Writing Tip Wednesday: A Word On Word Counts.

One of the things we need to be aware of as writers is word counts. Books for different ages and genres have different word counts and I think it important to be aware of what those general word counts are. Over at Writers Digest Chuck Sambuchino has complied a definitive list of word counts for novels and children’s books.

As Chuck points out, you are looking at 80,000-89,999 for commercial fiction, more broadly, 71,000-109,000.
For Sci-fi/Fantasy 100,000-115,000.
For Middle Grade 20,000-45,000.
For Young Adult 55,000-69000. Though, I’ve seen publishing houses in Australia give a range from 50000-80000.
And for Picture Books 500-600 words.

These are general guidelines and there are many exceptions to the rules, I think especially when writing YA where there are many different genres.

Another great post I found was over at The Swivet She has a few more genre word count guidelines and ends with this little piece of advice ‘…for a debut novelist who is trying to catch the eye of an agent or editor for the first time? Err on the side of caution with your word count.’

Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner suggest for those who want to argue for longer word counts, ‘If you want to be considered for commercial publication, you’ll need to start by fitting in with what the publishing industry needs, and you’ll need to give up the temptation to argue about it. As a brand-new writer, you have a choice: Do what it takes to publish commercially, or choose to remain independent and write on your own.’

Jessica from bookendslitagency puts it this way ‘I think the biggest thing about word count to remember is that it’s more than just an arbitrary number that publishers set down to make your life hard. For one thing, this is what readers tend to expect and yes, let’s face it, we all know a reader who will avoid a book simply because it looks too long or even too short. We humans tend to be creatures of habit, and if we’re used to reading 100,000 words give or take we expect 100,000 words. The other thing to consider is that as long as we’re still selling books primarily in a paper format, it’s an expense issue. A book costs more if it has more pages and somewhere along the line those costs have to be passed on to readers. Are you prepared to be the most expensive book on the market just because you insist that not one of those 300,000 words can be cut? Trust me, it’s hard enough to sell a book without out-pricing yourself.’

And if you do have a big word count agent Mandy Hubbard says ‘know the average word count for your genre, and then don’t LEAD w/your count if yours is outside that range. We’ll tune out.’

I suggest you don’t worry too much about your word count on your first draft, because as you edit it is going to change with each draft. One thing you shouldn’t do is plump up your manuscript with unnecessary words just to make your story bigger. Editing is about cutting and making your story tighter.

The general consensus seems to be to leave your giant of a manuscript for when you have proven yourself, to be the rule and not the exception, but it’s your story and in the ends it’s up to you.
I hope this post has helped.

Happy writing 🙂


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