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My PB doesn't want to be a PB, Help!

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Hi everyone, I've finished writing my 3rd picture book and this one's at about 1800 words. Is it still a PB or has it turned into something else? Should I try and chop it down to 500 words? Have any of you written longer picture books? Any advice is welcome! Thanks in advance!
#1 - September 08, 2020, 01:30 AM

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:welcome Hema.

First, don't panic. Sometimes a first draft can be wordy. Brevity is key in PB, with room for the illustrator. So it's time to revise. Cut, cut, cut anything that can go. Also consider whether this is fiction or nonfiction--NF tends to have more leeway, but still I try to shoot for under 1200 words.

Second,  perhaps what you've written is an outline for a longer book. Consider whether your story is really a PB--subject, language (PBs should have richness), picturable elements. Would this work better as a chapter book or novel or even as a magazine story?

Happy writing and revising!
#2 - September 08, 2020, 07:43 AM
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Hi,

You got some great advice from Vijaya! I once submitted a picture book of about 1500 words to an editor, and she responded, "I think you have a middle grade novel in here that's trying to get out!" She was right; I revised and lengthened, and it was published about ten years ago as a middle grade novel. Best wishes!
Aloha,
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#3 - September 08, 2020, 10:09 AM
PB CALVIN'S LAST WORD, Tilbury House 2020
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YA SECRETS IN TRANSLATION, Fitzroy, 2018
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Congrats for writing your third manuscript!

You received fantastic advice. If it's fiction, under 1000 words is best and many say under 600. (I personally keep mine under 500 and often under 400.) Word count isn't what determines the genre of your story though. How old is the main character? Which audience would the situation/main character appeal to the most?

Once you figure that out, you can decide if you should streamline to turn it into a picture book. You might have descriptions that should be left up to an illustrator, wordy areas that can be cut, etc. If it's a picture book, illustrations need to tell at least half  the story (yet the manuscript needs to make sense to agents and editors--not easy, but so worth it).

I've had picture book manuscripts that needed more room to breathe. I remember how scary it was when I first heard it from critiques...but made the main characters older and turned them into 30,000+ word middle grade novels. Because I wrote PBs first, I found my language a little too sparse, but as I read more middle grade novels, I realized how much more wiggle room I had with my text. And now I absolutely love writing both picture books and middle grade novels.

Play around, have fun, and discover what your story needs to be (hopefully with some feedback in our Online Critiques area or other critique partners). I'm sending tons of great revision vibes your way!  :star2

Here's a great post about word count/genres by agent Jennifer Laughran: http://literaticat.blogspot.com/2011/05/wordcount-dracula.html
#4 - September 08, 2020, 02:04 PM

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You have great advice already. It's hard to answer this without knowing more about the work. Here's the link to Online Critiques: https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?board=121.0.

I've also written something that I thought was a picture book that turned out to be an outline for something longer. Consider the emotion in the piece and whether  it's in there. If not, there's a good bet you have an outline for something longer.

Further tips for cutting (and some repetition of what's been said):

Watch for repetition. This can be great in PBs, but it has to serve the story.
Watch for telegraphing. This is when you tell the reader something will happen and then show it happening. "Jenny will go to the store. She gets in her car and drives a few blocks. She parks in front of the store." They say you should show and not tell, but if nothing important happens on the way to the store, this whole thing can be replaced. "Jenny went to the store." (Make every word pull its weight and every scene be worth its weight in words.)
Cut things that will be illustrated unless they matter. Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse will be shown, but the author (Kevin Henkes) keeps the two descriptors. They matter to Lilly, are fun to read, and even warranted inclusion in the title.
Focus on a single plot with maybe one minor subplot. (Often subplots in picture books are only in the images.) More than one plot is a sure sign of work for older readers.
Stay in the POV of a picture book aged reader. (You can stretch the language with an omniscient narrator but your themes and main character have to fit this target---childlike adults and objects/animals are substitutes for the child reader.)

