Much has changed in children’s fiction in the past twenty years; the accidental creation of and flourishing YA section, the renaming of young teen fiction into upper middle grade. The creation of Hi-low books to help children with low reading levels and readers with additional learning difficulties develop their reading confidence.
The truth about word counts for children’s book is nothing is set in stone, so it can be a good idea to do as much research as possible on current expectations. Even consider contacting agents and publishers asking for guidelines before sending them a copy of a manuscript. They would prefer to answer this query; as they spend far too much time rejecting books that are too short or long or categorically for the wrong age group. A good source of general information are the online sites of the Writers & Artist in the UK and Ireland http://www.writersandartists.co.uk, or the publisher of US Writer’s Market in the US, and Canada http://www.writersdigest.com.
Here is a simplified guide to publishers’ ‘grading’ of children’s fiction: (Essentially covering the US and UK distinctions)
Picture Books: Young/Early Picture Books [includes Board books, counting and ABC books] (age 0 – 5), Standard Picture Books (age 3 – 8), Picture Books Stories [Think ‘Dogger’ or ‘David and Dog’ by Shirley Hughes] (age 6 – 10)
(UK) Early Readers (US) Leveled Readers: The early readers are separated into four, sometimes five levels. They act as transitional books for children. Level 1(emergent readers): ages 3-6, level 2 (progressing reader): ages 4 – 6, level 3 (transitional readers): for ages 5 – 8 [Kindergarten to third grade], level 4 (fluent reader) is for ages 8 – 10. The fifth level books where this applies, are on par with first chapter books.
(US) First Chapter Book (UK) Chapter Books: Ages 6 – 10, [i.e. ’Horrid Henry’, ‘Stuart Little’, ‘Captain Underpants’, ‘The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark’, etc] These books are similar to Picture Book, in that the stories are still told mostly in the third person narrative, but there’s more character development, and the stories are driven by action and dialogue, with black and white pictures/drawings spaced throughout the books.
(UK) Junior Fiction: In UK, the junior fiction is spilt into two age groups; the first is ages 7 – 9, the second is ages 9 – 12. These books are more complex than chapter books, dealing with interests that appeal to the age groups these books are aimed at. They can also be read by younger readers with advanced reading levels.
(US) Middle Grade: Ages 9 – 11, In the United States, Middle Grade begins in the sixth grade (age 11/12), and goes right through to eighth grade (age 13/14). Yet Middle Grade books have always been aimed at the younger age group, in effect touching on the interests and curiosity of those about to enter middle school or junior high.
(US) Young Teen: This section is now often called Upper Middle Grade, these books are aimed at ages 12 – 14. In the past Young Teen books would touch on issues and interests of the teenage reader without being explicate. Now these books are aimed at teenagers or the younger reader not ready to move into YA just yet. Therefore a perfect bridge between Middle Grade and YA.
(US) Young Adult (YA)/(UK) Teenage: In UK, this section includes books for readers aged 10 up. In US, this section covers books for ages 12 up. Young Adult, or YA was officially born in the late 90s. Since then, any books originally meant to be YA that have been published to great acclaim, becomes part of another sub-section:
Crossover: Not something you’d see in your local bookstore or library, but it covers books that although originally meant for children or teenagers has also appealed to adults. Examples include ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Twilight’, and ‘Hunger Games’.
Hi-Low: Hi-low in a subsection of books aimed at children. These high interest, low level (hi-low) books enables the older reader to read books with less complex language while dealing with age appropriate interests. Hi-low can also cover non-fiction subjects too. Reading level can begin at age 6 up. On the back of hi-low books you will find RA (reading age) and IA (interest age)
Below I have included the word counts limits and maximums for each of these sections:
- Board Books: 0 – 100 words
- Early Picture Books: 0 – 400 words
- Young Picture Books: 50 – 400 words
- Standard Picture Books: 400 – 800 words
- Picture Book Stories: 1,000 – 3,000 words
First Chapter Books/*Early Readers:
- Early Reader Level 1: Up to 150 words
- Early Readers Level 2: Up to 250 words
- Early Readers Level 3: Up to 400 words
- Early Reader Level 4: Up to 750 words
- **Non-fiction Picture Books: 500 – 2,000 words
- Chapter Books: 1,000 – 3,500 words
- Ages 7 – 9: 8,000 – 15,000 words
- Ages 9 – 12: 20,000 – 40,000 words
- Fiction: 20,000 – 50,000 words
- Fantasy, Science fiction, and Historical: Up to 60,000 – 75,000 words
- ^Non-fiction: 5,000 – 70,000 words
- Ages 10 – 12: 20,000 – 45,000 words
- Ages 12 up: 30,000 – 90,000 words
- Fiction: 50,000 – 75,000 words
- Fantasy, Science fiction, Paranormal and Historical: Up to 80,000 – 90,000 words
- ^Non-fiction: 5,000 – 70,000 words
- Fiction: All ages inclusive: 250 – 50,000 words
- On average: 500 – 20,000 words
*Early Readers: Be aware that most Early Readers are commissioned to be written by publishers through agents. Therefore do show any Early Readers you’ve written to agents, but don’t send them to publishers.
**Non-fiction Picture Books: Non-fiction for children is to be informative and as details as possible without the complexity of adult non-fiction books. This is why non-fiction Picture books can be read by children as old as ten or twelve.
^Non-fiction for Middle Grade and Young Adult: Non-fiction for these age groups are a mix of school books and interest books. Do research for specific age groups.
Here are several resources worth checking out. As each year book chooses certain areas to focus in on you should check out ‘back’ copies available at your local library or secondhand bookstore. But if your current copy is a good five years old, consider getting the latest:
Children’s Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook 2016: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Childrens-Writers-Artists-Yearbook-2016/dp/1472924959/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1447414930&sr=8-1&keywords=children%27s+writers+and+artists+yearbook
Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 2016: http://www.amazon.com/Childrens-Writers-Illustrators-Market-2016/dp/1599639432/ref=pd_sim_14_3?ie=UTF8&dpID=5184Q3VznpL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR120%2C160_&refRID=0HH828Q8E4Z34VZQCKM1
Also consider the following:
’Writing Children’s Books for Dummies’
“Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies’
writing.ie is an online magazine based in Ireland for Irish and international writers: http://www.writing.ie/?s=children%27s+writers
Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, an international organisation for the children’s writer and illustrator: http://www.scbwi.org