mouse are easier than things like "Dubious, Promotion, Catapult"... that have more complex meanings and so on that younger brains will struggle with. Should the book be read by a parent to a child? Or are you expecting the child to read it for themselves?

Hope something there was helpful.  :-)
#7 - June 21, 2015, 11:49 PM
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Thank you, Matt. Your advice is very helpful. I see my situation like yours. I will work at pairing down and finding an illustrator to read my stories. I had never thought of that.

I found an article that did speak to the differences between picture books and storybooks. (How Do I Break Into Children's Writing, by Jane Friedman) It says a storybook can be double the word count of a picture book, forty-eight pages, has a plot with a main character, and generally that character encounters a problem, works out the complications and finds a solution. I know a picture book can also have these story elements. I think having a great story tops word count guidelines, yet I can't ignore what the market is asking for. I've had good feedback from editors and publishers—finding the right place seems to be part of the problem. I've thought of looking into magazines as suggested by another post.

I am a retired reading specialist so I know books quite well, yet I know that doesn't make me an expert in writing so I will keep at it!

By the way, I did listen to the webinar suggested in previous posts.

Thanks Matt, and others, for your help.
Karen
#8 - June 22, 2015, 03:58 AM

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Wow, thank you all for the fabulous advice! I always have such a hard time at defining this issue in my own writing.
Reading a lot is truly helpful, as it shows you clear examples of subjects like age range, word count and vocabulary in action.
#9 - August 14, 2015, 07:49 AM

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I used to publish storybooks, but they really don't seem to be selling much these days. An editor I know says she hasn't sold a pb that's longer than 500-600 words in three years. If you just love the story the way it is and can't really bear to cut it anymore, than go for it. Or put it away and try again when things change (and sooner or later they will).

Or give it to a writer friend and ask him or her to help you shorten it. The truth is that you can almost always cut a story down, even though I know it hurts. Your emotional investment in your writing might be keeping you from seeing where it could be trimmed. A writer teacher of mine used to say, "If you've written a passage you'd die for, take it out."

I have an article on the different genres for children (in the U.S.) on my website that might help. Go here:

http://www.ellenjackson.net/book_genres_for_children_123774.htm

Good luck!
#10 - August 14, 2015, 09:38 AM
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Thank you so much for sharing this blog post, Betsy! It's truly informative! :)
#11 - August 15, 2015, 06:18 AM

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Many thanks for the helpful guidelines, Betsy.
Enjoyed your website.
Karen
#12 - August 16, 2015, 06:50 PM

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