Great Writing Retreat Reveals for Children’s Authors

When I returned from the SCBWI’s Weekend on the Water writer’s retreat in Dumas, WA last month, I dove back into the hustle and bustle of my day job, sports carpools, parenting, and an onrushing deadline for my latest 500 page project for Random House-Germany, Princess Assassin. It’s due Dec 1st. Am I panicking? The answer is “absolutely.”

Despite all this life happening to me, I have a moment to share some great stats and insight I learned from Chelsea Eberley at the retreat. Chelsea is an editor for Random House Books for Young Readers, which is a big reason I decided to attend the retreat. Coincidentally, I write books for young readers, and I have more stories for young readers to tell. I appreciate Chelsea’s time and insight and want to share some of it with you.

If you ever wondered….here are the Page Counts/Word Counts for different types of children’s books:

  • Board Book: 100 words; 1-2 words per page.
  • Picture Book: 400-800 words; 24, 32, 40 pages.
  • Beginning Readers: 32 pages or 48 pages.
  • Chapter Books: 8,000-11,000 words; 100 pages.
  • Middle Grade: 30,000-50,000 words; Protag 10-13 years old – kids want to read their age or a little older.
  • Young Adult: 60,000 – 80,000 words; Protag 14+ years old.
  • New Adult: 60,000-80,000 words; Protag 18+ – early 20s and in college.

Other tips:

  • Avoid “Manufactured (artificial) Urgency”
  • *Avoid an unnecessary prologue (*I star this one, because this was Chelsea’s comment on my piece).
  • Avoid opening with dialogue. Who’s that talking???
  • Avoid jumping in with a fight scene. We don’t care who wins yet!
  • Climactic scenes should (at least) have logic and the main character.
  • Take a moment to describe the setting.
  • Wounded characters need time to heal. Duh.
  • Climactic scenes should be tightly edited to convey urgency.

Here’s a Good Exercise to Try: Pretend the scene is being used as a cover quote, and read it aloud.

And finally, some parting words and advice from Chelsea…

  • “I don’t expect perfection, just forward momentum.”
  • How to respond to editorial letters: “Thanks for your notes. I understand them. I’ll think about them and get back to you by _____.”
  • If you disagree with the editor, say: “I feel strongly that…”  “My priority is…”
  • Avoid these responses to an editor: “No!” “I’m the writer.” “Who in the world gave you a fine arts degree?”

While it is hard to take the time out to attend conferences and events, the connections made are excellent. The information that I have shared above is uber-useful (like a reasonably priced ride on the path to publishing) and, as important, not copyrighted.

Additionally, the opportunity to talk personally with an editor who is in tune with current trends and willing to take the time to discuss my very own current story pitches is invaluable.

A big thanks to Western Washington’s Chapter of SCBWI and Chelsea!

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