Thursday, October 6, 2011

Average Word Counts

One thing I’ve noticed a lot of writers asking is “How long should my book be?” I am usually of the opinion that a book is as long as it needs to be (can you imagine Harry Potter condensed to 150 pages because MG and YA books tend to be shorter? Ack! The horror!) However, there are general guidelines for different genres, so I dug around a bit to come up with a list that may help.

Also note that I did not list each and every genre. In fact, I only mentioned a few that go outside the norm, because for the most part, when we are talking novels, they fall into one of two categories – YA novels, and adult novels. Middle grade books could generally be classified more as novellas and picture books are in a realm of their own.

So, after much searching, here is what I came up with:

Age Categories:

Children’s – age range – 0-12 (avg word count is 200 - 20k)
Middle Grade (Juvenile) – age range – 8-12 (avg. word count is 20k – 40k)
Young Adult – age range – 12-18 (avg word count is 50k – 70k)
Adult – age range – 18+ (avg word count is 80k – 100k)

Word Counts – I scoured the internet, agent blogs, writer forums, and helpful websites…and just about everyone had a different answer on exact word counts. However, there were some general trends. So, while there are exceptions to every rule, you should be safe if you follow these guidelines:

Novella – anything under 50,000 words
Novel – 50,000 – 110,000 words
Epic or Saga – 110,000+

Most adult mainstream fiction will fall between 80,000 – 100,000 words. In other words, if you have written a novel in any genre other than the three listed below, this range is a good one to shoot for.

YA - tends to be a bit shorter, around 60,000 – 80,000 words.

SciFi/Fantasy – traditionally these seem to be longer, but that is not always the case. In general, keeping them around 100,000 words is a good bet. However, because of the world building necessary for these books, longer lengths are generally more acceptable.

Historical Fiction – like SF/F, these generally run longer (with the necessary world building in these genres, longer word lengths are to be expected. In fact, I read a few places where editors were hesitant about shorter length novels in these genres because it does take time to get that setting established) but are usually between 90,000 – 100,000 (though sometimes as high as 150,000).

Every book is going to be different, and a longer word length isn’t necessarily going to get you rejected (though it might, especially if the word count is WAY out of average range). For an average novel, try to keep the word count between 70,000– 100,000. For YAs, 50,000 – 80,000.

Please, PLEASE do not read this and decide you need to chop up your novel. These are only average lengths found on one person's search around the interwebs. Some novels need the added length and work well with the wordage and some get the story across just fine with shorter word counts. These are just general guidelines; you must do what is best for your particular story.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this, and I agree, while they are good guidelines, if a different length works for your story, leave it! Great guidelines to follow, though! We were just discussing word count at a retreat I went to this past weekend.

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  2. I can't stand word count "rules." I know, I know, I'll live with them, but I don't have to like it.

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  3. This is a great post! Lately I've noticed a lot of MG and YA fantasy books in the 350-420 page range. I like a long book!

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  4. I'm really glad you brought this up because I have been trying to figure out the word count situation for a few weeks. I'm finding the same information as you regarding YA books (60-80k), with a little more wiggle room for fantasy. But here are the word counts from the past 4 YA I've read. Divergent: 144k, Matched: 140k, Chime: 142k, Wither: 143k.

    I'm not at all arguing with you, because your numbers match everything I've read. But if our information is right, why are so many YA books nearly twice as long? What's the deal with that? It makes me wonder if the numbers are changing, if maybe agents and editors are starting to look for stories that are a little more layered and detailed, requiring more words.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  5. LOL I know, Becca. That's why I called it general guidelines. I've found the same thing. These are the guidelines that everyone lists but then there are all these books out there that don't follow them at all. Like Twilight I think is 118k, and Harry Potter is way over the "average".

    This is also why I said to stay true to your story and let it have as many words as it needs. I have heard numerous agents say if they see a word count over 100k it's a red flag for them. And many will reject over that.

    But, obviously books out there (MANY of them) go way past the "average" and do just fine. So...I use these averages as a guideline, something to shoot for, but if my book ends up more or less, and no amount of editing changes it, I go with it :)

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