All About Word Count

Studying_Scott_AkermanBy Cecilia Lewis

As a freelance editor, I am sometimes asked by clients to help refine their word count—to recommend either cuts or additions that would bring the word count into an acceptable range. However, I’ve often found that clients aren’t quite sure what range their word count ought to fall into, or are completely unaware of their genre’s restrictions.

Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that you’ll find a wide range of numbers, depending on who you ask. There are no definite rules here, and there are always exceptions. However, you’ll want to keep within the general guidelines of your category and genre as much as possible, especially if you’re pursuing traditional publishing. Editors and agents may be less likely to take on a manuscript that’s too far outside the expected range. And don’t forget that readers have expectations, too—you don’t want to disappoint a reader with a work that’s too short, or exhaust them with one that’s too long.

Additionally, if you’re way over or under the expected word count for your genre, that’s probably a sign that there’s a problem with your manuscript. If your WIP is over 100k, that should indicate that you need to do some cutting. In fact, 100k is probably a good upper limit for most genres. Fantasy can sometimes go higher, but I would advise debut novelists to stay below 100k if possible. On the lower end of the scale, anything below 50 to 60k is probably a sign that your story isn’t fleshed out enough (unless you’re writing children’s fiction).

Of course, there are always exceptions. You can easily find outliers on both ends of the scale. But for a debut novelist trying to get published, having a word count that’s drastically outside of the expected range is going to make the process even more difficult.

Having said that, I don’t think the word count is something you need to stress about during a first draft. You can—and should—refine in later drafts. But if you’re currently revising in hopes of pursuing traditional publication, it’s a good idea to double-check that your word count is within an acceptable range for your genre.

So, what is an acceptable range for your genre? Here are some average ranges that I would recommend for common genres/categories. (Keep in mind that these are just estimates, and there are always exceptions. Also, I’d like to note that, as an editor and writer, I work primarily with adult and new adult romance, young adult fiction, and middle grade fiction, so my estimates for other genres may not be as accurate.)

ADULT FICTION

Romance: 80 to 100k

Category romance: 50 to 75k (though different lines have very different requirements)

Mysteries/thrillers/crime fiction: 70 to 100k

Science fiction and fantasy: 85 to 120k

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

Contemporary/realistic: 45 to 70k

Fantasy: 65 to 100k

MIDDLE GRADE FICTION

Contemporary/realistic: 30 to 45k

Fantasy: 45 to 75k

CHILDREN’S FICTION

Chapter book: 5 to 10k

Early reader: 100 to 2,500 words

Picture book: 300 to 1,000 words

~~~~

Still not sure where your book fits in? If you’re writing young adult or other children’s fiction, I’d recommend using the AR Bookfinder. You can use this tool to search for specific titles like your MS and get all kinds of information about them, including the word count. If you have comp titles in mind for your manuscript, check out how long they are and compare to your WIP’s word count.

If you have a question about word counts, leave a comment below, send me a Tweet, or use my contact page.

How long is your MS? Do you think word count is important? Let me know in the comments!

Interested in professional editorial services for your work? Check out my Services page for more information about working with me.

Related Links:

-When to Hire a Freelance Editor

-Literary Agents 101: Links and Resources

-Who’s Reading Your Books? Identifying Your Audience

-7 Tips on Writing Engaging First Pages

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3 thoughts on “All About Word Count

  1. Ellie P. says:

    Hi Cecilia! This is a good guide – for fiction. As I am embroiled in the non-fiction memoir genre, I wonder if you can find out a good guide for me and others like me….? I also wonder if ebooks are in general shorter than print ones. Any idea? My guess is yes, but it’s nothing but a vague impression. Maybe there is no difference. What do I know?! I don’t know anything!!! ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • ceciliajlewis says:

      Absolutely! I actually have a follow-up post that rounds up some other resources for word count, especially in categories I’m not as familiar with. You can find it here: https://lewiseditorial.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/word-counts-101-links-and-resources/
      I believe several of those guides discuss nonfiction!

      As for ebooks vs. print books, I do think there’s more short fiction available in ebooks. Partly because it’s so expensive to print books that publishers often don’t publish novellas physically, but also because they tend to sell better as ebooks. Also, I think the genres that lend themselves very well to ebooks–romance, for example–tend to be shorter in general anyway. So while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that all ebooks tend to be shorter, I do see a lot of ebook-only content that is shorter than your average print book.

      I hope that helps! Thanks for reading. :)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ellie P. says:

    Ok, fab, thanks! I’m going to keep 80,000 in mind as a guideline.

    Love the infographic! The first Harry Potter book, only 76,000+? Huh, kind of surprising that it’s actually that short.

    And thanks so much for your comments re ebooks, very logical!

    Liked by 1 person

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