Monday, February 20, 2012

Researching the Genre You Want to Write

Changing Gears

I have tons of ideas for picture books for children ages one to six. So many, in fact, that I posted 10 Story Starters on my blog to share ideas with other kidlit writers and illustrators. The Starters are open ended so it isn’t like I am giving away lots of specific ideas that I will use.

While I love writing picture books, I have a few ideas rolling around for books that are a little longer.  Jumping from picture books to chapter books or mid grade novels required me to do a little research. I had read a ton of books from this genre; I just had not studied them. There is a difference.

I went to the library and pulled the first books from three different mid grade series books for girls. I knew my target was a girl between ages 7-9 so I looked specifically at early mid grade books/older chapter books. I pulled from Junie B Jones by: Barbara Park, Clementine by: Sara Pennypacker, and Katie Kazoo by: Nancy Krulik.

I took my book choices to a quiet table with an outlet and plugged in my laptop. I opened each book and typed in the following information:

Series Name

Book Name



Agent (if mentioned in the Dedication or the About the Author section)

Number of Chapters

Number of Pages in the Whole Book

Average Number of Pages per Chapter

Then I propped up the book next to my computer and typed (yes, typed*) the entire first chapter, then the second. I did not include page breaks – I typed it as it would look in manuscript form so I could see it that way. I used Word Count to get a tally for the number of words in each of these first two chapters, added them together, and divided in two to get an average number of words per chapter. I also divided the number of words per chapter by the number of pages to get an average number of words per page. I typed this into my list of info about that book.

After typing (and thereby reading) the chapters, I added the point of view and the age of the mc.

Next, I set the View on my screen so that I could see 1 whole page on the screen. I looked at it for a few minutes, noting the length of the paragraphs, the amount of dialogue versus description, the tag lines, and the amount of italics and bold letters. I scrolled page my page just looking and taking mental notes (not typing in anything).

I gathered this list of information and typed in the first two chapters of all three books. Then I compared the data from all three. I highly suggest doing this research. I learn by doing so the act of typing in the words of another author helped me to feel the lengths of the sentences, the amount of dialogue, and the amount of description.

*Important Note: Do not use this typed in data and chapters for anything but research. It is plagiarism to copy someone else’s work and claim is as your own. This exercise was only to gather information about successful books in the genre in which I have chosen to write.

With that said, here's just a bit of what I learned from 2 of the books:

Katie Kazoo Switcheroo:

Book: 76 pages

10 chapters

All chapters 6-7 pages long.

Average words per page = 120 (there are b/w line drawings scattered through this book)


Book: 135 pages

10 chapters

Average length of chapters:  11.5 pages (ranged between 9 -14 pages in each chapter)

Average words per page = 103 (there were b/w line drawings scattered through this book)


A chapter book or early mid grade novel for this target audience should be about 70-150 pages long – by this, I mean book pages which at an average of 120 words per page is roughly half of a double spaced, 12 pt New York Times with a 1 inch margin page. Translation – a book for this target age is about a 35-60 page manuscript and each chapter is only about 3-6 typed pages.

Next Blog Post:

Outlining your Chapter Book or Mid-Grade Novel


  1. Thanks for doing this! It's really useful information for those of us who are planning to write chapter books. :)

  2. So word count would be about 9,000 to 14,000? (I think in word count, not in typed pages.)

    That's very helpful, as I'm working on chapter books and middle grade novels, as well. (And I love the Clementine books!)

    1. Yes, seems soo short but that is it. This is specifically the young mid grade and chapter books so your reader is 6-9 years old. There is a real need for boy books at this age so if you have an idea to write something that is NOT about how weird school is or about a magic tree house or being a detective like Nate the Great or Jigsaw Jones - go for it!

    2. Great! Actually a couple of my 12x12 ideas are likely better suited to chapter books, and boys. Thanks, Alison.

  3. Great information. One of my friends is trying to write a chapter book. I'll pass this information on to her. :)

  4. Wow Alison! I would have never thought to research it in that way although I have always wondered how chapter books were done in terms of page and word count. Thanks for sharing your research!

  5. Excellent information. I decided to break down a chapter book chapter by chapter. I'm looking forward to your next post!

  6. This is very helpful, Alison. I have done this type of research with different series - Magic Tree House, The Zack Files, and My Weird School... I find it very helpful to get a feel for vocabulary, sentence length, chapter length, book length.

    1. Were your findings consistent with mine? I did a very small sampling of what is out there and intend to look at more books this way. I would love to hear what you learned from those books!