Charting the Course

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One of the fun things about self publishing a children’s book is that in addition to the many hats you get to wear (I love hats) as writer, illustrator, layout girl, and official chocolate tester, you learn a lot about the rules that govern the creation of many books your own kids read.

Did you know, for example, the standard length for children’s books is 32 pages? The standard was established by Beatrix Potter and her publisher Frederick Warne as way to get the most pages out of a single sheet of paper. It was an economic decision that stood the test of time.

As a writer, illustrator, naturalist, and well-known rule-breaker, Beatrix Potter has been an idol of mine for some time, and as I’ve been laying out the Truth about Trolls, I had to decide whether or not to follow Beatrix’s guidelines, or make my own rules for the modern world. Remembering that my own kids never argued about a story lasting longer, I ended up deciding it was better to stretch the text over a few extra pages and pictures.

I’ve read many books to my kids over the years, never thought to check the word count. The modern word count is about 250 to 1000 words depending on the age of the kid. Many of the classics such as The Giving Tree or Sylvester and the Magic Pebble are much longer, settling on a word count was a tough decision. In the end, I trimmed it down to as close to 1000 words as possible, and, as the illustrations take shape and help tell the story, the word count continues to shrink.

Ultimately, walking the line has been less about following or breaking rules and more about listening to the story. Hopefully it’s what, in 2017, Beatrix would do.

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