When I first started writing full time it was simply for the love of writing. I had trouble sleeping one night and an idea just popped into my head. The next day, I sat in front of a blank computer screen and started to type out what I thought was a brilliant tale.The beautiful thing about the story was I didn't have any preconceived notions about what it took to write a good book. I was clueless about passive voice, POV, filter words etc. all I knew was I had a story in my head and I needed to get it on the page.
Once the story was finished, and what I thought was edited (haha!), I set about the process of learning about this small thing called querying. The day I typed that word into the Google search engine, my naïve little book writing world exploded. I didn’t know the first thing about genre. The book I'd written was YA (I knew that much) but was it fantasy, paranormal, sci-fi? Yep, remember how I said, "clueless."
As I went on to research other aspects of the query I came across an article on something called word count. Word count? I thought you just told the agent the book was finished at XXX pages. Um, wrong again. Little did I know how incredibly important word count was to my category and genre. I clicked on the additional link from the article, and discovered a fountain of information I never knew existed.While these guidelines are not set in stone, there is a basic framework agents and publishers use when looking at word count for a manuscript. Here are just a few of the basics.*
Realistic Middle Grade: 25K- 60K. Shoot for: 30K-45K
Fantasy Middle Grade: 35K-75K. Shoot for: 45K-65K
Realistic Young Adult: 35K-75K. Shoot for: 45K-70K
Fantasy Young Adult: 50K-150K. Shoot for: 65K-85K
Adult Books: 80K-100K. Shoot for: 80K-99K
Now many will argue that J.K. Rowling's, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, was way beyond the Middle Grade threshold of 75k. And while that is true, it was NOT her first novel, and she had a proven track record. Most advice I've read from both agents and publishers encourages you to try and follow these guidelines for your debut novel. Once you've sold a few books, and have a proven sales record, publishers are more willing to work with word count.
These guidelines are not meant to curb your story or imagination, but rather give you an idea of what an agent or publisher looks for in these categories. If you are way above, or way below, these word counts it's a red flag for an agent or publisher that you've not done your homework. And who wants to get turned away before you've even gotten a chance to share your story?
So go on and write a gorgeous manuscript. One that is full of adventure or romance. But be mindful of what will work in your category and genre. You want your story to stand out for all the right reasons, NOT the wrong ones.