Nancy's Books

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Word Count for Children's Books



A beginning writer recently asked me about the word count of children’s books. No specific answer qualifies for every publisher, but here is a general overview: 

Board books: 0-100 words. 

Fiction picture books range from 0 to 500 words. These books keep getting shorter. Nonfiction titles are often longer. 

Early chapter books for 5-7 year-olds are illustrated and range 1,000-7,000 words. 

Chapter books for the older audience, ages 7-9, range up to 15,000 words.  
 
Middle-grade novels for ages 8-12 are usually between 20,000-45,000 words, maybe more. My middle grade novel, AMAZING GRACE, topped out at 33,000. 

YA (Young Adult) novels range higher: 50,000-85,000. 

Publishers set their own parameters for word length. There are many variations, but these are generally acceptable. 

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.

 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Writing in Rhyme

In a writing group I recently attended, one member followed up with an email to ask why editors did not like rhyming stories. I certainly can’t answer for editors, and since I don’t (and can’t) write in rhyme, my reply is based on the information I’ve heard in workshops and discussions with several editors.

Rhyme does not work when the rhyme is the most important factor. The story reigns supreme and should have an arc with a beginning, middle, and ending, as with non-rhyming stories. The words should read well and be fun to say, and the rhyming words should be exact rhymes. Near-rhymes don’t cut it.

The strength of the story comes from the voice, emotion, plot, character, and resolution/change at the end of the story, not from the rhyme. It’s easy to write bad rhyme (I know because the rhyme I’ve written is not contract worthy), and good rhyme is extremely difficult to master.  

Editors often steer away from rhyme since it is difficult to translate into other languages, making the sales market smaller. 

The manuscript must tell a good story. If you can do that and follow the rules of rhyme, give it a try. Many authors do and are successful.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Chicken Soup. Christmas and Holiday Collection – 2018. Our next holiday collection will not be released until 2018 but we are already collecting stories for it. People love reading about the winter holidays – from Thanksgiving all the way through New Year’s Day. We want to hear about your traditions and how they came to be. We want to hear about your holiday memories and the rituals that create the foundation of your life. We love to hear about the funny things too: the ugly holiday sweaters, the gingerbread house that kept falling down, the re-gifting embarrassments and the fruit cake disasters. Please be sure your stories are “Santa safe” so we don’t spoil the magic for any precocious young readers. The deadline date for story and poem submissions is October 31, 2017.

 Submission guidelines at http://www.chickensoup.com/story-submissions/possible-book-topicsSubmission guidelines at

 Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at www.nancykellyallen.com

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Writing with Kid Appeal

          Kid appeal is a must in writing articles for children’s magazines.

If you include a kid in an article, you’re much more likely to sell it. For example, when writing an article about football training, the text will be more appealing if you write about a specific kid in training, rather than an article about football training, in general. The same is true for an article on all subjects, such as the importance of recycling. Writing about a kid who is involved with a recycling project will resonate more with the reader than an article about the need to recycle plastic.

          To catch and hold a reader’s attention, write about kids who are near the reader’s age. Most teen magazine articles approach all subjects with specific kids sharing their own stories and experiences.                                       

Visuals are a necessity, too. Some magazines may require you to provide photos, and others may use stock photos, which are provided by the magazine. Photos are important to the story because they place the reader directly in the subject area. Visuals and text are equally important. Not only do kids want to read information, they want to see the pictures, too.
 
The common denominator in writing that all kids enjoy is humor. Add humor to lessen the didactic prose. If you’re writing a quiz for the readers, try spicing it up with a touch of fun and funny. Kids enjoy puns and other forms of wordplay (I was told I had Type A blood, but it was a typo.)
Write about subjects that are of high importance to the reader: boy/girl relationships, parent guidelines, friendships…
Will kids want to read the article? Check it out with some kids before you ship it out to a publisher. Ask for feedback from those readers.
Up your chances of getting a contract by adding kid appeal. Your editor will thank you for it.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
FUN FOR KIDZ: Ages 6-13, with emphasis on ages 8-10. Each issue has a specific theme. See guidelines for theme list. Fiction and Nonfiction: 500 words or fewer. Focus is on activities and promoting positive values. Articles with photos are more likely to be accepted.
Submission guidelines at http://funforkidzmagazines.com/writers

