Mascot Books has been publishing children’s books for well over a decade, and in that time we’ve gotten countless inquiries about the “correct” length of a children’s book. We’ve asked our Senior Project/Production Manager Laura Carroll and Project Manager Meghan Reynolds to provide their insights. Laura and Meghan will be contributing a monthly blog on the wild and crazy world of book publishing, so feel free to leave comments with any specific questions YOU want answered!
We’d like to answer 2 very important questions in our first post:
1. How long should my script be for a children’s book?
2. How can I cut my word count without losing the story?
A Guideline for Word Count in Children’s Book Publishing
Early childhood (ages 0-6): less than 500 words
Advanced (ages 7-12): up to 1,500 words
Now, if you have done a word count on your script, you most likely have found that it is too long. But don’t fret! There are some easy tricks to reducing word count that we’ll outline here.
Show or Tell, Not Both!
In a children’s book, the text and the images work together to tell the story. If the illustration shows a family sitting down at breakfast, you don’t need to state the same in the text or describe how they look or what they are eating. We can see all these things.
For example, if one scene in your script is written as below:
Julie walked into the living room and saw her grandmother sitting in the blue recliner. She was wearing a flowered dress and black shoes. There was a little round table next to her that held a lamp, phone, and the book she was looking for. “Grandma, you found my book!” she cried. “Thank you so much! I can’t wait to find out what happens.”
Pull out much of the text and put it into the illustration descriptions for your artist’s reference.
Julie walked into the living room and found what she was looking for. “Grandma, you found my book!” she cried. “Thank you so much! I can’t wait to find out what happens.”
Illustration description: Grandmother is sitting in the blue recliner wearing a flowered dress and black shoes. There is a little round table next to her that holds a lamp, phone, and book.
Another way to show or tell is to remove those descriptors you don’t need, either because they are extraneous or because they are redundant with the illustration. For example, you can change “the big, round, fluffy, brown bear” to “bear” and show the other descriptors in the image.
Cut Useless Words
Word count can be reduced significantly just by removing the words listed below. And as an added bonus, it strengthens your writing immensely.
• that (Delete as in “I think that playing outside is fun.”)
• unnecessary verbs (Delete)
“I was singing” becomes “I sang”
“He decided to run” becomes “He ran”
“She had heard people say” becomes “She heard people say”
• very, just, and really (Delete all of these. They don’t emphasize anything.)
• suddenly, all of a sudden, from out of nowhere (Delete all of these. Simply stating them delays the arrival of the “sudden” thing.)
Give Your Audience Some Credit!
Kids are smarter than you think. Not everything needs to be explained to them. They have the ability, even at a very young age, to read between the lines. For example, we don’t need to know that when Julie got ready for school she brushed her teeth, took a bath, got dressed, packed her bag, ate breakfast, and walked out to the school bus. Kids will assume she did these things. All these extraneous actions take away from the real action and conflict in the story that you should be focusing on.
Reduce Your Dialogue Tags
This is another instance where you have to trust your reader.
For example, you can change this:
“Grandma, where did you find my book?” asked Julie.
Grandma replied, “Well, it was quite the journey.”
“Really? What happened?” Julie wondered.
“Let’s sit down with some tea and I’ll tell you all about it,” Grandma said.
Julie said, “Great! I’ll get the water on the stove.”
“Grandma, where did you find my book?” asked Julie.
“Well, it was quite the journey.”
“Really? What happened?”
“Let’s sit down with some tea and I’ll tell you all about it.”
“Great! I’ll get the water on the stove.”
Utilize Verbs as Descriptors
For example, rather than saying “Julie sadly walked up the stairs” you can say “Julie trudged up the stairs”. Not only are you reducing your word count, but you’re also introducing less common language into your story, which is never a bad thing.
Use Contractions, Especially in Dialogue
No example needed here. Just keep in mind, kids know what contractions are because they use them all the time in conversation. How are they to learn how they look without seeing them in print?
Did you follow all our tips? Well Done! Now Do Another Word Count!
It is common to hesitate cutting your script. You may feel you’re losing story, but trust us, you aren’t. Take a look at some of your favorite children’s books below and their word counts:
Goodnight Moon – 131 words
The Very Hungry Caterpillar – 221 words
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie – 291 words
Where the Wild Things Are – 336 words
The Giving Tree – 621 words
Green Eggs and Ham – 769 words
Love You Forever – 772 words
Leave a question below and we’ll answer in a future blog post!
– Laura and Meghan