Word counts! Let’s nail ’em!

Hey sugar!

Missed Q and Q Friday last week? Doh!

We talked about loads of stuff from hand-lettering in picture books (divine and tricky!), to the submission quirks of some publishers, to how long is a middle grade novel? No. Really. How long???

Plus, I had me a little rant.

I want as many kidlit creators as possible to have this info in their noggins. So here’s a  rant overview.

You’re welcome…

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In all my years teaching, coaching, judging, assessing, evaluating and championing manuscripts for children’s book creators, the ONE thing I can’t seem to get across is the importance of word counts.

Please, for the love of unicorns and rainbows, LISTEN to this. In the scheme of things it’s  such a small request.

Word counts exist for a reason.

If a publisher, editor, manuscript assessor or creative writing competition specifies a word limit, it’s not a fluid number. 500 max. 2000 max. 60,000 max.

Whatever the number is it’s not fluid.


1 Fairness

One creator works hard to rein in their story, but another doesn’t have to. How is this fair?

Ditto, judges, editors, publishers. They sign up to read a number of words and now there’s a few thousand more tacked on? Time is money, people. Remember, this is an industry.

2 Parameters and standards

If you want to write professionally, whether it’s for a magazine, a newspaper, or in kidlit, you MUST learn to tell a story within parameters.

In terms of picture books, 500 words is INDUSTRY STANDARD.

3 Exceptions

Exceptions have no part in this discussion. No part. If you bring up exceptions, I’m blocking my ears and singing la la la.

4 Picture Books

The clue is in the name.

A picture book is made up of two components. Each of equal value:

 Pictures. Words.

Cut back on words and you have more room for PICTURES. Less words equals a more beautiful, child-friendly, SALEABLE book.

Ching Ching!

And, less words usually means stronger words. More punch.

Your words are not there to dominate. If you want your words to dominate, write a novel.

5 Success. Yours!

We, the teachers, coaches, manuscripts assessors, are trying to get your work across the line. We’re not giving you these guidelines to block, demoralise or punish you. We want you to win!

It’s a huge challenge to tell a story in a specified number of words. Rise to it. Prove you’re a pro.

6 Anger management

You won’t win by pissing people off.

If an editor/publisher specifies a word count and you ignore it, you’re on the back foot IMMEDIATELY.

Hear me when I say this, you do not want an angry editor reading your story. Worse still, you don’t want to risk being tossed across the room, into the shredder or out the window.

Nor do you want an editor sweating over costs while reading your work*.

What you do want is an editor’s full attention and respect.

In many ways you must treat this like a job interview. It’s hard to imagine, but when you submit your manuscript, you’re one of hundreds, sometimes thousands.

For your own good, adhere to the basics. Get em right!

Above all, learn to work within guidelines. Be professional. It will serve you well, earn you kudos and smooth your path to publication.

Jen xo

*More words means a heavier book. Heavy books cost more to produce and more to ship. In terms of novels, you can only go as big as your publisher’s piggybank. That’s one of the main reasons they specify word counts. MONEY TALKS. Capisce?


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