I’ve been working with one of my clients, who shall remain nameless (Hi, Mitch!) to trim down his long middle grade fantasy. Clocking in at over 140,000 words it is, as I said, long.
Meanwhile, I recently set out to write a short story. Apparently, I have a hard time writing anything short. The story ended up at almost 15,000 words. Which isn’t terrible, but still on the long side for a short story. (When I was a kid, my Mom subscribed to all the lady’s magazines of the day and back then, they all published fiction, what they called short stories. I expected short stories to be short, like one page or so. I was always annoyed at how long short stories were. So it’s ironic that I am now the queen of writing long short stories.) It gets worse. Last year I set out to write a novella. It’s just shy of 50,000 words, which is short novel length.
Does word count matter?
So, with all these varying word counts, does it really matter? Should my client and I be struggling to trim scenes to make his novel shorter? Should I turn my novella into a novel by adding a few scenes?
Word count does matter–publishers will balk at anything over 100k. The first novel (women’s fiction) I submitted to my agent came in at over 100k and I was instructed to trim it done. Publishers don’t like long works because they will cost more to print, for one thing. And even if your longer book is self pubbed, many people will balk at reading such a long novel. I know my own reading habits, and I tend not to finish overly long books, so I wouldn’t buy one in the first place.
On the other hand, if something is too short it might seem flimsy. Trivial. Not substantial enough to warrant going to the trouble of publishing. Of course, in these days of self publishing, all those rules have gone out the window. But, still–many’s the review I’ve read on Amazon complaining about the shortness of a book.
So, what’s a writer to do?
Probably aim for a reasonable word count within industry standards is the best option. What, you ask, are those industry standards? Well, funny thing, they tend to vary a lot according to genre. Or who you ask. Or what way the wind is blowing. Or how the planets are arranged.
But, I’ve come up with some good
guesses estimates. While I’m citing specific sources, I looked around a lot to find credible ones that seemed pretty ballpark. So I think the following are good guidelines:
According to Reedsy, here are standard word counts by genre:
- Commercial and literary novels: 80,000 – 100,000
- Science fiction and fantasy: 100,000 – 115,000
- Young adult: 55,000 – 70,000
- Middle grade: 20,000 – 55,000
- Romance: 80,000 – 100,000
- Mystery: 75,000 – 100,000
- Thriller: 90,000 – 100,000
- Memoir: 80,000 – 90,000
- Western: 45,000 – 75,000
And here, some counts for shorter works (from Christopher Fielden):
- Flash fiction: under 1,000 words
- Short story: 500 to 17,000 words
- Novelette: 7,500 to 25,000 words
- Novella: 10,000 to 70,000 words
- Novel: 50,000 words or more
Some random things to keep in mind:
- The standard word count per page of double-spaced manuscript is still considered to be 250.
- The industry relies on word count rather than page count because page size varies according to format, but word count remains the same.
- Edgar Allen Poe defined a short story as a story that could be read in one sitting.
- Here’s a fun infographic of the word counts of some famous books. (593,674 for A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth!)
- According to Amazon, the median length for all books is about 64,000 words.
- And, finally, the best rule to adhere to is this: write your book as long as it needs to be.
What’s the word count of your current project? Do you worry about it? Leave a comment. Or come on over to the Facebook page to discuss.
***I have room for one client or editing job during my upcoming writing sojourn in France. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.