May 11 2010

How Long Should a Book for Children or YA be?

I already have a post about how long adult novels should be, but what if you’re writing for children or young adults? Mary Kole, a literary agent and young adult/middle grade author, suggests the following guidelines:

  • Board Book — 100 words max
  • Early Picturebook — 500 words max
  • Picturebook — 1,000 words max (Seriously. Max.)
  • Nonfiction Picturebook — 2,000 words max
  • Early Reader — This varies widely, depending on grade level. I’d say 3,500 words is an absolute max.
  • Chapterbook — 10,000 words max
  • Middle Grade — 35,000 words max for contemporary, mystery, humor, 45,000 max for fantasy/sci-fi, adventure and historical
  • YA — 70,000 words max for contemporary, humor, mystery, historical, romance, etc. 90,000 words max for fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc.

Did this reference help? Submit us to Stumble!

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “How Long Should a Book for Children or YA be?”

  1. MarkeithLon 19 May 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Is this per chapter?

  2. Lighting Manon 19 May 2010 at 4:24 pm

    30,000 words is the average word count I’ve seen for college theses, so I certainly hope not.

  3. B. Macon 19 May 2010 at 6:18 pm

    For the entire work. (In case there was any confusion, a “chapterbook” is not any book with chapters but a type of book aimed at readers usually around age 7-10).

  4. H.L Munroon 16 Apr 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Hi, I’m 11 and am taking part in NaNoWrimo. I don’t know how long my novel should be (I’m looking to publish it with CreateSpace onto Amazon) I’m thinking it will be a middle grade?

    It’s like this most of the time, and gets a bit more abstract and harder to read at the end.

    “O my joy!” cried Edmund, sweet tears of exuberance gathering in the creases of his face, “My sweet Bertha!” (This was the motorcars name.) “So shiny! Red as roses, as sun that doth set on brightest eves! O sweet Bertha!” And the animals gathered, one, two, three, four, in the stately august splendor of that doth named Bertha, and hereupon Edmund started off at a great pace! Bertha was dancing, I say dancing, down the road, exuberance and gaiety within her great step! And she travels, hither, and thither, singing in rumbling, throaty song, of summer days and joy untold, leaping, as on fire across the wide dirt road! Her oil, tis sweet, honey flowing through her engine! Joy! Gaiety! Euphoria! She sings it!

    But lo! all shrill birds were silenced, and the sun rose no further in this few seconds, ere with a mighty CRASH! And a great BANG! And a miserly putter-putter-putter, Bertha, red motorcar of great joy and beauty crashed into the bole of a mighty oak tree. A stroke of black lightning! The foul, noisome air of Misfortune chokes all happiness, flowers, and joy cowering and dying before it! It destroys all justice, the heart riven by a deep rent wrought by injustice! All joy is cloven asunder, and the figure of Happiness crumples to the ground, it’s might shivered, and all Good is slain!
    “Heaven to Betsy!” cried Bram
    “Nay! Hang this business!” Bill yelped, tears coming to his eyes. “Mouse, your beautiful Bertha! She is scratched, and is dented, and is dead! ”
    And the Hedgehog Harvey simply cried; “Bother, bother, bother!” until he was blue in the face.
    And yet poor Edmund, proud father of Bertha, he was silent. The common and lowly Badger moved to box him about the ears, when lo! Edmund, he let slip a great shout, and began to holler;
    “The mustard pot, the mustard pot! It’s after me!” And he grabbed at the lappets of Bram’s jerkin, in utter terror! Quickly the friends moved to pinion his forepaws behind his back, lest he should blench in the face of the evil and mighty mustard pot’s terrible aura, and break for the greened trees shelter, in his gripping insanity.

