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?