Knowing what a publisher is looking for is important to me. There’s no point spending months writing a manuscript only to have every publisher reject it because you didn’t follow the rules.
So with this in mind, I wanted to find out what publishers of children’s books want. Yesterday, I visited the Write4Kids website and asked Laura Backes the following (I’ve removed the pleasantries):
Can you please define the difference between age groups 4 to 8 and 8 to 12? In particular, I would like to know the minimum and maximum word count for each group and what an editor might consider taboo subjects.
This was her reply:
The age group 4-8 falls into the picture book category. These books are generally 32 pages long, with illustrations on every page, and average 1000 words of text. The pictures are just as important to the story as the words. Picture books are written to be read out loud to children, so you don’t have to worry about vocabulary as long as the words are understandable within the context of the story.
Middle grade (ages 8-12) are actual novels or nonfiction books with chapters. The text can be 20,000-35,000 words (nonfiction tends to have less text than fiction) and may or may not be illustrated (fiction usually has no illustrations, nonfiction can be illustrated with drawings or photos). These are read by the children themselves, once they’re accomplished readers.
There are two categories between picture books and middle grade: easy readers (ages 5-8, short books meant to be read by emerging readers, so the sentences are short and grammatically uncomplicated) and chapter books (ages 7-10, short novels of about 9000-12,000 words broken into chapters about four pages long).
As for taboo subjects, there’s almost nothing taboo in children’s books. As long as you deal with a topic in an age-appropriate way, you can write about it. For example, a picture book might deal with the death of a grandparent or a pet. A young adult novel (ages 12 and up) might be about the main character’s best friend committing suicide. If your main characters are within the age range of your readers, then their problems and the way they handle them will be appropriate to the readership.
I’m interested in writing a chapter book for 8 to 12 year olds. So from the information I’ve already gathered, it seems that 12 chapters of approximately 10 pages will give me around 30,000 words. Perfect! I already have a story in mind, four characters and a hazy setting. The theme jumped out and bit me during the night and the motivation behind the main character fits the theme perfectly.
I do believe I want to write. What a wonderful feeling!