Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Book Lengths

This posting could technically fall in the WWYWWQ category as any young writer would have to think about how long a book should be.

The answer to the question is that it varies depending on the genre and in many cases, the publisher's guidelines.

As an author, we are basically not concerned with page lengths of books in the beginning. Everything is measured in word length when writing.

You have short stories, children's picture books, early readers, chapter books, middle grade, YA and then your adult genres which also may have varying lengths depending on the genre and again, the publisher's specifics. If a publisher wants a 70,000 word mystery, as an author, you will do your best to write over 75,000 words knowing that a good bit of it will get cut in the editing process. The main focus of this posting is going to be children's books, specifically middle grade stories.

Here are the general ideal book lengths: Resources found here and only one was utilized but most of the sources agree or feel the same length as is represented here are pretty standard acceptable lengths. Don't rely on one specific source, so do your own research and remember to write your stories as per the guidelines and geared towards your specific audience.

Board Book — 50 words max (these are what they say they are and are usually only 6 or 8 boards per book, so every word has to mean something. Most of these are teaching books, colors, numbers, shapes, et cetera)

Early Picturebook — 300 words max (early picture books are geared for the newborn to very young toddler; parents read the story but mostly the kids are entertained by the pictures, so this is where a good illustrator comes in)

Picturebook — 700 words max (Seriously. Max.) (picture books are one of the hardest children's books to write because they are so limited on their words. When you think about 700 words, your typed story will probably be no more than 3 pages long, very short and concise, every word has to count.)

Nonfiction Picturebook — 2,000 words max (nonfiction picture books are usually about factual information thus the longer word count because you presenting facts to your reading audience and these rely heavily on the illustrations as much as the factual information presented)

Early Reader — I’d say 1,500 words is the max. (these are geared for the reader who is just learning to read, already having learned their alphabet and letter sounds or combinations of letters; the reader is basically reading familiar words (the, a, an, cat, dog) and adding newer words that need to be sounded out. Think back to our readers, "Dick and Jane" or "See Spot"; these are early readers and as a writer you don't want to get bogged down in too many words or the kids will get frustrated and won't want to read.)

Chapterbook — This varies widely, depending on grade and reader level. 15,000 words max. (Chapter books can be considered early readers and go on up to the more advanced reader; I usually think of 2nd and 3rd graders reading chapter books, maybe even up to 4th grade)

Middle Grade — 35,000 words max for contemporary, mystery, humor, 45,000 max for fantasy/sci-fi, adventure and historical (for this category I think of fifth grade and up to the pre-teen age group. I think 45,000 is a reasonable word count for this age group for several reasons - most kids in this age group are still developing their reading habits and finding what is right for them as well as the fact that their time is very limited secondary to all the extracurricular activities they are involved in; they tend to have very little time for reading)

YA — 70,000 words max for contemporary, humor, mystery, historical, romance, etc. 90,000 words max for fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc. (this category is geared for the teens - ages 13 to 19 and even the early 20s; to me these limits seem high considering most adult novels are written at about 90,000 words and these limits put teens in the same reading level as adults. If you go by the formula of 250 words/page @ 90,000 words = 360 pages, you are basically talking a cozy mystery length. Most novels geared for the over 20 crowd usually fall between 300 and 400 pages and this goes to the fact that most adults don't have time to read lengthy books secondary to life commitments. Kids have just as many commitments so really getting them to read a 300+ page novel is an almost impossible task.)

*Taken from the KidLit blog

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a 15-year-old writer who has taken the publishing route and is publishing her own books. She published her first novel at the age of 13, having written the first book at the age of 12. She recently published her fourth book in a series that she is calling a "middle grade fantasy series" at a whopping over 700 pages. Her third book was probably close to 500 pages if not more. Her first book is over 300 pages and I don't remember how long her second book is but it is definitely over 300 pages because it is thicker than the first one.

She not only is calling this a middle grade series, but she is selling people on the idea that these books are written for 8 year olds and up.

The last time I checked grade wise/age wise, middle grade does not include 8 year olds/second or third graders. Middle school is usually 6th through 8th grade, the grades between elementary and high school, thus middle. Some middle schools are 5th grade through 8th grade, some are just 6th and 7th or 7th and 8th, and then there are some areas who don't have a middle school and house all their kindergarten through 6th grade classes in one school and 7th through 12th in another school (very small district and yes, I've worked with a 6th grade class for the past 4 years who fall into this category). Although the 6th graders are middle schoolers, as are the 7th and 8th graders, they are not housed in a middle school building per se.

If we go by the formula that middle grade stories should be between 35,000 and 45,000 words and the formula overall says that when typing a manuscript, the average word count per page is 250 (regular sized paper, double spaced, indented first lines of paragraphs, 1 inch margins all around; when I was in high school and taking typing class, we were told a word is 5 characters but the modern day word processes the word count may be an actual word or may still be this 5 characters per word), then a true middle grade novel shouldn't be more than 140 to 180 regular sized paper sheets. When formatted for print, this will come out to be about a 200-page or so novel.

My middle grade/YA paranormal mystery, Finally Home topped out at about 56,000 words. It is a 5.5 x 8.5 sized book, and printed it came out to about 170 pages plus all the other pages in there - but still under 180 total from cover to cover. I classified this book originally as a YA novel but feel it is a good read for 10 year olds and up, so that would put it back into the middle grade category.

Karen Cioffi mentioned in her newsletter recently that middle grade novels were between 20,000 and 25,000 words. Karen seems to be on the low end of where middle grades fall, but still acceptable ranges. If a novel is only 25,000 words in length, then you are looking at approximately 100-typed, double-spaced, 1 inch margins, pages. This is very short and to me would be more like a novelette or novella; will post about the difference in categories tomorrow.

The author over on the Kidlit blog does mention that there are always exceptions to any rule. I agree with this, but remember do your own research and make sure you are targeting the right audience with the correct word count. There are many sources out there.

As part of my half-century giveaway, I am going to give a signed copy of my middle grade/YA paranormal mystery, Finally Home, to one lucky winner. All you have to do is comment on this posting and tell me what the longest book you have read was and make sure you leave your email addy so that I can contact you if you are the winner to get your mailing address in order to send your copy. What is the longest book you have read? Longest middle grade book? What is the longest book you would consider reading? (you don't have to answer all of the questions but please do leave a comment on the longest book you've ever read to be entered for the drawing.) - see you all in the postings - E :)

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