Monday, January 24, 2011

Mentor Monday: Word Count Counts

It's easy to believe that writing is all about words words words, but that is not the case. So much of publishing depends on numbers, too.

Friends are astonished when I tell them most magazines pay by the word. A smart writer knows this and works to the publishers' word count guidelines. Publishers have these guidelines because they need to make all the editorial and advertising fit. Fit is important to the bottom line. 

How words (and how many words) fit in a book is very important in children's book writing, too.

General word count guidelines on each type:
  • Early Picture Books -- zero to 500 words
  • Picture Books -- 1,000 to 1,200
  • Early Chapter Books -- 500 - 3,000
  • Chapter Books -- 20,000 - 45,000
  • YA -- 40,000 - 60,000
Figure out the category where your manuscript fits, and then read other books that fit that same category. 

It's actually kind of fun. You can do this research, for minimal cost, at libraries and book stores. This is also why you have friends with kids with books (hopefully they have quality books!). 

I tend to read the story first, and then investigate. You can ask these questions, among others: What's the layout of the text and illustrations? How is the text situated on the page? Where do the page breaks occur? If there are illustrations, how do they enhance the text? How does this sound being read out loud? Is the pov first person or third? Why did the author go with this?

I've started to keep a three ring binder holding the notes I take on books I've read. Those notes include word counts.

You don't have to tally every word yourself. It's easy enough to find this information at Renaissance Learning, where you can also find other statistics about a wide range of children's titles.  They've done a bang-up job providing great info: Interest Level, Book Level, Genre, and Word Count. You can search by Author, Title, or ISBN.

Each book's page list awards, and also state lists and reading lists the book has made. 

(Interest level is based like this:  LG = Lower Grades (K-3); MG = Middle Grades (4-8); MG+ = Middle Grades Plus (6 and up); and UG = Upper Grades (9-12).  )

It's a pretty cool place for statistics.

It's easy to tell yourself it's okay to go over suggested word count limits -- books that don't follow these guidelines still get printed. But that's a rare exception. Except for very compelling reasons, you should talk yourself out of exceeding word count guidelines.

Writing to word count (or imposing your own minimal word count) helps you eliminate those words not pulling their weight. An editor will appreciate your tightly and skillfully written piece. When editors appreciate your work, this usually figures very big for your bottom line.




Andrea Murphy said...

I just bookmarked Renaissance Learning. Thanks for the tip, Janet!

Mur said...

Very late chiming in but I also feel that even cutting words just as an exercise makes for a crisper, stronger manuscript. Great topic, Jet.