I have just completed my first manuscript for a children's book. It is a long traditional bedtime story to be read over several days or weeks even! I don't really understand why I must limit the number of words. Please can anyone advise? Many thanks.
Because bedtime stories are about getting children to fall asleep and no parent wants to be reading until 3am.
Publishers impose word restrictions for two basic reasons.
A new author represents are risk. Bigger books cost more to produce, so the risk is higher. Restricting word count reduces the risk of taking on a new author.
There is a limit to how long (or short) of a book a reader is willing to buy on particular subjects. Publishers know this. (It is their business to know.) They won't publish things that are too short or too long to sell. They will publish things are in the sweet spot of length for a particular genre. (And if you go through a bookstore you will see that there is considerable uniformity in the length of most books in each section.)
I've bought a few books for young cousins that are collections of stories to be read around the year... or simply anthologies of stories under a certain theme (princesses, giants, whatever). Parents like it because one book will work for many nights and many stories.
My suggestion is to present your objective for the story in the title, eg. The 1001 nights bedtime story.
Then clearly state that each chapter is for one night (and give it an ending that isn't a real cliffhanger - no one is going to leave the chapter for the next day if it's a real cliffhanger). You could have an entire page in between chapters with a picture of what happened in the chapter that has just ended to add a physical barried in between chapters.
Another way to make it work would be if each chapter is a one-day adventure, so you could tell the child this is what happened to [protagonist] today. I can't wait to see what will happen tomorrow, can you? Well, we won't know till tomorrow night.
I am a children's book illustrator and a member of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. We recently had a workshop on what children like and the age level of each kind of children's book.
The reason there is now a loose publisher/agent imposed word limit on most picture books is children have a much shorter attention span than they did in previous decades. Also, children are reading at a much earlier age. Picture books are mostly for the 3 to 4 year old age group. the 5 to 7 year olds are already reading easy chapter books on their own. Maybe your book would make a better chapter book. The longer storybooks of my generation are in short supply.
I think reading to children at any age will make them better students and readers. It exposes them to situations outside the home and introduces vocabulary.