If your manuscript for a kids’ book has been rejected, maybe you’re pitching it to the wrong age group. Or maybe the story is appropriate for the age group you intend, but the length doesn’t fit publishers’ requirements for that audience.
My novel Ken’s War was rejected countless times. Then I changed the query and described the story as a Young Adult novel. Bingo!
Children’s Book Categories
Publishers’ definitions of categories vary. Categories overlap from one to the next. Manuscripts crossing many categories, (teen vocab with toddler plot) won’t sell. Regardless of age, kids read books appealing to their interests and developmental levels. Kids don’t care about book categories. You should care because editors do. Generally here’s how categories break down.
A. PICTURE BOOKS – Illustrations play significant role in telling the story.
1. Baby or board books – Infants and young toddlers, lullabies, nursery rhymes and wordless books. Length and format vary with content. Some made of materials other than paper.
2. Toddler books – Ages 1-3 (under 300 wc), simple stories familiar to a child’s life, or concept (colors, numbers, shapes). Short (12 p), format can be board books, pop-ups, lift-the flaps, books that make sounds, have different textures, etc.
3. Picture books or picture storybooks – Ages 4-8, 32-p books, sometimes 24 or 48 due to multiple of 8-p binding. Stories up to 1500 wc, with 1000 wc the average. Simple plots (no sub-plots or complicated twists) one main character embodying child’s emotions, concerns and viewpoint. Illustrations (on every page or every other page) play as great a role as the text in story telling. Range of topics and styles. Non-fiction picture books can go to age 10, 48 p in length, or up to about 2000 wc.
B. STORY BOOKS – Stories too long for picture books, illustrations included although stories can stand alone without them.
1. Easy readers or easy-to-read – Ages 6-8 starting to read on own. Smaller trim size, short chapts. Length varies by publisher; 32-64 p, 200-1500 wc, occasionally to 2000 wc. Told mainly through action and dialogue, not description, in grammatically simple sentences (one idea per sentence). Average 2-5 sentences per p.
2. Transition books or early chapter books – Ages 6-9, bridge gap between easy readers and chapter books. Like easy readers in style, about 30 p, 2-3 page chapts, small trim size, b & w illustrations every few pages.
3. Chapter books – Ages 7-10, 45-60 p, 3-4 page chapts, 4000 – 12,000 wc. Meatier than transition books, still contain lots of action. Sentences can be a bit more complex, but paragraphs still short (2-4 sentences average). Chapts often end in the middle of scene to keep readers turning the pages.
4. High interest/low vocab, second chance, remedial, ESL, fast paced, short sentences, simple vocab, interest 2 years above vocab. 3-4000 wc.
C. NOVELS & NON-FICTION – “Real” books.
1. Middle Grade, Junior Novels & non-fiction – Pre-teens 8-12, 100-150 p, 18,000 – 30,000 wc, chapts of equal length, intriguing titles, complex stories (sub-plots involving secondary characters woven through the story), themes more sophisticated. Kids get hooked on characters, hence popularity of series of books with same cast.
2. Young adult or adolescent novels or senior fiction & non-fiction – Ages 12 and up, 130 – 200 p, 8 – 35,000 wc. Plots can be complex with several major characters, one character should be focus. Themes relevant to problems, worries and struggles of today’s teens. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye set the mold for this genre.
“Ken’s War,” slated for publication by Melange Books LLC in 2014, follows Ken as his life is turned upside-down when he and his dad are stationed in Japan. If Ken doesn’t figure out how to reinvent himself, his life will be a painfully long sucker punch in the gut.
Learn 10 hot (and true) tips for writing for children here!