MeasureToday is Picture Book Wednesday and we’ll be talking about a question that we always discuss in the classes I teach: How long should my story be?

The short answer is: as long as it takes to tell it.

However, with picture books, we know there is an economy of words, not just because much of the market seems to demand it, but because writers have a helper in the telling of the story: the illustrations.

What I always tell students is that most of the “big” publishers are leaning towards shorter picture books (600 words or less), but that doesn’t mean we can’t write longer picture books, not only for the big publishers, but also for the dozens of other publishers out there.

It’s important to look at each of your stories individually and decide what type of story it is, write it, and worry about word count later. Have you written a book like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond (290 words)? Or something more like The Cloud Spinner by Michael Catchpool, illustrated by Alison Jay (873 words) or even Big Mean Mike by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Scott Magoon (1,177 words)? All of these books were published by major publishers, the last two in 2012 so there are guidelines but no rules here.

The type of book you’ve written will help you determine if your word count is in a good range, but we can’t get hung up on word count. Write the story you want to write, get it on the page. It goes back to the same old mantra: Write a good story, a unique, fun or unusual story and you’re more than halfway there.

Use the words you need to use to tell your story. Revise, revise, revise, trimming unnecessary words as you go, and more than likely, you’ll be at the word count that was meant for your story!

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