Thursday, June 19, 2014

Basics, Part 2: Does your book measure up?


How long is a children’s book?

Figuring out how long your kids’ book should be is easy:  you start typing at the beginning, and stop when it’s long enough.  Or do you?

In the first post in this series, Basics, Part 1: What is a children’s book? we looked at the most simple definition of a children’s book: 

  1. Pages between covers
  2. Aimed at young readers
  3. Usually illustrated
  4. All about story

I’ve talked a lot over the last little while about points 2-4, but not so much about #1, namely – how many pages should be between your covers?

I’ll tell you in a second.  In fact, I’ll go one better and give you a handy chart.

But first – I want you to remember that word lengths and all this technical stuff has NOTHING whatsoever to do with #4, “all about story.”  Your children’s book is primarily about story, and when you’re writing your first draft, just write. Don’t even think about word length.

But after you’ve let it steep for a while (the most important part of the writing process), come back to it and see what you’ve got on your hands.  Who’s it for?  And is it the right length?

On the chart you’ll see in a second, you can look things over and over to try to figure out where your book fits in.

Why is that important?

A lot of newbie writers simply write their story until it’s done, then send it off to an editor.  Trouble is that editors – and readers – have come to expect certain standard lengths when they get a book from a writer (or pick up a book in a bookstore, or flip through it on 

If your book doesn’t “feel” right – in terms of length – then it doesn’t matter what else is great about it… it won’t go far.

Your book’s length and other specifications will be determined largely by the audience – ie the children who are reading it, or who are being read to.

The handy chart

This handy table lays out what word lengths, page counts, etc.  Page counts shown are for the final book – when we’re talking about your manuscript, page counts will vary because you’ll be using double-spaced, Arial/Times New Roman, 12 point.  No fancy fonts just yet – especially if you’re submitting to a mainstream publishing company.

Who are you writing for…?

Who? Ages? Type? Pages? Words?
Babies Ages 0-2 Board or cloth books Under 15 pages Under 100 words
Toddlers Ages 1-3 Board, lift-the-flap, other novelty books Under 15 pages Under 300 words
Children Ages 4-8 Picture books (paper pages or board) 32 pages Max 1500 words; under 1000 is better
Little readers Ages 6-8 Smaller size than picture books Under 64 pages Under 2000 words; under 1500 is better.
Beginning chapters Ages 6-9 Smaller size than picture books Under 64 pages Up to 3500 words in short chapters (depends on age).
Chapters Ages 7-10 Closer to adult-sized books, fewer illustrations (perhaps 1-2 per chapter) Varies Up to 10,000 words, in medium to complex chapters.
Middle grade Ages 8-12 Adult sized books, 0-1 illustrations per chapter. Varies Up to 40,000 words, in chapters only slightly less complex than adult books
Young adult Ages 12-up Adult-sized books, few or no illustrations Varies Up to 70,000 words; can vary with genre.

Despite how important all this information is, probably the worst thing you can do while you’re writing is to have a copy of this table in front of you or even to think about how long your book is “supposed” to be.  Just write.

But even though you’re not thinking about these numbers, page counts or word counts (manuscript or otherwise), make sure you’re visualizing your reader as you write.

Think about who you’re writing for:  who’s going to love your story?

If you’re not writing to your reader… you’re sunk.  No amount of correct word length can fix a broken story.  But if you picture your reader as you write, and tell him or her your story as it unfolds, you can always stretch or shrink your story a bit later on to fit the mold.

Word lengths, page counts, and all that stuff may determine what your book looks like when it hits your readers hands… but the story you weave determines what it looks like inside their hearts.

I’d love to hear more about your process.  How important is word length to you as you write your story / stories…?

More helpful information about how long your book should be:

More in this series:


  1. Good post and helpful. Love the chart. Beryl

    1. Thank you for saying so, Beryl. I'm really glad you stopped by!

  2. Hi Jennifer
    I do as you suggest; I write and write, let it steep, then re-write. Let that steep, and re-write. I try to find the language in its most abbreviated form without losing the impact or essence.

    For me (illustrator), there's a sweet spot where the illustrations take up the storytelling, so the text can "relax." You might think that I have all the art in mind as I write, but that's not always the case. Often I'll do another re-write as I complete the illustrations – finding that I don;'t have to say everything the illustrations demonstrate.

    1. Mark, exactly- I am an illustrator also and tell my clients not to "over describe" when my illustrations can do it better. Why say the monster was a big purple creature with yellow fangs, just say it is a big scary monster (but let ME know your thoughts on what it looks like) and my illustration will tell it so much better!

    2. You're both completely right, and it's great hearing it from an illustrator's perspective. I found this Writer's Rumpus post very meaninful: You know you're done when you're half undone. Sounds counter-intuitive, but I'm sure it'll makes perfect sense to you as illustrators.

  3. Dear Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod,

    This is a useful article. Many writers do not realize that publishers will often reject manuscripts for children if the stories exceed the appropriate word limits that you have posted. Also, I agree that an author needs to write a draft first and then edit for word length and reading level. If writers obsess about total words and grade level before they start a story, they can't be very creative.

    Best wishes for the summer!

    Janet Ruth Heller
    Author of the award-winning book for kids about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, hardback--2006, paperback--2007, e-book, audio, and Spanish edition--2008, 3rd paperback edition and iPad app--2012)
    Website is

    1. @Janet: Exactly! It's important, but the story should come first while you're gearing up to write... :-)

  4. Agree with Tyler.. I let my illustrator/husband describe through his eyes to make my nonfiction so much more meaningful without overdoing the word count.

    1. Love that - "illustrator/husband." What a great job description! (I have one of those as well - we're working on a project together for the first time...)

  5. Don't use Roman, the 'a' is not the one they will be taught when early readers. Use Comic Sans or any other one that has an 'a' the way they are taught in kindergarten,

    1. That's an interesting point. Although I remember seeing the fancy g (curly) and a in books as a kid and being fascinating, I can also see where it would confuse readers. As self-publishing kids' book writers, you're right that we have to take responsibility for the whole package, not just the word. Thanks for stopping by!


As always, I love to hear from you.