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Stop Writing Picture Books Longer Than 1,000 Words. Here’s Why.

These three reasons will save you time and money in the long run and keep your readers (and listeners) from getting bored and disliking your story.

I’ve received a bunch of 2,000- and 3,000-word picture book manuscripts for editing. And yes, they were far too long and wordy. As a result, I ended up either rewriting the entire story or explaining to the writer that the story needed to be severely shortened. There are some exceptions such as picture storybooks that can be 2,000 words or more and are suitable for slightly older readers. But overall, the average picture book should stay below the 1,000-word range.

Why? Well, in regards to writing a picture book, “less is more”. In fact, traditional publishers actually seek manuscripts that are 500 to 600 words max. Yikes! And if you are self-publishing your book, you have a little more freedom to write slightly longer stories. Yet, picture books are generally written for young listeners and readers ages 3 to 7. Therefore, your picture book should be 1,000 words or less because of the following three reasons:

  1. Most likely, young listeners and readers cannot read yet or are new to reading. Therefore, writing short, concise sentences, words, and phrases are essential to their learning and development. Pay special attention to word choice, tone, and style, as these elements in your story may help increase their vocabulary and understanding of words and concepts.

  2. The attention spans of young readers and listeners are pretty short. Super lengthy stories can seem to drag on and on (if the story isn’t written well), and they will wonder when the story will end. As a result, they may become bored and lose interest quickly.

  3. Illustrations will help tell the story as well. Unnecessary words only clutter your story. Instead, give your illustrator some ideas by allowing them to illustrate some of the descriptive text in your story, such as “red coat”, “over the steep hill”, and “long, curly hair”. It will keep the word count down and your story short, simple, and fun.

Yes, your first draft may indeed be 2,000 words or so. But make revisions as needed to bring your story closer to 1,000 words or less. It may seem difficult at first, but it’s actually a great exercise that may help strengthen your writing skills. And give your illustrator some wiggle room to add color and life to your story using the descriptive text from your story. Trust me, your listeners and readers will definitely appreciate it.

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