It was June 2010 when I finally had an idea for a picture book and I had to get it down on paper. Before that time I stared at my computer screen for years trying to come up with stories and characters that just didn’t work. I was so eager to get my idea in story form that I “winged it”. I figured hey, I had taken a course in Writing Books for children and I tell stories to kids all the time. I can do this. No problem.
Well guess what? My story had promising structure but the word count was way off. In the current picture book marker most publishers are looking for pictures books with word counts of 1000 words or less. Many of those prefer them even shorter with a target range of 500 words or less.
The first draft of my picture book was 1275 words!! I was in trouble.
Now that I have fully immeresed myself in the world of children’s writing I can look back and realize a little more prep work would have been helpful. Studying 2011 Children’s Writer’s And Illustrator’s Market helped me to get a better idea of what publishers wanted as far as word counts for picture books. Networking with other writers and attending writing classes and workshops also helped me to focus.
My initial first picture book draft is now in it’s 6th revision. The word count is still high at 917 words, but is under 1000 words now. The story remained intact and it’s actually a better read. Now when I write I consciously try to keep the writing tight in all my picture books. My two latest stories are 650 words and 472 words respectively. It is definitely something you have to “write, write, and write more” in order to get better at.
What are your experiences in writing children’s picture books? What are their word counts?
Update 6/30: The above mentioned picture book is on it’s 7th revision now and is approx. 800 words. While it upset me to cut it (oh no! That part is vital!) the story is actually a much tighter, better read now.