Monday, May 21, 2012

Word Count Woes

by Sylvia Ney

I’ve pitched some ideas to several agents and editors in the last six months and learned some industry requirements on word length by genre and sub genre. As you read through this, keep in mind three important things: 1.) these are suggested word counts; rules get broken all the time; 2.) these suggested word counts will most often apply to debut writers; successfully published authors are the ones who end up breaking the rules, and 3.) if you are planning to e-publish only, and your book will never be printed out on actual paper, these guidelines aren't nearly as important.

Picture Books - The standard is text for 32 pages. That might mean one line per page, or more. 500 words is a good number to aim for. When it gets closer to 1,000, editors and agents may shy away.

Middle Grade Fiction - Anywhere from 20,000 to 45,000. Obviously if your projects is aimed at ages 8-10, you would be closer to the 20,000 count while work aimed to a 12 year old might be closer to the 40,000 mark.

Young Adult – 50,000 to 80,000. The second or third in a particularly bestselling series can go even higher. But it shouldn’t be word count for the sake of word count.

Novelette – 7,000 to 20,000 words. This is something agents and editors NEVER want to see unless they have commissioned a short story collection.

Novella – 20,000 to 50,000 words. Again, this is something agents and editors NEVER want to see unless they have posted a call specifically asking for this length.

Western – 50,000 to 100,000. (Keep in mind that almost no editors are buying Westerns these days, unless it is in the romance genre.)

Memoir and Nonfiction – 75,000 to 90,000 words.

Mysteries, Thrillers, Crime Fiction, Mainstream/Commercial Fiction, Horror, Chick Lit and Romance – Whether it’s paranormal, historical or contemporary they seem to be in the 80,000 to 100,000 word range.

Science Fiction & Fantasy – Editors of this genre seem to seek works of longer length; 100,000 to 120,000 words.

I recommend not worrying about length when writing. It can become another way to hamper your creativity. However, you MUST be aware of guidelines before you submit your work. Many editors will discard anything outside of their required word counts without ever actually reading a word.


  1. Wow. 80,000 for mystery. Mine's not quite 75,000. Guess I better come up with a subplot or two. Maybe that agent knew what she was talking about.

  2. I think you're right not too worry too much about strict word count--these are guidelines, not hard and fast rules. (A 74K mystery should be just fine). Also, if you're trying to publish traditionally, your agent and/or editor will want changes, which will affect the count anyway. No one is going to turn down a great book for length, unless it's seriously falling shy, or really over-written. A debut novel over 125K can be a harder sell, for example.

  3. This is a great resource. Most newbie writers are constantly looking for word count guidelines. I know that when I started writing (and was VERY clueless), my YA Urban Fantasy novel was 122K words long. Yikes! Had to shelve that monster and start anew.

  4. Thank you for the information on word count, very helpful. Inspiring blog.

  5. I had never heard these standards before. Thanks for the info!

  6. Good post, Sylvia. It's so important to read writer guidelines if you want to write for a specific publishing house.

  7. Thanks for sharing this valuable information!

  8. This is good info to have! Thanks!