    And yet despite their best intentions, the Field Mouse abruptly broke free of their clutches, like a wild canary from a cage, and bounded away, deeper into the Wood, before they might blink and say; “ What a bothersome inconvenience indeed!”
    “O hang it all!” cried Bram, leaping away on his fast legs after the Field Mouse, and this, of course, compelled both the common and lowly Badger, and the Hedgehog, to dutifully run after their Friends.
    They ran, at a swift gallop, for perhaps three or more leagues, which was saying a good deal, for Harvey hardly ever exercised or engaged in healthful conduct, save his morning walk to fetch the paper, as he hadn’t a dog for the fear that it might snap him in two.
    And then, then Badger realized they were Lost.
    As when the pirate drops the treasure map, when the baying dogs lose all sense of smell, the Small and Eccentric party had no where to go, no information to go off, and thus were well and truly, in summary of the cruel English word, lost.
    “Lost!” sobbed Harvey. “Worse is lost even than being hungry, or lonely, or tired, for the word lost can not be extinguished, such as the word hungry may be by a trip to the larder, or a feeling of loneliness by visiting the neighbor, or tired-ness by napping! Nay! It is an un-just world!”
    And Bram so took up this cry also; “What devastation ever did we wreak? We have not robbed, nor maimed, nor insulted! God and all that is good must be holidaying somewhere warm, so yet we find ourselves in such circumstances, innocent bystanders in the World today! Why must all misfortune haunt us, we quiet creatures who keep seldom company save dearest friends, who pitter-patter through the mud, yet leave it unmarked, us who are kindly folk? Plague the Great Man rather, who doth deserve all that is un-just!”

    Thanks for helping, I need to know a word count goal!

  5. B. McKenzieon 16 Apr 2013 at 7:10 pm

    If you were trying to get professionally published, I would have recommended 35-45,000 words (as above). If you’re self-publishing, I think you have a bit more flexibility, but I would generally recommend staying between (say) 30,000 – 50,000 words for marketing purposes.

  6. Chelseaon 03 Jul 2013 at 9:40 am

    I have a few questions. I just stumbled upon your website and have read through some articles and have a few question about writing.

    Firstly: My book is looking like it’ll be directed toward young adults (the last bullet point, maybe Middle Grade) but the problem is I only have around 30K words. As this will be my first book I’m looking into getting published, how bad is it to have so few words? And should I try to stretch it out by adding more description or character development even if I already have that (so, should I add fluff to it)? This will be the second or third book I’ve actually finished out of about 15 that I have started (not including my fanfiction).

    Second: Is it alright to add in small scenes or chapters that do not necessarily add to the plot, but help in creating a reader-character attachment/character depth? I have asked this question to some people and they all say the same thing: “No! Anything that doesn’t contribute to the plot is pointless and should not be included.” If this is true, how can I include these character developments into the plot?

    Thirdly: How can I keep the characters as separate voices? At one point in one of my earlier books, I have six characters all working on a close-knit team and they all started blurring and I couldn’t finish the book because it was becoming very monotone and blurred. And seeing as how I have plans to pick this book up again, I would really appreciate some pointers.

    I appreciate the help.

  7. B. McKenzieon 04 Jul 2013 at 9:12 am

    “My book is looking like it’ll be directed toward young adults (the last bullet point, maybe Middle Grade) but the problem is I only have around 30K words. As this will be my first book I’m looking into getting published, how bad is it to have so few words?” I think it would really help you to substantially fill out the manuscript — a YA manuscript at 30K is probably an instant reject. (Novellas are a really, really hard sell).



    “And should I try to stretch it out by adding more description or character development even if I already have that (so, should I add fluff to it)?” I’d recommend focusing on more plot wrinkles (e.g. new conflicts, new problems, new setbacks, maybe new goals, more setup to critical actions & decisions*, etc). Character development will help. I’m not necessarily averse to description, but if a story’s length is inflated by thousands of words of description, I suspect the average reader will notice that not much is happening.

    *I’d recommend checking out “Hangmen Also Die,” a classic noir movie, for an example of a movie which added an interesting and dramatic 25% to its length by having characters waver in the face of terrible choices. (Just don’t draw out a story by having characters waver over banal choices where 99% of protagonists would have made the same choice more quickly… Hangmen Also Die worked because the choices are genuinely difficult, like “The Nazis have threatened to kill 400 prisoners unless I give myself up for execution – Is it right for me to let 400 people die in my place?” and “Should I help the hero, even though the Nazis will kill my family and me if they find out?”).



