Choosing a format for my children’s book

Even when I had come to the decision I would be writing a children’s story, the decision process was far from over.

The term ‘Children’s books’ is an umbrella term use for books ranging from babies all the way up to young adults, and of course, a book written for a three year old is vastly different from one written for a sixteen year old.

Know your options

For me, deciding who my audience would be and what format my story would best suit, the process started by familiarising myself with the age brackets, formats and average wordcount of each category.

I will summarise below (source used: Writing Children’s Books for Dummies by Lisa Rojany Buccieri and Peter Economy)

Board books
Pictures do most of the storytelling.
Age range is 0-3 years old.
10-14 pages long.

Picture books
Heavily illustrated.
Age range 3-8 years old.
Generally within 24-32 pages.
Anywhere from 100 to 1,500 words. (Although often publishers want it under 800.)

Early readers
Anywhere from 10-64 pages.
Best for kids between ages of 5-9, but dependant on reading level. (Level 1-5).
Difficult to write as very prescriptive in terms of vocabulary.

Chapter books
If illustrated, only black and white scattered throughout.
Longer than early readers.
Age range: 7-10.
Often 10-11 chapters, max 1000 words per chapter.

Middle grade
Age range: 8-12 years old
Word count ranges from 20k to 55k.

Young adult
For ages 12+
Word count from 55k-70k.

Armed with this information, the next step was a trip (or several) to the library. It’s all well and good knowing on paper what format is what and for whom, but nothing beats seeing and immersing oneself in its physical form. I also bought my own from car boot sales and second hand shops.

A rather entertaining sidenote here – I genuinely had a fleeting thought before remembering libraries existed that went something like this: ‘I wish there was a way I could get books for free.’ DUH. Not one of my finest moments.

Me, 2019

So I left my first trip to the library with about 15 books, and very impressed by the fact that that max I could take out was 30. 30!! I had a range of board books, picture books, early reader, chapter and YA and started to get a feel for what felt right. At this point, my focus was on my fairy story, as Rainbow Moon Dog and Chish and Fip hadn’t even crossed my mind.

Being a visual person, I really appreciated the beauty and craft that went into a picture book, however my gut (there it is again, my trusty old gut!) told me that the picture book medium was not the right one for this particular story.

Listen to the story

As is often the case, the story was organically fleshing itself out over time, and it was becoming clear to me that the story I wanted to tell was meatier and more complex than anything that could be done in a board or picture book.

Picture book vetoed, I was left with early reader, chapter, middle grade and YA.

Again, I listened to the story. My story was going to be about fairies and set in a school. Although fairies can be done effectively in fantasy novels for an older audience, fairies in a school setting (and primary school at that) told me that the interest level of this story would be more 7-12 year olds than middle grade or YA. Early reader wouldn’t allow enough words or depth to tell my story, so that left me with a chapter book. 10k words would be enough to tell the story I wanted to, but not too complicated that a competent child of that age couldn’t read it on their own. DECISION MADE.

The next blog post I hope to write is about the planning process and going from an idea in my head and a chosen format, to a first draft. Thrilling stuff…

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