I was recently trying to find out what an acceptable word count might be for a middle grade novel. I consulted the great Google, and on the first page found three completely contradictory answers to that question.
Why is something like word count, that should be pretty standard across the industry, just... not?
I agree, word count is something that should be standardized. And it largely is within the publishing industry, but this is the internet and everyone has an opinion they want to share, regardless of whether it's right or wrong. Or up-to-date. And word count of books change as people's reading habits change.
Partly, I think the discrepancies online are historical. The more pages a book has, the more expensive it is to print and bind. And to ship. Have you ever noticed that books tend to get longer the further you get into a series? That's what happens for successful authors; they get more words to play with because the publisher already knows there is an audience hungry for the next title by that author.
But this doesn't really apply when a large number of people are reading books digitally and there is no cost for printing, binding and shipping.
Which probably has a lot to do with the way word count seems to be changing.
I did some research and it appears that in the current climate, any book, regardless of age-level that is over 100,000 words starts making agents and publishers nervous. A fantasy novel or historical that requires a lot of world building might be able to edge up to 120,000, but any higher than that and you might be looking at an insta-rejection.
Middle grade novels tend to range between 20,000 and 60,000 words, depending on subject matter and whether it's aimed at the upper or lower range of MG.
YA novels tend to range between 45,000 and 100,000 words, with most sitting around the 60,000 to 75,000 word mark. As a YA author, I'm constantly trying to fight to get my own books to that level because while I tend to write really lean first drafts, my finished books almost always wind up being closer to 85,000 than 60,000. The one I've been editing the past few weeks is just over 90,000. Luckily I have a very supportive publisher...
Adult books tend to be between 60,000 and 120,000 with the majority hitting somewhere around the 85,000 to 100,000 mark.
Life seems to be getting busier all the time and there are more and more things competing for our attention. It will be interesting to see if, as attention spans get shorter, publishers start looking for shorter books. Certainly there has been an explosion in the popularity and availability of novellas in recent years, particularly in the romance genre, which, at around 20,000 to 40,000 words indicates people are buying and reading shorter fiction.