Saturday, August 22, 2009

Picture Book Fun

It's been a while since I've done any picture book writing. In fact, my last picture book, Ten Naughty Little Monkeys, a takeoff on the familiar jump rope rhyme, was published three years ago. In the interim, I've been writing lots of series fiction, the latest being the series that Joan Holub and I are co-authoring. (Goddess Girls, April 2010). Anyway, with Book #3 (of 4) off to copy-editing, and Book #4 with our editor, I find I have time to consider my next project(s).

Instead of rushing into more series work right away, though I do have a few proposals making the rounds, I've decided to take some time to work on picture books. To prepare myself for the mental switch involved, I went to my local public library and asked the wonderful children's librarians to point me toward some of their favorite picture books published in the last few years. After reading them, I actually typed the stories out to get a "feel" again for picture books texts--the pacing, the dialogue, the characters, etc. I also took note of the word counts, which have gotten shorter and shorter over the years. Then I went through my files and pulled out a couple of stories I'd written a few years ago. These were stories that never sold, but that I still liked.

Yesterday I revised one of these stories. At 1200 words, it was way too long, I realized. I cut the length by a third, tightening the story, and creating more space for illustrations as well. It was fun to work on the story again, and since it had been several years since I'd read it, it was also easier to see the flaws that needed correction. Time will tell whether my revised version will sell, but at least I had fun with the process!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Word about Word Counts

Last Saturday I spoke on a panel at the Pacific NW Writer's Association conference about the basics of writing for children. Afterward, a woman came up to me. "I gather from what you said that my 40,000 word novel for ages 7 - 10 may be too long," she said. "Um, yes," I replied. But hers wasn't he longest story I'd heard about that morning. Another woman in the audience had written an 80,000 word manuscript "for ages 8 -12."

Yes, I know how long the Harry Potter books are. But they're the exception rather than the rule. It could also be argued that, as Harry grows older and the books become longer, they actually shift into the Young Adult category.

So what are the word counts most writers for the middle grades should aim for?

The finished page length of the seven books in the two series I've written for ages 7 - 10 ranged from 84 - 133 pages. That translates to a word count of approximately 7,500 - 12,000 words--a far cry from 40,000.

For ages 8 - 12, my books have ranged from a finished page length of 103 - 150 pages, a word count of approximately 11,000 to 18,000 words.

Hope this helps!