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Word Counts for Children's Books

WordsI received a request awhile ago to do a post on word counts for different age categories in children's lit.  Since opinions vary greatly, I did some research to verify the numbers in my head.  This is what I came away with.  Though, please note that most of the sources I found had slightly different numbers (and I think I'm missing a couple sub-categories).  Check out the links I've provided below and read the comments of this post.  I'm sure my readers will chime in with their knowledge and opinion!

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Board Books: 0 - 100 words.

Early Picture Books: 0 - 500 words.

Picture Books: 50 - 1,000 words.  1k is pushing it.

Nonfiction Picture Books: 500 - 2,000 words.

Early Readers:  200 - 3,500 words, depending on age level. 

Chapter Books: 4,000 - 10,000 words.

Hi-Lo Books: 500 - 50,000 words, varies greatly depending on age level. A large number fall between 500 - 20k words.  Some 60-90k YA books get classified as Hi-Lo, but I don't think they were specifically written for the category.

Middle Grade: 25,000 - 45,000 words, usually around 35-40k.  Longer word counts allowed for fantasy, sci-fi, historical.  Up to 60-70k is probably safe (though there are even longer exceptions).

Young Adult: 45,000 - 70,000 words.  Longer word counts allowed for fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, historical. 80-90k is safe (there are some as high as 120k, but I recommend staying below 100k, if possible).

Nonfiction MG/YA: 5,000 - 70,000 words, varies greatly (with some exceeding 100k) depending on the type of book and age level (I recommend researching similar titles to what you're writing/proposing to find appropriate range).  Memoirs seem to fall within the same range as novels for their age group. 

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We all know there are exceptions, but I wouldn't count on being one.  I recommend staying within (or close to) the recommended word count for your age category/genre unless you've received a lot of feedback verifying it needs every word (or doesn't need more if you're low).  There are a lot of agents that will reject on atypical word count alone.

From my own experience as an intern, I tend to be more critical of YA manuscripts exceeding 80-90k and have to be blown away to want to read a full that length or longer.  While some need the length (and those tend to stand out) most simply need more revision and tightening.

Sources/Further Info:

Manuscript Length at Kidlit.com

How Long Does a Book Have to Be at Writing for Children and Teens.

Word Count For Novels and Children's Books at the Guide to Literary Agents Blog.

From Picture Books to YA - Information to Get You Started at QueryTracket.net.

Counting Chickens - A Few Words About Word Counts at Hope Vestergaard's site.

On Word Counts and Novel Length at The Swivet.

Word Counts at Stacy Whitman's Grimoire.

Hi/Lo Books: Writing for Reluctant Readers at Writing World (stated count of 400-1200 words).

Hi-Lo Books for Upper Elementary Grades at ALA (example titles ranging from 10-90k words).

Writing for Children - Age Categories Determine the Guidelines for Your Children’s Book at Suite 101.

For non-fiction MG/YA I looked at 2009 nonfiction mg/ya nominations for YALSA and the Cybils.

Tip!  Use Renaissance Learning to research word counts on existing titles.  I recommend looking at a large variety to avoid exceptions.

38 comments:

  1. I agree that it's safe to stick to the recommended word counts. I've seen people read these word counts and perk up because there are exceptions. Some want to badly to believe their novel is that special exception, so they try querying for their 150,000 word YA novel, and get nowhere with it.

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  2. I think it also depends on whether this is the writer's first book or not, too. First-time novelists would do better to stick to the lower end of the spectrum than think of themselves as the exception.

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  3. Great info. I know I scowered the internet for set numbers when I started out and all anyone would say was "whatever was best for you"

    But since then I have seen where publishers and agents actually refuse some YA thats too long or too short.

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  4. I see a lot of that, too, Elizabeth. I think, in a lot of cases, these writers just hasn't learned how to identify what doesn't move their story forward and needs to be cut.

    Great point, Kelley! There is less leniency for debut books. Once you make a name for yourself, word counts are less of a concern. Though, huge counts may still result in heavy revisions. It just depends on who you are and expected sales.

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  5. Thanks C.E.! I hope some newer writers do find their way to the info. I suspect most of my regular readers know their range.

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  6. Someone asked me this question just a few days ago. I'll refer her back to you. Thanks!

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  7. Great post. And hopefully new writers will read that post along with the agent spotlight ones! :)

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  8. I am bookmarking this one!

    Very helpful.

    Shelley

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  9. Thanks Casey! Great post, as usual! I had to look all over for this info when I first started writing. It's nice to have a one-stop shop, and it feels so "official" coming from your blog.

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  10. Helpful post, Casey. I will share on Inkwell.ning.com with a link back if that's OK. Been thinking about you. Hope all is well in your corner of the world.

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  11. I wish I could find a concise post like this one for mystery and romance. Very nice.

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  12. Thanks for the great post. I've been pretty obsessed with this issue lately as I've been contemplating whether my middle grade fantasy was too long. I asked agents on blogs and like you said, did get some conflicting answers. I am just finishing a month long revision where I slashed over 8000 words to get under 70,000 for a middle grade fantasy. But as a debut author, I don't want to try to break the rule or get rejected because of the word count. Thanks for the link for published books. Sometimes I wonder about them.

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  13. This is great- the numbers look like everything else I've seen for word count. I agree that it seems like for a debut author, the agent really looks at that word count.

