November 25, 2013

Attention Span and Word Count

You probably know that most children have short attention spans.  When I volunteer to read in the Children's Garden at The University of Kentucky Arboretum, this becomes amazingly apparent.  Kids fidget. They wiggle. They wander.  Though they usually stay tuned in to the first book, they start to lose interest by the second.  I try to engage them in the story by bringing the book physically closer to their faces and by becoming more animated in reading.  Regardless, some still become distracted.

We should think about attention span when we write for children.  That's why Kid's Imagination Train magazine has set a limit to 500 words for fiction and nonfiction. We want kids to stay interested.  We know that while young children love to hear stories, they must not be too long. 

But...some writers like to push the limit.  They submit pieces that go well beyond the word count.  Maybe they think an editor would not notice or would not mind a piece that runs a couple of hundred words longer. However, magazine editors do notice.  They care about the length of submissions.  Some editors can't publish longer pieces—they simply do not have the space.  While KIT has the room for longer stories or articles, a piece that goes over word count has to be exceptional.  Specifically, a longer piece has to be totally engaging and fast paced.

Most publications request that word count be listed on the first page of your manuscript. So why take the chance of submitting a piece that exceeds word count?  All an editor has to do is merely glance at the length of your story before reading it and cringe or worse, send a rejection. When she sees that you've stretched the word count, she may be thinking:  what other guidelines has this author failed to observe? 

In most cases, it is in your best interest to follow the suggested word count as specified in the guidelines. Since older children are capable of longer periods of attention, word count is usually longer.  But when you write for young children, stories and articles must be short.  And this can be challenging, but not impossible. You've got to be frugal with the words you use. You must treat them as a precious component. You must make each and every word count.  When you keep your word count to a minimum, the benefit is worth it. You will succeed in keeping a young audience engrossed and actively engaged.  

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