Anastasia Suen

Developmental Editor

Category: workshops (Page 3 of 3)

Should I write a picture book or a chapter book?


Q. Should I write a picture book or a chapter book?
A. There are two factors to consider:

1. the main character’s age
2. the length of your story.

The main character’s age is the first item to check.

  • If the main character is a preschool child, then a picture book is the best choice for your story.
  • If the main character is age 6-8, you can write for either format. There are picture books for ages 6-8 and there are chapter books for ages 6-8.

Q. If I am writing for ages 6-8, how do I choose between a picture book and a chapter book?
A. The length of your story for ages 6-8 will determine whether you are writing a picture book or a chapter book.

The ideal word count for a picture book is less than 500 words. (Some picture books are as long as 800 words.) In a chapter book, 500-800 words only fill ONE chapter and most editors want to see TEN chapters.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where your story idea fits best. If you make it shorter, it could fit into a picture book. And if you make it longer it could fit into a chapter book. (Been there, done that!)

The real question is, how much detail do you want to add? Can you tell the story with just a few key details? That fits into a picture book.


A chapter book is often TEN times longer than a picture book. If you have multiple scenes in mind, the chapter book format will give you the room you need to add all of the details and all of the scenes you envision.


Still can’t decide? Read new picture books and new chapter books just like your book. One format isn’t better than the other — it’s just a matter of finding the right place for your story.

Copyright © 2016 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.

How long is a children’s book manuscript?


The Zombie Project: A Boxcar Children Mystery
(ghostwritten by Anastasia Suen)

Q. How long is a children’s book manuscript?
A. The length of the book depends on the age of the child who will be reading it. The older the child is, the longer the book will be.

There are six different children’s book formats and each one is for a different age. What a toddler wants to read is not the same as what a teen wants to read. Children change as they grow. The psychological needs of each age group are very different. These varying psychological needs are one reason children’s books are divided into different ages.

Here is a general age and word count guideline:
1. Board books (birth to 2) 8-50 words
2. Picture books (2-7) less than 500 words
3. Beginning readers (4-8) 500-1,500 words
4. Chapter books (5-10) 5,000-20,000 words
5. Middle grade (8-12) 20,000-55,000 words
6. Young adult (12-17) 55,000-70,000 words

The most accurate way to figure out the word count that editors prefer is to read recently published children’s books like yours.

Count the number of words on a few pages, figure out the average, and multiply that number by the number of pages in the printed book.

Copyright © 2016 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah


Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah
by Laurie Ann Thompson (Author) and Sean Qualls (Illustrator)

So this happened yesterday:

You may remember this book from an earlier blog post when Laurie went on tour for her book My Dog Is the Best in June 2015. Here is a snippet:

I’ve known Laurie for ten years. (We started working together in 2005 when she signed up for her first online writing workshop.) Needless to say I was quite pleased when she emailed me last month to let me know she had another new book coming out!


Q. When did you start writing?
Well, I guess in some ways I’ve always been a writer. My mom says that before I could even read my favorite thing to do was tell her stories, on and on, hour after hour. Later, in school, I loved every assignment related to writing. As a teen, I kept a journal, including lots of really terrible, angsty poetry. And, just for fun, I pursued a technical writing minor in college. Still, I never considered writing as a career until I was pregnant with my first child. I didn’t know much about having babies or raising them, so that became my big research project. I read everything I could get my hands on, and—of course—passed all of that useful knowledge on to my friends who already had children. One day my best friend said, “You know, you should really write all of this stuff down for people. It seems like such a waste to just tell me.” I realize now that it was probably just to shut me up (tactful, isn’t she?), but her comment set me on a new course, and I started querying parenting magazines. After my child was born, however, I fell in love with the children’s books I was reading at bedtime every night. I knew I’d found my calling.


Q. Describe your writing process.
It really varies, since I write so many different kinds of things. If I’m setting out to write long-form nonfiction, such as Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something that Matters, I start with research, then I outline, then I draft the proposal. Finally, when I’ve worked on that for a long time and given it a lot of time to stew in my brain, then I start drafting sample chapters. Inevitably, that changes the proposal and the outline, but I just can’t start with the actual writing until I have a vision of how all of the pieces are going to come together in the end.

Be A Changemaker

A. For picture books, even nonfiction like Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, it’s more about trial and error, jumping in and playing with the story. I’ll usually just do just enough research or idea generation to have a basic idea of where I’m headed, then I’ll just start drafting. When I find a general structure that I like, then I’ll go back and research to find the facts and details that I need to flesh it out (for nonfiction) or I’ll work on developing the story arc and characters (for fiction).


A. In either case, my favorite part is revision. I was a software engineer before switching to writing, and revision feels just like debugging. I love taking something that is “broken” and fixing it so it’s just right, removing all of the errors getting all the parts to work perfectly alone and together as a whole.

Congratulations on the Schneider Family Book Award, Laurie!!!

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