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Picture Book Revision, part 3

Tips on picture book revision, continued:

Kid appeal. Children experience the world differently than adults. What adults take for granted is a first-time experience for a child, making the event more exciting, challenging, amazing. The world of a child is filled with wonder.
Consider the age of the target audience before writing the first word. Word choice, sentence length, plot, and theme have to work together to produce a story that appeals to a child’s sensibilities. Generally, books for younger children have fewer words. The story doesn’t preach; it educates, entertains, and explores.
Gatekeeper appeal. Adults decide which books young children will hold in their hands and enjoy. They want picture books that offer something of value, a story that reveals timeless truths. The simple structure, beautiful illustrations, and economy of words create a theme that connects with the child and the adult. I always review my polished draft and ask, will this book be enjoyable on a second reading? Is there an underlying universal theme that the parent and child can discuss? If I don’t ask it, an editor certainly will. Editors often refer to books without a universal theme as “slight.”
Marketability. One more important aspect of revision is the marketability of the story. Are other similar books in the marketplace? How is my book different? What does my book offer that is different from the others?
Just write. We can’t control the market, so write from the heart and tell the story you want to tell.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Babble is an ever-evolving collection of wisdom and perspective and humor. It brings together unique voices that foster refreshing conversations. Real parents sharing real moments that help you think, help you learn, help you laugh, and help you be a better you.

Indicate in the subject line of your email what section of Babble your piece would run: Mom, Pregnancy, Baby, Toddler, Kid, Body + Mind, Work + Money, Home, Relationships, Entertainment, Beauty, Food, or Travel.

Submission guidelines at http://www.babble.com/write-for-babble/

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Picture Book Revision, part 2

            Tips on revision, continued:

My thought processes rely heavily on verbs that don’t show action: is, are, was, were…. In revision, I eliminate many of the non-action verbs and replace them with other verbs that paint a specific picture (pedaled, skipped, barked). Action verbs don’t need modifiers, so fewer words are needed to describe the scene.
Add rhythm. Alliteration (fog floated) makes the prose livelier. Onamonapia (bumpty-bump) adds a beat that sounds like poetry when read aloud. Rhythm is how the words connect, a rise and fall of the phrases and sentences.
Less dialog. Picture books don’t rely heavily on dialog. Usually, dialog is no more than 1/3 of the text, often much less. Rather than conversations, use action scenes that can be illustrated with the narrator relating the action. The targeted audience is young children who prefer fast action to character conversation, which often slows the action. Of course, this is a general rule. Some books have no dialog, and some are all dialog.
Let the illustrations tell part of the story. Picture book writers have to think visually. When I write a first draft, I include scenes that describe illustrations. In revision, I study each word, phrase, and sentence; then, delete everything down to the bare action. Sometimes I cut so much, I have to add it again to make the story understandable. Picture books are short and the stories are to the point.
Every page in the book must show action and the pace is usually fast. After writing the first draft, I divide the manuscript into 13 scenes. Each scene must show action. If not, more revision is required.
Next week, I’ll add more tips.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Narrative is strongly committed to supporting our authors’ work. Our current rates for work are as follows:—$150 for a Story of the Week, with $400 each for the annual Top Five Stories of the Week.
—$150 to $350 for 500 to 2,000 word manuscripts.
—$350 to $1,000 for 2,000 to 15,000 word manuscripts.
—Rates for book-length works vary, depending on the length and nature of the work.
—$50 minimum for each accepted poem and audio piece. ($25 for poetry reprints.)
—$200 each for the annual Top Five Poems of the Week.FIRESIDE
Submission guidelines at http://www.narrativemagazine.com/node/360

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Picture Book Revision, part 1

           Whew! The first draft is finished looks more like a lump of coal than a polished gem, but coal is good. The revision process starts now. Here are some “coal” hard facts:

The manuscript needs structure with a tight arc that clearly defines the beginning, middle, and ending. Many picture books suffer from an ending that’s too short or a beginning that’s too long. Writers accomplish this with a setup of three obstacles the character must face, each obstacle increasing in difficulty and leading toward a climax. Ideally, the beginning is about 20% of the manuscript, the middle is 60%, and the ending is 20%.
Here’s a burning question I always ask myself: Does the character accomplish what s/he sets out to do and without intervention by an adult? If not, rethink the plot.
Condensed writing. Keep the story less than 600 words, under 500 words is preferable with many publishers. The key to tight writing is to cut, cut, cut words. If the words don’t promote the plot or develop the character, axe them. Every word must help tell the story. Chop words that don’t paint pictures: it, there, just, that.
Allow illustrations to work for you. Since I’m not a writer, I have to constantly think about what can be shown with art. Facial expressions, color of clothes, etc. Think visually.
Burning question number 2: Have I communicated a particular idea? If so, it doesn’t need to be repeated, unless I’m using a repetition phrase intentionally for the purpose of rhythm and storytelling.
In my next blog, I’ll continue with more tips on how to polish that lump into a gem.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
HIGHLIGHTS MAGAZINE. Highlights for Children is a general-interest, advertising-free magazine for children up to age 12. Stories for younger readers (ages 3 to 7) should have 500 words or fewer and should not seem babyish to older readers. Stories for older readers (ages 8 to 12) should have 800 words or fewer and should be appealing to younger readers if read aloud. Frequent needs include humor, mystery, sports, holiday and adventure stories; retellings of traditional tales; stories with urban settings; and stories that feature world cultures. Payment $150 and up. Rebuses should have 120 words or fewer. Pays $100 and up. Nonfiction pays $150 and up.

Submission guidelines at https://www2.highlights.com/contributor-guidelines

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at www.nancykellyallen.com

Sunday, May 21, 2017

I’ve struggled with this first draft, writing and rewriting the ending, far longer than expected. Each version is a learning experience in which Muse and Inner Critic debate what works and what doesn’t, so I don’t consider the rewrites a waste of time or energy. Each time I string words together, the experience becomes a building block for success. The more I write, the stronger my writing becomes. I’ll take bits and pieces from each version and weave together, tear apart, reweave until Muse and Inner Critic are both happy with the results. Applying what I learn about writing one book will carry over to improved writing on my next project. Writing stronger with stronger writing hones skills (Muse speaking here).

Endings need to provide closure and reflect a truth about life. So far, I haven’t been able to create a humorous ending, according to Inner Critic. A warm feeling of contentment doesn’t seem to work for this story, either. I’m leaning toward a cliffhanger, in which the reader defines the ending. Some readers will think one way; others with “see” it another way. It’s open to interpretation. I want to take the reader to a place they didn’t expect to go as they finish the book. That makes the reading journey more exciting, rewarding, and fun. But how do I do that? By focusing on cliffhanger endings only and writing a number of them. By letting Muse direct me with an imagination for the delightful, suspenseful, or strange. By letting Inner Critic opt for memorable and noteworthy.
I don’t want to settle for an acceptable ending. The ending is my last contact with the readers so it can’t be ho-hum.
As I played with different ending variations, I thought about a predictable ending, and from that, ventured the opposite direction (Way to go, Muse!). An unpredictable turn of events that allows the reader to determine what will happen next is my ending of choice for this book. Is this my final decision? Probably not. As I revise the manuscript, any portion is susceptible to change. (Inner Critic, are you back again?)
Surprise the reader. That’s the key to a successful ending. Easier said (Muse) than done (Inner Critic).
My motto: Breathe. Just breathe.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Narrative Magazine. The Spring Contest is open to all fiction and nonfiction writers. They are looking for short shorts, short stories, essays, memoirs, photo essays, graphic stories, all forms of literary nonfiction, and excerpts from longer works of both fiction and nonfiction. First Prize is $2,500, Second Prize is $1,000, Third Prize is $500, and up to ten finalists will receive $100 each. All entries will be considered for publication. Click here for more information. 


Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at www.nancykellyallen.com