    It seems like YA novels are getting longer and longer nowadays, but maybe my attention span is getting shorter ;p Either way, I would stick to what agents consider an average word count for the first go-around and then go from there.

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  14. Casey, as always you've provided excellent information through great research. You're awesome!

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  15. This is about what I've seen around the agent blogs. Kudos to you for doing all the research!

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  16. It's nice to read through these counts and get reminders of what the targets should be. Thanks!

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  17. This a great post, and it's consistent with what I've heard, as well.

    This is the first time I've heard of "Hi-Lo" books - what are they? Would you mind giving a couple examples of this type of book? Thanks!

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  18. Good post. Also consistent with what I've heard. But good to have all the info in on place.

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  19. Great idea to post it all in one spot. For non-fiction picture books I've even been advised to not go above 1500. I think for first time authors you really have to follow the rules to the letter. After you have some books under your belt is when I think you can become one of those "exceptions". Thanks for the post.

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  20. Thanks for posting this great info! This always seems to be such a question among authors. Is my manuscript long enough...is it too long? This helps clear that up!

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  21. Thank you for all the great comments, everyone!

    Ishta, hi-lo books are high interest / low reading level books for reluctant readers and readers with learning disabilities, comprehension issues, etc. They basically have content that appeals to the correct age but simpler language.

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  22. First of all I want to say thank you Casey for this wonderful site. I just completed a middle grade novel and am looking for an agent. This is a great resource!

    My novel is complete at 18,225 words. I am aiming it toward younger readers - say 3rd, 4th grade. I notice there is a gap between chapter books (max. 10,000) and middle grade (min. 25,000.) I'm hoping to fill that niche in between. What do you think?

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  23. Good summary!

    As an editor, I'm always a bit wary of getting into word counts, because a manuscript should be the length that it is because that's the length that works, and not because the author trimmed 217 words to get down to 700...

    But it's also true that most books of a certain type have word counts that fall within a fairly narrow range, and if a manuscript doesn't, then the author should think carefully about the length and make sure it needs to be that long. Or that short.

    Harold Underdown
    The Purple Crayon
    http://www.underdown.org/

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  24. Hi Theresa,

    3rd, 4th grade is right on the line of chapter books and middle grade. Middle grade is generally 9-12 years and since kids tend to read up, I'd say marketing your book as MG is the way to go. You'll find most MG is 25k+ but Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a good example of a series that tends to be around 19k and I've seen others between 12-22k for lower mg, but they are rarer.

    Hi Harold,

    Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment! I certainly agree that a story should be as long as it needs to be. I mostly worry about writers trying to get their 100k+ children's books published. It's just so hard to do. Of course, it can be done, as we've seen, if the story really needs all those words and is told brilliantly. Thank you for bringing such a great point to the post!

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  25. Ah - thanks for the explanation, Casey!

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  26. Thanks for posting the website for finding word counts. I've always wondered how to find that out.

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  27. Ahhhh, the manuscript word length debate. Let me tell you about how I had to remove my membership from a children's writer forum because I responded to a newbie about this topic. I was quickly FLOODED with emails from MANY an angry author for daring to put a word count on a level of book. I was a middle school English teacher, so know I know MG PRETTY well, and I am going to say I think Casey is pretty spot on. Great post, Casey. Thanks!

    And um, Harold Underdown? YOU GOT ME STARTED!

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  28. Honestly? I think you should use the number of words the story needs to be told. No more, no less.

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  29. this is very helpful my manuscripts over 90,000 for a middle grade to YA fantasy script, but the chapters are written in such a way they can be divided into a bunch of smaller books.

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  30. Bernie Griff - Retired Teacher from Marin county, California
    Hi out there, I've just about finished a non-fiction book about little known young and other heroes of the American Revolution. It is a story poem format with a short introduction before each poem to help with some additional history information. I have about 19,000 words for lower and middle grades. Is this reasonable? I am hoping to reach the 8 to 12 year old student but it would be also for any one interested in american history. Any comments that might be advisable for me? Thanks, Bernie

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    1. Hi Bernie,

      As noted above, the range for middle grade non-fiction is fairly large. 19k doesn't sound unreasonable to me but my knowledge in this area is limited. I'd check out some similar history titles for that age group to see what their word counts are.

      Best of luck!
      Casey

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  31. Thank you for this article! I am writing the last chapter of my children's chapter book manuscript and am currently just shy of 23k. Your article was a welcome relief to me since I cannot justify writing for the sake of adding to my word count if the story is already complete. Thank you again!

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  32. Thanks very much for posting this info. Very helpful.

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  33. Nice resource. Thanks for this post.

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  34. Thank you so much for this information!! Greatly appreciated! I'm writing a new story for a little older group, so want to stay within the word count. Sincerely, Rhonda Paglia of Grammy Pags Stories www.grammypagsstories.com

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  35. For the first three children's book categories listed above, you are better off editing your word count down as low as possible. Less is more, just look at Maurice Sendak's "Where The Wild Things Are." You might find your story strengthening as the excess words drop off.
    Rich Olson/Children's book illustrator
    This is a good breakdown of the children's book categories. This is useful for all writers to make sure they are hitting their appropriate market. I wonder where the non-word picture books fit in.

    Rich Olson/children's book artist

    http://braintofu1.blogspot.com

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  36. Thanks for such a wonderful information given for the story books.From now onwards i will also count the words.
    Childrens Books

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