Monday, November 17, 2014

General Word Counts in Literature

There are always exceptions to every rule.
Got that out of the Way. In general, plan on the follow Rule of Thumb for your work.

Word Counts - really? Do they still matter in today's Electronic Age?

Well, sure. How many of your have found yourselves thumbing across the screen faster and faster, waiting to light on a key word that meant the action picked up again? Just because we don't care about wasting paper anymore doesn't mean we can waste reader's time. 

And for a debut novelist who is trying to catch the eye of an agent or editor for the first time? Err on the side of caution with your word count.

Check out these great articles by Chuck Sambuchino at his Writer’s Digest blog

ADULT NOVELS: COMMERCIAL & LITERARY
Between 80,000 and 90,000 words is a good place to aim for most novels.

In short, Sambuchino says this about your proposals to agents/publishers:
80,000 – 89,999:       Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999:       Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999:       Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999:    Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000:           Too short
110,000 or above       Too long

SCI-FI AND FANTASY
Science fiction and fantasy are the big exceptions because these categories tend to run long. It has to do with all the descriptions and world-building in the writing and can go over 100,000 easily. However, Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury did perfectly well with the 60-65,000-range.


MIDDLE GRADE
Middle grade is from 20,000 – 45,000, depending on the subject matter and age range. When writing a longer book that is aimed at 12-year-olds (“tween”), using the term “upper middle grade” is advisable. With upper middle grade, you can aim for 32,000 – 40,000 words. You can stray a little over here but not much. aim lower. Try the lower word counts for simpler ideas

YOUNG ADULT
YA is the one category where word count is flexible, as we've noted in the block-buster books of the last couple of decades. Start in the 55,000 – 69,999 and let the publisher decide if it's going to be an epic that could go over 100,000.

PICTURE BOOKS
The standard is text for 32 pages; 28, 32, 36, and 38 pages are typical. That might mean one line per page, or more. 500-600 words is a good number to aim for. When it gets closer to 1,000, editors and agents may shy away.

WESTERNS
These can be anywhere from 50K to 80K. 60,000 is a solid number to aim for.

MEMOIR
Memoir falls in the same category as a novel, so stay under 90,000 unless you're the Pope or Steven Tyler. Focus on the most interesting parts of your life and your contributions.

NOVELLA
Runs 25-40,000. Generally no or one subplot


Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

2 comments:

  1. Great guidelines, Lisa! Another point is that some of the smaller traditional publishers prefer shorter books--especially if they provide a print version. I think Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas maxes at 80K, though I'm sure there are exceptions.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Right, follow the guidelines of individual publishers, if that's how you go. Often, cost figures in to the printing/editing process for these publishers.

    ReplyDelete