Wednesday, August 26, 2009
From Picture Books to YA - Information to Get You Started
Are you thinking of writing for children? Some of our readers have asked for more information about the different kinds of Children's fiction books, which is definitely a good place to start when writing for kids.
Picture Books are the books most people think of when they think "Children's." They combine text with illustrations and cater to kids' shorter attention spans. Normally picture books are 24-32 pages long, which includes title page, dedication, etc. Let me clear up a common myth: you do not have to be able to illustrate to write a picture book. Boardbooks also fall into the category of Picture Books. Here's a secret that I learned from an editor at Peachtree Publishers: DO NOT write a rhyming picture book. Most of the submissions Peachtree receives are rhyming - and most of what they publish is not.
Though children do not spend a huge amount of time with Early Readers, the books are an important step in their learning process. Early Readers are specifically designed for those who are learning to read. Typically 48-64 pages long, these books have a word count of up to 1500. The plot and sentence structure need to be simple, the dialogue snappy, and the story carried by the text rather than the illustrations. An example of early readers is the Frog and Toad series.
The next step up for developing readers is Chapter Books. Designed like a grown-up book but with super short chapters, the plot focuses specifically on solving one main problem. Children of this age need something they can relate to; the Magic Treehouse books, for instance, cover a plethora of subject matter. But at the core are Jack and Annie, a brother and sister team whose adventures always start out in their own backyard. Chapter Books are usually between 48 and 80 pages long with a word count of up to 10,000. The three key elements in writing these books are action, dialogue, and, if possible, humor. Be sure to give these kids a reason to turn the page.
Middle Grade books are a landmark for children - choosing one to read is a sign of their growing independence. Written for kids age 8-12, they run between 80 and 200 pages with a word count of up to 40,000. The plot should be clearly defined, the story conflict-driven. It's best to keep adult characters to a bare minimum. (After all, how could eleven-year-old Harry Potter have had the adventures he did with loving parents hovering nearby?) The story needs to move along quickly, in the first line if possible, with background information woven in as it progresses. The main character must be the one to solve the problem; if an adult steps in and sloves it, the reader will lose all sense of independence they've gained in reading the story.
In the hinterland between Adult and Children's literature hovers Young Adult, not quite fitting into either category. In recent years YA fiction has become increasingly popular - and edgier, though its audience is still considered age 12 and up. When asked in an interview what was too edgy for YA, agent Anna Webman with Curtis Brown said, "I shared this with some colleagues and we couldn’t think of anything that is too edgy these days." Readers can handle complex sentence structures, advanced vocabularies, and multiple points of view. Plus, with some books being in excess of 100,000 words (ahem, Twilight) authors have more room to write and explore subplots and multiple points of view. You will really have to tap into your "inner teen" to write Young Adult - but in today's market it may be well worth your while.
And there you have it, book types in a nutshell. :) If you are a Children's book writer, I'd love to hear more about your projects and your audience.