Thursday, June 13, 2013

Writing Picture Book Text: Words of Wisdom from

If you think it's easy writing picture books, think again. Today's picture books have fewer words and more pictures than those published in days gone by. The majority of picture books published in today's market by large presses (not counting the books that authors self-publish) have 500 or fewer words in the entire text. Many have fewer than that. It's not unusual for a picture book to be less than 200, or even 100, words in length.

So, if you've you've never written a picture book, you probably think this would make them easier to write, it doesn't. Why? Because so much depends on each
word in the text. Here's a question, along with the answer, I found posted on ("where writers write to get it right"). The writer poses a legitimate question and the editor provides an excellent answer.

Dear Editor…
I was wondering if you would know why the word count for picture books is dwindling. Now I have heard it’s 500 words or less. Why the decrease in word count? Same number of pages. Is it to focus more on illustrations?

Dear Patti…
It’s a combination of market demand and product potential. Sales are strong for shorter, character-driven picture books, as opposed to stories with longer, more detailed narratives and plots. Concept always matters, but it’s the characters who drive this bus. Illustrations are key to their presentation. If the characters hit big, you’re looking at more books, even a franchise. Writers crafting this kind of text should strive for concise, rhythmic wording for a rich read-aloud quality. As for plot, think episodically, seeing the story in a series of scenes that use page turns and rhythmic breaks to transition from one moment to the next. That leaves room for the illustrator to swoop in with a strong visual storyline utilizing those same turns and breaks. Fewer words, but the same goal: a story that’s fun to read, delivers a great message, and offers characters with whom kids can connect.
Happy writing!
The Editor

And that, my friends, is why each word in the text is so important.

You can get more information about writing from the website as well as on their Facebook Page.


Vivian Kirkfield said...

Christine...saw your post and question on the 12x12 FB page...and love your blog look.:) This was a valuable question and answer to scoop up and is something we are all struggling with and the 'dear editor' gave a really straightforward simple answer. :)

Christine M. Irvin said...


Thanks so much for stopping by. And, thanks for your kind words.

I saw the question and answer about picture book text length and thought it was a valuable piece of information to pass on. I struggle with PB word length, and now I understand why it's so important.


Romelle Broas said...

Hi christine,
Stopping by to say hello. I love Dear Editor! I can always rely on them for answers. This particular Q & A is a good one.

Christine M. Irvin said...

Hi Romelle,

Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you liked the Dear Editor Q&A I featured. I'm not very familiar with their site. Another writer had pointed it out. I just thought this was a good question with a good answer to go with it. It's certainly something I had been curious about.