Word Count for Writing

  • What is proper word count for a Novel? Novella? Novelette? Short Story? Fiction? Sci-Fi? You get the gist of what we are working on here. What length should your work be in order to be published, purchased and enjoyed by readers? We've searched and asked and found varying results.

    One thing we note is that many in the publishing world say don't write for word count, write for the story. If you stress too much on following a word count, you could lose connection to the story. If you get the word count to 80,000 words but the story sucks, it won't get published. Your first objective is to get that story out, living and breathing on its own, and then check the word count. If it's way too short, perhaps this is better as a novelette or short story for a magazine rather than a full length novel. Perhaps you didn't flesh out the characters or scenes. You can work on that stuff when editing as you'll do several edits, in most cases, before sending to a literary agency or publisher.

    As for what the magic counts are, we've decided to quote a few publications so you can see it's not an easy answer.

    Writer's Digest writes the following and please do go read the full article:

    [quote]ADULT NOVELS: COMMERCIAL & LITERARY

    Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for. This is a 100% safe range for literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere.
    In short:
    80,000 – 89,999: Totally cool
    90,000 – 99,999: Generally safe
    70,000 – 79,999: Might be too short; probably all right
    100,000 – 109,999: Might be too long; probably all right
    Below 70,000: Too short
    110,000 or above Too long

    SCI-FI AND FANTASY

    Science fiction and fantasy are the big exceptions because these categories tend to run long. It has to do with all the descriptions and world-building in the writing.

    With these genres, I would say 100,000 – 115,000 is an excellent range. It’s six-figures long, but not real long. The thing is: Writers tend to know that these categories run long so they make them run really long and hurt their chances. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it short (say, 105K) in these areas. It shows that you can whittle your work down.

    MIDDLE GRADE

    Middle grade is from 20,000 – 55,000, depending on the subject matter and age range, and the word count of these books has been trending up in recent years. When writing a longer book that is aimed at 12-year-olds (and could maybe be considered “tween”), using the term “upper middle grade” is advisable. With upper middle grade, you can aim for 40,000 – 55,000 words.
    YOUNG ADULT

    Perhaps more than any other, YA is the one category where word count is very flexible.

    For starters, 55,000 – 69,999 is a great range.

    The word round the agent blogosphere is that these books tend to be trending longer, saying that you can top in the 80Ks.
    Concerning the low end, below 55K could be all right but I wouldn’t drop much below about 47K.

    PICTURE BOOKS

    The standard is text for 32 pages. That might mean one line per page, or more. 500-600 words is a good number to aim for. When it gets closer to 1,000, editors and agents may shy away.

    WESTERNS

    I remember reading some Westerns in high school and, if I recall correctly, they weren’t terribly long. There wasn’t a whole about this on agent and editor sites, but from what I found, these can be anywhere from 50K to 80K. 65,000 is a solid number to aim for.

    MEMOIR

    Memoir is the same as a novel and that means you’re aiming for 80,000-89,999. However, keep in mind when we talked about how people don’t know how to edit their work. This is specially true in memoir, I’ve found, because people tend to write everything about their life—because it all really happened.

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    Bookends Literary Agency writes the following and please go read the full article:

    [quote]First and foremost, what length should your book be? My answer is when in doubt think 80,000 words, give or take. I don’t think that you can ever go wrong with 80,000 words whether you’re writing mystery, romance, fantasy, literary fiction, or nonfiction. Okay, sure, it’s never going to work for children’s books or poetry, but since I don’t rep those it doesn’t matter (to me anyway). In fact, I think 80,000 words even works for YA. Sure, with some of these genres you’re going to be on the long end and with others the short end, but again this is the “when in doubt word count.” 80,000 words is pretty much safe everywhere.

    What about range, I’ll be asked. Can you give us a range or can you be genre specific? I suppose I can, to the best of my abilities.

    Mystery: I think that for mysteries you often have the freedom of writing a book that’s a little shorter. In the case of mysteries 70,000 to 90,000 words will likely work for you.

    Romance: 80,000 to 100,000, and no, I’m not counting category. If you’re writing category you’ll need to follow the very specific word count requirements of that line.

    Fantasy or SF: Here you can go a little bit longer. Some publishers will accept books in the 80,000 to 125,000 range.

    YA: 50,000 to 75,000, and yes, this is an area that can get really fudgy (I made that up), but again, in the 80,000 range is good. **I corrected these numbers after feedback from others (and comment from Kim) although I do think with YA these days you can still be safe in 80,000 words although maybe a tad high. Fantasy YA of course can be higher.

    Women’s fiction, literary fiction or anything I failed to mention above: 80,000 to 100,000 (sometimes 125,000, especially in the case of literary fiction).

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    Publisher's Weekly writes the following and please go read the full article:

    [quote]According to Amazon’s great Text Stats feature, the median length for all books is about 64,000 words. The figure was found through looking at a number of books’ text stats, until Brave New World‘s 64,531 word count landed in the exact center of all books–50% of books have fewer words and 50% of books have more words.

    [/blockquote]



    Wikipedia writes the following and please go read the full article:

    [quote]Novelist Jane Smiley suggests that length is an important quality of the novel.[5] However, novels can vary tremendously in length; Smiley lists novels as typically being between 100,000 and 175,000 words,[6] while National Novel Writing Month requires its novels to be at least 50,000 words. There are no firm rules: for example the boundary between a novella and a novel is arbitrary and a literary work may be difficult to categorise.[7] But while the length of a novel is to a large extent up to its writer,[8] lengths may also vary by subgenre; many chapter books for children start at a length of about 16,000 words,[9] and a typical mystery novel might be in the 60,000 to 80,000 word range while a thriller could be over 100,000 words.[10]

    The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America specifies word lengths for each category of its Nebula award categories:[11]


    Novel over 40,000 words
    Novella 17,500 to 40,000 words
    Novelette 7,500 to 17,500 words
    Short story under 7,500 words

    In non-fiction
    The acceptable length of an academic dissertation varies greatly, dependent predominantly on the subject. Many universities limit Ph.D. dissertations to at most 100,000 words, barring special permission for exceeding this limit.[12]

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    From the above, a few agree on 80,000 words. That sounds like a safe bet for a novel as publishers today don't want to spend a lot on printing long novels, especially if it's your first. Just remember, it's not the size, it's the quality of the work. If you eek out an 80k length novel but 40k of that is pure crap, forget getting published. Instead, take the quality 40k novella and publish that instead. At least you will have it published and start gathering a following of readers. After all, our stories only live if there's someone out there to read them. Otherwise, the life we breathe into them will fade in time, until the world we created eventually dies. No writer wants that.

    Happy writing!

    #writing

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