“Ask an Editor” is a forum wherein SCBWI members submit questions that are answered as part of our quarterly Kite Tales blog.
Hi Christine – What’s the best place to find current word counts for when I write children’s books?
—Mar, Los Angeles
Hello Mar – The two sources I use most are SCBWI’s annual publication, The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children, available to SCBWI members here. The printed version is a bargain at $6.25 plus shipping, or download the PDF for free.
In the 2021 edition, information about a book’s expected length is located on page eight. The guidelines are stated in page counts rather than word counts. To convert them to word count, calculate ~250 words per page, double-spaced, in 12-point black font with one-inch margins.
Here are some of the guidelines:
PICTURE BOOK: 2-3 pages (500-750 words). Reader age: 3-8.
MIDDLE GRADE: 100-250 pages (25,000-62,500 words). Reader age: 8-12.
YOUNG ADULT: 200-350 pages (50,000-87,500 words). Reader age: 12 and up.
Check the site or order the book for information about BOARD BOOKS, INDEPENDENT READERS, CHAPTER BOOKS, NONFICITON, and POETRY.
PICTURE BOOK: 500-600 words.
MIDDLE GRADE: 20,000-55,000 words
UPPER MIDDLE GRADE: 40,000-55,000 words
SIMPLER MIDDLE GRADE: 20,000-35,000 words
YOUNG ADULT: 50,000-79,999 words
As you can see, depending on the source, figures vary somewhat but, overall, these guidelines provide a pretty good idea of what’s considered standard in today’s industry.
Knowing word-count expectations saves time because you can aim for that range while you are writing and revising. It’s disappointing to spend years perfecting a manuscript only to find your word count far out of bounds. When that happens, you’ll either have to make big changes or hope your piece is the exception to the rule.
When word counts are specified (such as in magazine submissions or writing contests), nonadherence usually results in disqualification.
When word counts are not specified, it’s advantageous to be a savvy writer, aware of the industry standards, and submit accordingly.
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