I have an interest in writing picture book texts and have heard mention of picture book formats that appear to be set in stone (8, 16 or 32 pages, no more than 500 words etc). Presently I am unpublished, but have a couple of manuscripts of this kind (~500 words) being evaluated (so far favorably). My question is, how hard and fast are these guidelines in today's printing houses? I recently submitted a third manuscript for evaluation (~900 words), to be told that it would be too long for a picture book. Now I don't even have to look past Dr Seuss in my son's book collection to come up with several -- of what I think of as -- successful picture books of even greater length than my MS. So have the rules changed recently, or are the longer style illustrated books (e.g. The Lorax etc) considered to be in a different genre? If so, which genre would that be?
Number of pages and number of words are not set in stone, but...
The number of pages:
Do you know what a signature is? It is the way printers bundle pages: there are 16 pages in a signature. Pick up a hardcover novel (they'll be easier to see in that binding). Look at the top or bottom of the spine. Do you see the faint separations between the bundles of pages? Those are signatures.
It is most economical to make your book's page count a multiple of 16, in order to avoid splitting signatures. It is slightly more expensive to halve a signature (8 pages), and a bit more expensive again to quarter a signature (4 pages). There is no eighth of a signature (2 pages), as far as I understand these things.
This is why most picture books are 32, 36, or 40 pages.
The number of words:
The number of words:
The first thing you should never do when comparing your manuscript to other books is using competition that's more than twenty years old. Come on.
That said, it makes an enormous difference how the text is formatted and what age group it is for. The Stinky Cheese Man is over 3,000 words long, but the text is broken up into short stories and the age group is mid-elementary. I can only guess that whoever offered you the feedback that your manuscript was too long meant that it was too long for the topic and age group. Alternatively, that person may have been wrong.