Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Word Count

We've all been at that point in our writing when we sort of go, "How long is this book supposed to be anyway?"

It's sort of a loaded question. Some people seem to think it doesn't matter. That agents won't really care how long their book is.

Well, they do.

For example. If an agent sees your query letter about your YA book that is 250000 words and you are a debut author, they will look at your word count and groan. They'll read pages, but if they aren't absolutely in love with them, it will be a quick pass.

I've read several articles on word count and they're all pretty much the same. So here are some numbers I've researched. They are ranges and estimations on standard word counts in published books. Don't freak out if you're over or under a little, but keep in mind what is standard in this industry and try to shoot for that.

Picture Books: 500-600 words is a good number to aim for. The closer it gets to 1,000, editors and agents will shy away from it.

Middle-grade: 20,000-45,000. It depends on the reading age and the subject matter in this genre. Tween fiction is in the upper range of middle-grade. Those books may have heavier themes, but still stay away from hot topics that are acceptable in YA. (Think Percy Jackson, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, etc.)

Young Adult: YA is tricky. The estimate of where they should be is 50,000-80,000, with some room above 80,000 for YA fantasies. I've read so many YA books, it really just depends on the story. Go look in your library and notice most YA books are about the same length. Notice I said most. I guarantee books like Twilight and Harry Potter have much, much higher word-counts. But their authors are established so they can get away with it. Look at Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. How short that book is. And then look at that one compared to the last 4 books in the series. So, basically established authors can pretty much do whatever they want. The rest of us have to follow the rules. :)

Mystery: 70,000 to 90,000 is about the range I've seen while researching.

Romance: 80,000 to 100,000.  If you’re writing category romance you’ll need to follow the very specific word count requirements. I had no idea about this, but that's what everyone says. :)

Fantasy or SF: 80,000 to 125,000 range. You can go longer in these genres because of the detailed world building.

Women’s fiction: 80,000 to 100,000

Novellas & Novelettes: 30,000 - 50,000 word range.

Now these are just estimates and ranges. There are exceptions to everything, so don't go burn your WIP after you finish reading this. It varies for everyone. I know in my writing I tend to stick to the lower end of the range. I'm not sure why. My fairy tale book was 61000 and my Bound book is up to 40000 and I'll probably make it to 50k. I always try to make it between 50-60k, but sometimes my books have a mind of their own. :)

So, the question is, why do publishers and agents insist on word count?

Printing costs is a big one. It's expensive to get a book out there, and if there are more pages, it's even more expensive. Especially if you're a debut author and have written a very long book. It's a gamble for them to get your book out there. You don't know who well your book will do and neither do they.

The readers is another one. I read a lot of YA and I know I sometimes shy away from thicker books. I have so many books I want to read and I don't have a lot of time. So, I usually pick the average size book over a longer one. Maybe I'm lazy. I don't know.

Anyway, I don't think anyone is going to reject you if you're over the "standard" word count. By 100 words, 1000, or even 10000. It all comes down to your story and your writing. It also lets the agent or editor know where you stand and if they'll have to cut words or add them after they sign you. Just be aware of word count because agents and editors do look at it and it does make a difference in the long run.

What do you guys think? Where do your books stand?


Kaylee Baldwin said...

I always write on the upper end of the wc and then edit down. It's painful, but it does make me get rid of my weaker scenes/weaker characters. Meg's Melody was 105K words in first draft form. The published book was 75K words. Falling, the ms I'm querying right now, was first drafted at about 82K words, and I have edited it to 75K. For my wip, I'm not sure how long it'll be yet. I'm only 20K in, so we'll have to see.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, I pass over the bigger books. ;) I haven't written any WIP over 50k, but I haven't fleshed any out yet either. I'm planning to get my WIP to 70k at the very least.

Logan said...

I finished my first ms - a fantasy at 250,000 words. I went to my first book conference and got several concerning looks. I almost ducked my head and ran for the exit. I was told to cut massively or divide. Since then, I've cut 100,000 words and it wasn't as hard as I thought. Now I'm moving to the Query portion of this adventure. Great blog!

Jolene Perry said...

I always look at the word count guidelines. My first book was a women's fic at 120,000 words.
I cut it to 100,000 and then down to 90,000. Now I know that I'll re-write the whole thing before even attempting to publish it, but cutting words really, really helped me be a better writer.

Katie Dodge said...

You're at 40k? We are neck and neck, my friend! Who's gonna win?! Bwahahahaha

Becky Taylor said...

My YA on sub is about 86,000. So yeah, very standard. I think you can go longer, especially in YA, AFTER you have an audience and have proven that you will move books (and justify the added cost to print that doorstop.) If fact, if you are very, very loved, people will want you to go on and on so that they can stay in your world for as long as possible. I think we can all think of examples of that :-)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Excellent summary of the word count!! When I'm talking to a room full of writers at a seminar, I always stress "Keep an eye on your word count." Publishers don't want to see a book from a new writer that's over 100,000 words.

Patti said...

My first book was 100,000 but I've whittled it down to 66,000 words. I think somewhere between 50-70,000 is good for YA. Any shorter and I feel a little cheated.

Ruth Josse said...

I just write the story I set out to write and whittle it down in revisions. The story is still the same but much more consise. It's amazing the amount of words you can cut and it actually makes the story better.

Emy Shin said...

These are great word length guidelines! I tend to overwrite and have to whittle my manuscript down to the recommended length.

LynNerd said...