    “Second: Is it alright to add in small scenes or chapters that do not necessarily add to the plot, but help in creating a reader-character attachment/character depth? I have asked this question to some people and they all say the same thing: “No! Anything that doesn’t contribute to the plot is pointless and should not be included.” If this is true, how can I include these character developments into the plot?”

    In general, the book would be more coherent and focused if the side-arcs and scenes contribute in some way to the central plot. “…How can I include these character developments into the book?” It’s sort of hard to offer advice here without having some idea of what character developments we’re talking about. For example, if you wanted to incorporate a character’s backstory into the central plot, you could incorporate a conflict with a past acquaintance, a lost resource, and/or a substantially changed goal, etc. If you wanted to incorporate a romance into a central plot which isn’t primarily romantic (e.g. Hunger Games, Incredibles, and MacBeth), perhaps the relationship and/or conflict between the 2+ characters involved in the romance affects how the characters interact in the main plot — e.g. an initially insincere romance in Hunger Games affects the central plot because the star-crossed romance creates public sympathy for the protagonists, which makes it harder for a dictator to publicly kill them. What sort of character development did you have in mind, and what is your central plot like?



    Some ideas regarding character voices…
    1) It will probably help if the characters have very, very different personalities and ideally backgrounds. If the characters have different personalities, they will sound different even if they use somewhat similar vocabularies. In contrast, if hypothetically most of your six characters were variations on Peter Parker (i.e. mostly ordinary high school students), they will probably sound uncomfortably similar. Could you introduce your characters in 1-2 sentences? For example, if I could offer some examples from The Taxman Must Die:
    A) Gary is an accountant who’s been transferred to a SHIELD-like agency. In conversation, he’s generally awkward and prone to verbal mishaps.
    B) Gain is a paramilitary commando/mutant alligator. I think his conversation tends to sound overeducated/alien, highly assertive, and extremely eccentric.
    C) Jacob is a doctor and the lead investigator. He’s very methodical and unforgiving — in an operating room or a super-crime scene, mistakes get people killed.
    D) The team’s pilot/driver is known informally as “Medivac,” because riding with him generally takes one to a hospital. He scares because he doesn’t care.
    You can see my sample pages here for an example of how 2 of these characters interact. Hopefully it’s pretty intuitive how these characters could talk together (and to outside characters) without sounding alike? (Or, at least, I can’t think of any reason an overeducated commando would sound anything like an accountant or a morbid super-doctor).

    2) Would it be possible to merge and/or delete some of the characters? It would probably be easier to give the characters distinct voices if you were working with, say, 3-4 characters rather than 6. (In addition, having fewer characters generally makes the character development more effective).

  8. Wolfgirlon 21 Feb 2014 at 2:24 pm

    How many words are minimum for a young adult novel?

  9. B. McKenzieon 22 Feb 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Generally, I’d recommend at least 55,000 words for contemporary/humor/mystery/historical/romance YA and at least 70,000 words for fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal YA.

  10. Sambicason 18 Apr 2015 at 2:57 pm

    This doesnt help too much. I think im writing to a YA audience and using a5 paper i have 350-400 words per page that means my book would have to be 70000/400=175 pages long, and that’s for a a5 paper size. It’s like writing a short story: you don’t have too much room for details and every trouble needs to be solved quickly, that doesnt feel like a novel to me. I mean i prefer to write short stories rather than novels and i always thought that with a novel, those “rules” can be broken because when i go to the bookstore, i see all these epic fantasy novels with 600-700 pages. However, since i am more a short story writer i wanted my novel to be 350-450 pages long and that is the size of a novel like The Hobbit, just to give an example. So what do you guys think, you think i should get back with short stories or something like that

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply