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.

-Chris


18 comments:

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

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

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  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.

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  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.

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

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  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!

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  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!

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

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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!

    www.thewritersink.com.au

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  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".

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

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

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