Thanks for this informative post. I hadn't heard about the romance word count before. Interesting that they're so strict. My chapter book is just under 11,000 words, and my YA is over 85,000 and needs a lot of cutting.

Jessie Oliveros said...

My YA book is around 70,000. My MG books is going to be over 50,000 in the end, but I know I'm going to cut a lot of extra free-writing when I'm done. I'm like you...I shy away from the REALLY long ones.

Robin Weeks said...

I'm trying to keep my YA Fantasy to 99,000--or close enough to call it that in my query letter. Yes, I know that's already too long. :(

Peggy Eddleman said...

Mine is an upper middle grade at 60,000 words. I SO wish I could get it to 50,000. I know that even if it gets published, the size could make a lot of kids never pick it up. But, after 10 full revisions, I've come to terms with its size.

And I absolutely LOVE your header picture!

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

handy list. gonna have to bookmark it. :)

Emily Rittel-King said...

Thanks for the refresh on the word count. It definitely does count! I'll double check mine and make sure I'm in line. BTW, I have seen YA's go up to 90,000 words, but that could have been wrong.

Trisha said...

Word count is a big problem for me, as I almost always go way over the recommended quota ;) And I have lately begun to realise why...I write too much crap I don't need. :D

Working on it... hehe

Chantele Sedgwick said...

@Kaylee Baldwin Isn't it crazy all the stuff we end up cutting during revisions? It makes my head hurt just thinking about it! lol
@Madeline Bartos Aren't those bigger books monsters? lol ;)
@Logan Good luck querying!! And I'm so impressed you cut that many words. Not an easy thing to do.
@Jolene Perry My first book was 80,000 and ended up at 70,000. Granted it won't see the light of day, but it helped me learn how to revise and cut things. It's hard, but you gotta do it! ;)
@Becky Taylor Congrats on being on sub and good luck! ;) I agree about writing longer books once you're established. It would be nice to be able to do whatever we wanted! :)
@L. Diane Wolfe I've always thought of the saying, "less is more" when it comes to word count. I tend to stay toward the lower side, but not under. You know what I mean? :)
@Patti Wow! You cut a lot from that book! I'm impressed! It's not an easy thing. I always die a little inside at those scenes I have to cut. It makes my book stronger though. :)
@Ruth Josse I agree. I look back at my first drafts and think, "What was I thinking in that scene? Goodbye!" He he. :)
@Emy Shin I wish I could write a little more, but I always seem to end up at the lower end of the word count range. :)
@LynNerd Good luck on your cutting/revising! It's hard, but worth it in the end! ;)

Chantele Sedgwick said...

@Jessie Oliveros Yes. Really long ones make me cringe. I'm sure they are very well written, but I just don't have time. Three kids kind of suck away whatever time I have! lol
@Robin Weeks Don't worry. I'm sure you'll be fine! :D As long as it's not 200,000 you'll be okay! :) Good luck with querying!!
@Peggy Eddleman Holy crap! 10 FULL revisions!? I so want to read this book! I bet it is a manuscript of gold! :D And I wouldn't worry too much about your word count. Upper middle grade can be a little longer I've heard. ;) Thanks for stopping by! And my awesome blogger friend Michelle Merrill designed my header! :D
@Small Town Shelly Brown Thanks! :D And I love your name. I like saying it! Small Town Shelly Brown. It has a lovely ring to it! ;)
@Emily Rittel-King I have seen some YA's that high as well. It just depends on the book I guess. ;)
@Trisha Ha ha ha!! Hilarious! :D I write too much crap too!

Jessie Humphries said...

I agree your header is super cute. I like to err on the side of caution and keep my word count right in the middle of figures you added above. Why make my chances of publication any smaller? Yanno.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

I write on the short end of things. You didn't put novellas or novelettes up there, but those are my favorite lengths, it seems. I love the 30,000 - 50,000 word range. My adult thriller is 75,000 or something, and that's WAY short for an adult thriller, but I just tell the story and leave it at that. I think I'd have a harder time with that if I wrote longer and it cost more for my publisher to print my books. However, since Monarch is shorter, the made the book smaller to increase the page count and thickness. Interesting, huh?

Candice said...

I just wrote the shortest book I've ever written, just under 60K. My first two were aournd 90K.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

@Jessie Humphries I agree. I hardly ever go over the word count. Not really on purpose though... ;)
@Michelle Davidson Argyle Oh my heck. I totally forgot about novellas and novelettes. :P Thanks for the word ranges! I'll add them. :)
@Candice Mine are always around 60k. I did have on that was 75k, but that's as high as I've ever gotten. Congrats on finishing your book! It sounds awesome!:)

Megan @ Reading for Refuge said...

Can I say something??

I'm not a writer. But I AM a reader...

And I LOVE word count restrictions. Without them, do you realize how much fluff we'd get? I hate reading a book that goes on and on about the color of the drapes. (You know what I mean.) I much prefer a book that's short and sweet and gets to the point--sooner rather than later. Honestly, I wish editors would have been a bit more pushy about word count for some of the HP books (cough, cough #5!). :)

I didn't know the word count business was so specific, but it's interesting!

Chantele Sedgwick said...

@Megan @ Reading for Refuge Of course you can say something, Megan! ;) I agree with the short and sweet and to the point. I tend to skim over lots and lots of descriptions. :)

Abby said...

Great information here Chantele. Wonderful post. I love all of this information and I'm glad you were willing to share! Thanks!