That's all I can think of off the top of my head. I hope it helps.
#5 - September 08, 2020, 06:43 PM
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You've given me some great ideas. Thank you, Vijaya!

:welcome Hema.

First, don't panic. Sometimes a first draft can be wordy. Brevity is key in PB, with room for the illustrator. So it's time to revise. Cut, cut, cut anything that can go. Also consider whether this is fiction or nonfiction--NF tends to have more leeway, but still I try to shoot for under 1200 words.

Second,  perhaps what you've written is an outline for a longer book. Consider whether your story is really a PB--subject, language (PBs should have richness), picturable elements. Would this work better as a chapter book or novel or even as a magazine story?

Happy writing and revising!

#6 - September 16, 2020, 08:33 PM

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These are some great tips! Lots to think about. Thank you so much, Debbie!

You have great advice already. It's hard to answer this without knowing more about the work. Here's the link to Online Critiques: https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?board=121.0.

I've also written something that I thought was a picture book that turned out to be an outline for something longer. Consider the emotion in the piece and whether  it's in there. If not, there's a good bet you have an outline for something longer.

Further tips for cutting (and some repetition of what's been said):

Watch for repetition. This can be great in PBs, but it has to serve the story.
Watch for telegraphing. This is when you tell the reader something will happen and then show it happening. "Jenny will go to the store. She gets in her car and drives a few blocks. She parks in front of the store." They say you should show and not tell, but if nothing important happens on the way to the store, this whole thing can be replaced. "Jenny went to the store." (Make every word pull its weight and every scene be worth its weight in words.)
Cut things that will be illustrated unless they matter. Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse will be shown, but the author (Kevin Henkes) keeps the two descriptors. They matter to Lilly, are fun to read, and even warranted inclusion in the title.
Focus on a single plot with maybe one minor subplot. (Often subplots in picture books are only in the images.) More than one plot is a sure sign of work for older readers.
Stay in the POV of a picture book aged reader. (You can stretch the language with an omniscient narrator but your themes and main character have to fit this target---childlike adults and objects/animals are substitutes for the child reader.)

That's all I can think of off the top of my head. I hope it helps.

#7 - September 16, 2020, 08:38 PM

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Thank you, Tori. I'm trying really hard to bring it down to 500 words, but I've looked at it so many times now, I can't see what else I can cut. Maybe I should put it away for a bit and come back to it later.
Hi,

You got some great advice from Vijaya! I once submitted a picture book of about 1500 words to an editor, and she responded, "I think you have a middle grade novel in here that's trying to get out!" She was right; I revised and lengthened, and it was published about ten years ago as a middle grade novel. Best wishes!
Aloha,
Tori :palmtree :pizza :books3

#8 - September 17, 2020, 03:19 AM

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Mindy, your comment gives me so much hope. Thank you!
Congrats for writing your third manuscript!

You received fantastic advice. If it's fiction, under 1000 words is best and many say under 600. (I personally keep mine under 500 and often under 400.) Word count isn't what determines the genre of your story though. How old is the main character? Which audience would the situation/main character appeal to the most?

Once you figure that out, you can decide if you should streamline to turn it into a picture book. You might have descriptions that should be left up to an illustrator, wordy areas that can be cut, etc. If it's a picture book, illustrations need to tell at least half  the story (yet the manuscript needs to make sense to agents and editors--not easy, but so worth it).

I've had picture book manuscripts that needed more room to breathe. I remember how scary it was when I first heard it from critiques...but made the main characters older and turned them into 30,000+ word middle grade novels. Because I wrote PBs first, I found my language a little too sparse, but as I read more middle grade novels, I realized how much more wiggle room I had with my text. And now I absolutely love writing both picture books and middle grade novels.

Play around, have fun, and discover what your story needs to be (hopefully with some feedback in our Online Critiques area or other critique partners). I'm sending tons of great revision vibes your way!  :star2

Here's a great post about word count/genres by agent Jennifer Laughran: http://literaticat.blogspot.com/2011/05/wordcount-dracula.html


#9 - September 17, 2020, 03:21 AM

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