Friday, June 10, 2011

Word Count for Lower Grade Chapter Books

Fact:  I write the most under-heard-of sub-genre of children's books in Earth's history.  I write Lower-Grade.  I can hear some of you scoffing from here and saying, you mean Middle Grade, right?  Nope.  MG novels average 20k-30k words. 
When I started writing I felt kind of lost, but really there is a lot less information about these books and how to write them than there is for MG or YA.  

One of the things I discussed with my critiquer at SCBWI of the Dakotas was how my low word count (5.8k) might be pegging me into a corner I don't want to be in.  She asked where I got my word count range and I told her I had actually counted the first book in the Magic Tree House series.  At the time it seemed brilliant.  I had a story to tell, but had no idea how to tell it, so I used a framework from a successful series I was familiar with.  So I counted, took for stinkin' ever, then I made sure my chapters were within 100 words of that number, just as a basis to keep the total word count within range.  Sometimes I would go under, sometimes over, but it helped me stick to the only reference for chapter and book length I had.  Actually my critiquer thought it was a good idea and was impressed I had a basis other than, "I heard it on the interwebz," but she still felt my writing fits a little higher level than Magic Tree House.

Magic Tree House #1 is 4,740 (my books were a little under 1k more than that.)
Here is the breakdown per chapter too, which I found helpful for reference.
Magic Tree House Dinosaurs at Dawn
Chapter 1: 303
Chapter 2: 536
Chapter 3: 390
Chapter 4: 420
Chapter 5: 625
Chapter 6: 683
Chapter 7: 344
Chapter 8: 324
Chapter 9: 523
Chapter 10: 592
Average Chapter length 475 words, Range 380 words, Mode <400 words, Median  420,523

Now I'm in process of getting my books to a length closer to Time Warp Trio books. (which range from 6.5k-11k  (yep, counted one of them too.) 

Viking It And Liking It (8,232)
Chapter 1: 688
Chapter 2: 803
Chapter 3: 1,189
Chapter 4: 712
Chapter 5: 842
Chapter 6: 498
Chapter 7: 978
Chapter 8: 906
Chapter 9: 398
Chapter 10: 964
Chapter 11: 254
Average Chapter length 748 words, Range 935 words, Median 803 words.
Jon was a little all over the place in terms of chapter length.  That range is almost 300 words more than my longest chapter.  From these numbers I learned: a) counting is not fun. b) There are no set rules for chapter length in a publishable book.  c) Having an average does help set limits and determine chapter breaking points.
I'm going to count a few more in the future (Judy Moody, Ready Freddy) and I'll post the break downs.  I think it's an important reference and just can't really find this info anywhere else.  If anyone wants to count some for me, let me know :)  Happy writing.



  1. i hope you got the average number of words per page and then multiplied by the number of pages.

  2. No. Pages ranged from 20-204 words per page.

  3. Matt, Me too. But I like having a guide and some examples that give me a basis, but also tells me it's not THAT big of a deal.

  4. nice way to deconstruct a book.

    FYI-I just came back from Backspace, everyone is looking for MG now, especially a boy book. I'm guessing your early reader (is that the official cat?) would fall into that.

  5. You have a lot of time on your hands...

  6. Wow. I am in total awe that you counted the words of the whole book.

    But wonderful that you're sharing your research . . . there isn't a lot out there for this genre. You'll soon be the expert!

  7. Count me out of the counting. But it's good you've decided to embark on a voyage to the realm of lower grade!

  8. I love how it is all broke down and think it is interesting. Best wishes on the breakdowns!

  9. Wow. Tenacious of you. I've always just averaged it out. You know, counted one of the average length pages and then multiplied to get the general range. I think it's good to count as a guideline, as long as when you're actually writing, you're writing the story and not the word count.

  10. Yikes! That's a lot of time and energy, but at least now, you've got a range, and that can be helpful in revision.

    Funny, that there aren't guidelines out there already. You'd think the publishers of these books would have that stats up somewhere.

  11. You must have gotten a massive headache by the time you were done counting. I'm sure after a while all the words start to blend together and . . . my eyes hurt just thinking about it.

    I'd honestly never heard of lower grade. I think calling them Elementary books would sound much nicer.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Impressive! Thank you for your advice! I'm writing a travel coffee table book.. Different genre obviously but this has been very helpful. Cheers!

  14. Thanks for this. I happened to be curious about word count in the Magic Tree House series, and found this note. One nitpick: Book 1 is "Dinosaurs Before Dark", not "Dinosaurs at Dawn".

  15. Thank you Chris, this info is very helpful.
    Ally Nathaniel

  16. Belated thanks...thanks for counting & sharing. I'm in the lower grade/MG lump somewhere too. We've got this!

  17. Thank you for taking the time to do this. Other bloggers tell overall word count, It is nice to see the chapter breakdown. Thanks!

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. Thanks Chris really useful info. Thanks for counting

  20. Thanks for counting Chris, really useful info.

  21. Hi there Chris! I ran across this blog post a few months ago, as I googled how many words were in the Time Warp Trio books (so I could get out of counting them myself!). Recently, however, I attended an SCBWI meeting and was given some info you and your other readers might enjoy: there's a website with troves of info, including word count and suggested reading level, for basically every book that's been traditionally published.

    I've found it extremely useful and time-saving so far!

  22. Fantastic Post. I find myself in a similar position. I have a story and want to tell it but I am unsure how it will be received. I find myself in the 7k range and had the exact same thought you did. Thanks for counting. I am inclinded to stay where I am instead of 'bumping it up' to a higher age level. Again, thanks.