Are Word Counts a Blessing or a Curse?
Word counts seem to be one of those things that very few writers understand. They look at the Twilight books and the Harry Potter series and think that a 2-3 inch book is acceptable. Well, the Twilight book was a huge exception to the rule, but the first Harry Potter book was right around 80k–it was, I promise!
Here’s the thing, though. You can’t count on being the next exception. It’s a risk for any publisher to take on a book that is too costly to produce. As a new author, don’t you want the best possible chances? Of course you do! So, here are the acceptable ranges for different genres:
Adult novels: commercial and literary–80-90,000 is a safe range. Give or take 10,000 words on either end is probably okay, but more than that is risky.
*Chick lit can go as low as 70,000
Sci-fi and Fantasy–100-115,000 is good for this genre.
Middle grade: 20-55,000
Young Adult: 55-70,000.You can go a little higher if you are writing sci-fi or fantasy, but be careful not to go too high.
Again, all of these word counts are guidelines and there are always exceptions to the rules. Some agents say not to pay attention to word count and to focus on your story and pacing. But most get so many queries a day, they are looking for reasons to dismiss your manuscript. Your goal is to not give them any.
This information is readily available all over the web. You could find it on the different literary agent blogs too. So, why do so many people struggle with keeping their words within range?
When I first started writing, I struggled to keep my words within a certain range. At one point, my WIP bloomed well past 100k, which is way too high for a debut young adult novel. If you go to any of the writing forums, you’ll find that so many writers ignore the basic guidelines too. I often see numbers skyrocketing at a 150k. I’ve even beta read for a few of these bloated manuscripts. And what do I see?
Word vomit. Huge word vomit. Overused adverbs, weak verbs, lots of purple prose. Get rid of it people. You don’t need it. And your readers don’t want it either.