This is a general list of age categories and word counts for children’s books. I have often looked this up and got different results, which makes it very confusing. I have therefore made some averages, based on what I’ve heard from publishers and agents at children’s book events, and from research and reading.
Different publishers and agents can have different specifications for an age group category and their word counts, so do check with individual publishers if you’re planning to submit. It’s also important to note that an age category is not a genre; each age category can have many genres. For example Y.A. (young adult) books are for teenagers, but within that category there are fantasy books, contemporary books, sci-fi books etc.
Picture Books (PBs)
Word Count: Less than 300 for babies.
Max 500 words for toddlers.
Max 1000 words for preschoolers.
Sub-categories: PBs go from image only board books all the way up to full stories with significant illustrations.
A step up from picture books, these are for kids who have just started reading by themselves. They are short books, usually with a lot of illustrations.
Word Count: Can be publisher specific, ranging from 3,000 to absolute max 5,000.
A.k.a. Young Readers
Stories divided into chapters.
Word Count: Less than 10,000.
Middle Grade (MG)
Word Count: When I started writing three years ago, the MG word count I kept hearing was no more than 30,000 words. Now I’m seeing a lot more MG books with up to 60,000 words, so I think the water has become a bit murky here. Err on the side of caution; the younger the audience, the less the word count.
Word Count: Less than 70,000 unless it’s fantasy or sci-fi, which can stretch to 90,000 at a push.
Young Adult (YA)
Y.A books have a teenage protagonist, but if you want to write Y.A you should be aware that the majority of readers are actually adults.
Word Count: Less than 70,000 unless fantasy/ sci-fi/ supernatural, which can be longer, max 90,000.
Not all books fall into one exact age category. Books that can be read by many ages are called cross-over books. But the general rule is that if you’re a debut author, you should try and fit your book into a defined age category, so the agent or publisher will know where the book will sit on the bookshop shelf.
The best way to find out where your book fits in the market is to go into a bookshop or library and look through the books, and more importantly read them. You’ll soon start to recognise what books fit what age group.