Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Are 500-Word Picture Books a Thing of the Past?

Three times each week, I load up the minivan with three book-loving kids and a baby as my duty within our neighborhood school carpool.

Most often, the two older ones have their noses so deep in Percy Jackson or Harry Potter books that if I want to ask them a question, I'm prepared to repeat it several times.

And by older, I mean 7 and 8.

Returning to my writing work after the carpool "break," I find myself flipping through the Writer's Market books all too often.   A top request:  500 words or less.

I pulled out some of my three year-old's books, noticing that about half of her favorite titles actually have more than 500 words.  Rule of thumb or not, this observation made me feel better as I stared at my own list of children's book manuscripts, about half of which glare back at me with word counts nearing 800 words...

Are my children and my neighbors' children the exception?  Are all books with pictures doomed to be slashed to their skeletons until the word count dips below 500?  Are publication "rules" contributing to the attention deficits that younger generations now seem to have?  Or am I just too stubborn to cut, cut, cut?!

Somehow, I see a future for the hybrid children's book:  a combination of picture and chapter books.  If an eight-year old can read a 400-page book such as Goblet of Fire while riding in a van traveling 65 miles-per-hour, we might be underestimating children of all ages.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that a writer embellish a story just to add to the word count.  I'm still a strict believer that everything in the story should be relevant and purposeful.  But if I err on the side of great expectations in a young child in order to tell an amazing story the way it needs to be told...800 words it is!


Erin said...

I agree! Word counts should only be a loose guideline, especially for beginners. The trick is knowing what is essential to the story and what is not. If that's 800 words, so be it!

We still read lots of older authors like William Stieg- his books are certainly 800 or longer. I'm not a real fan of the ultra short concept books, I like a good story!


Miranda Paul said...

Thanks for the comment, Erin. I'm familiar with a few of Steig's titles, but will have to check out more!

The ultra short concept books aren't really part of our home library, except for a few that I read to the baby!

Nicole said...

This post makes me smile... because I missunderstood the less then"1000"
till yesterday!
In Frabce we count words and spaces and signs and I thought '1000" is really nothing!
But then I had to give a story to a translator who needed 5000 words and he wrote 'I only got to 1250 words with 4 of your stories I need more!
That's when I understood at last that most of my stories ares under 500 words!

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