You Wrote A Book, Now What? Part 2
You did it! Congratulations! Especially if you followed the tips in the first part of this “series.” I promised I would discuss word counts at the end of that post, and that’s what today’s post is all about.
“How many words should my novel be to get published?”
Word counts are important in getting published. Genres have different word count expectations, as do publishers in general. Many times the publishers will share their expectations on their website’s submission instructions. But, what do you do when they don’t?
First, let’s take a look at genre expectations. Please note, this is just a general guide, not set in stone. Remember, there are exceptions to every rule, and sometimes the higher the word count, the more editing a writer should do, or perhaps splitting it into a series is a better option.
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Commercial, Literary, & Women’s
This genre consists of literary, mainstream, women’s, and typical romance. If you stick to an average of 70,000-110,000 words, most publishers will accept it. Just realize that even within this range, some, like chick lit, may have shorter expectations. When you start reaching the higher word counts, if they don’t really further the story, and it feels more like fluff for the purpose of making the word count, that’s a problem. This is why you’ll see many publishers shy away from really long novels. They do have a place, but for an emerging author, it’s best to wait until you’ve made a name for yourself before trying to push it out. This doesn’t mean it won’t be accepted, just a tougher sell.
Sci-fi & Fantasy
This genre realizes heavily on imagination and world-building, because of this higher word counts work. Generally, a publisher of this genre looks for novels between 100,000 and 115,000 for the most part, though anything 90,000 to 125,000 could be considered, as well. The idea here is to not go too far out there since it does permit for longer word counts. Stick to the story, utilize your words with careful consideration, and keep them active. These types of novels really need to engage your audience, so it’s very easy to run away on words. Show you can stick to a tight word count, and your novel will be better accepted.
The action-packed pages and high demand keep the guidelines a bit tighter with this genre. Recommended word count falls between 90,000 to 100,000 words here.
Mysteries, Thrillers, & Suspense
For this genre, the lower end usually encompasses Cozy Mystery, where the higher number works for noir, historical, and etc. The general consensus here is 70,000 to 90,000.
When it comes to romance there are too many sub-genres to really go into detail. The best suggested format is to stay within 40,000 to 70,000 for such sub-genres as Regency Romance, Inspirational Romance, Romantic Suspense and Paranormal Romance. For mainstream romance, the higher count of 70,000 to 100,000 is acceptable.
While this category is often a sub-genre for others, a good straight paranormal works best when it falls between 75,000 and 90,000 words. Many agents and publishers will allow for some wiggle room in this genre, but as a debut author, it is highly recommended to stay within industry standards.
A good horror falls between 80,000 and 100,000 words. The antagonist/villain is the breath of the story, therefore, to make it a true horror, a lot of tensions is needed. More tension means more terror means more words. Keep the writing tight, focus on the tension, the plot, and the horror and you can’t go wrong.
This genre is rich in historical events, which gives writers more leeway in terms of word count. Most historical fiction falls within 100,000 to 120,000 words, but the tighter the writing and the closer to 100,000
words the story, the better its chance are for publication.
Middle-grade word counts depend on subject matter and age range. As a general rule, word counts between 20,000 and 55,000 are acceptable. For upper middle grade (12 yr olds and up), the word count can be longer and still be acceptable. For example, upper middle-grade books tend to follow YA themes without the hot button issues like sex, drugs, and etc. This gives room for the higher end of the word count from about 40,000 to 65,000 words. For simple middle grade, aim for the lower word counts, between 20,000 and 45,000.
YA & NA
Of all the genres, YA has the most flexibility when it
comes to word count. The traditional setting is from 55,000 to 69,000, but since YA tends to trend a lot longer, going beyond 69,000, even into 80,000 can work, as long as the story needs it. The higher word count works best for YA novels classified as sci-fi or fantasy, again because of the need for world-building. Anything under 55,000 could be deemed too little, and the last thing you want to do as an author is fluff just to build word count.
Picture books tend to do best at around 32 pages, depending on your age audience, which averages out to about 500-600 words, perhaps even one line a page. The longer a picture book, the more publishers tend to shy away, since most children do not have the attention span to read through a long picture book and the cost of creating illustration could be heavier.
Westerns need a lot of action to be interesting (at least in my opinion). They aren’t as widely written as they used to be, and because they involve a lot of action, they tend to run on the shorter side, coming in at between 50,000 and 80,000 with 65,000 being a good round number.
These fall under the creative nonfiction categories, however, unlike nonfiction which can be longer based on the type of nonfiction it is, they do have their ending point as well. You want to avoid the tell every single detail system when you write your memoir, yet you want to write the complete story. Ending at around 85,000 words is a great goal to aim for here. As with the others, the lower end and higher end could raise some eyebrows, but it’s not a meet-all end-all.
For the most part, the main thing to worry about when writing your novel is not the word count. Many publishers are much more interested in the content, the pacing, and the storytelling, and that is where you should start. Word count can come in later during editing and revision stages. The main consensus is any story between 272 and 320 pages is considered acceptable. Don’t fluff to fulfill what you think someone is expecting. There are other word counts to consider like short story, novelette, novella, and novel that your work could fall under. In the end, it’s all about the quality.
Literary agents and publishers receive hundreds of manuscripts every day, which makes it far easier for them to reject than accept. Following the rule rather than the exception gives you better odds on getting published. When a query letter specifies word count, it’s for a reason. Don’t try to get around it by adding the page count or some other trick. This is a quick way to the rejection file. The reason they want word count is because different printers use different methods to print. The way they format their books is important, which is why they need word count over page count. Your 320 pages could mean 630 for them. Be the rule, not the exception.
Always remember, the story determines the genre, not the word count. Write the story. The rest will fall in place later.
In conclusion, don’t overthink it. Just write the story until it’s finished, then add and take away as needed.
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We will focus on the differences between flash, short story, novella and etc. in another post.