How Long Should A Children's Book Be?
While there is no hard rule for word counts for children’s books there are some general guidelines that can help emerging and experienced authors create their manuscripts. Without following kid lit word counts, one could end up with a picture book of 2,000 words (which is too much) or a YA book falling at 15,000 words (which is not enough).
Do Word Counts Matter in Children’s Books?
Short answer: YES. Word counts help authors, children’s book publishers, and book sellers decide where to place a book on a store or library book shelf. Basically, a word count helps you find your readers (and vice versa).
What Does an Author Do When Their Manuscript Doesn’t Fit The Word Count?
Get a beta reader to critique story length
Consider adding richer descriptions if you story falls short
Consider breaking a manuscript into a series if it goes too long
For non-fiction titles which fall short of target word range consider adding side-bars, facts, and bullet point information boxes
Draw out your story arc and see where it all falls in the page layout
The Basic Children’s Book Story Arcs
In North America, many children's books follow a traditional story arc (or a variation of it):
Success or failure
The Basics for Word Counts For Children’s Books
Board Books: Newborn–age 3. 0–100 words. Introduces young children to reading, page turning, identifying people and objects and learning about the world around them.
Picture Books: Ages 3–8. 50–1,000 words. Usually picture books have illustrations which accompany text to help children imagine the story.
Nonfiction Picture Books: Ages 3–8. 500–2,000 words. Illustration and text providing facts and trivia.
Early Readers: Ages 5–9. 200–3,500 words. Complete stories from start to finish.
Chapter Books (Also known as First Chapter books, early chapter books.): Ages 6–9 or 7–10. 4,000–10,000 words. Active storylines that engage children with non-complex writing.
Hi-Lo Books (High interest, low reading level. Books written, edited and designed for readers who struggle with reading.): Ages 8–18. 500–50,000 words. 20,000 words can be a sweet spot to target for word count. Usually tween-appropriate content.
Middle Grade (Also known as MG.): Ages 8–12. 25,000–45,000 words. 40,000 is a generally safe word count for this children’s book category. Fantasy, science fiction (sci-fi), and historical MG books usually have longer word counts.
Young Adult (Also known as YA.): Ages 12 and up or 14 and up. 45,000–70,000 words, with word counts up to 100,000 allowed for fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, dystopian, and historical fiction.
Nonfiction MG/YA: Ages 8–14 and up. 5,000–70,000 words depending on the subject. Memoirs and biography word counts for children’s books tend to fall within the same range as other books for respective age ranges.
Exceptions to the Rule
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule. There have been many books successfully published that do not follow the above word counts. However, if you wish to submit your children’s manuscript for submission you should keep the above count guidelines in mind.