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#TheWriteWay Post 6: Word Counts

Hi everyone! Can you believe September is almost upon us?

Autumn is my favorite time of year. I'm so excited!

I'm back today with another post for #TheWriteWay! I'll return next month with the series. Today I'm going to be talking about something important...

Word counts.

Why are they so important? It can turn off an agent if your word count is too high. Let's dive deeper into that, shall we?

Different genres allow different word counts. It's very important that before you start writing a novel, you know the age group and genre it belongs to. That will help calculate the appropriate word count.

Adult fiction allows the most leeway. Adults can sit for long periods of time and read. Most people define a novel as being above 60 thousand words, but I'd say that is too short for the market today.

Adult science fiction and fantasy? Easily 90 thousand words.

Adult romance? I'd say between 70 thousand to 80.

You'd want to stay within those brackets for adult mystery, horror, and thriller as well.

Young adult is much of the same, varying anywhere from 70 thousand to 90 thousand. The young adult age range is 13 to 18, so they have a bigger attention span.

Middle grade -- fiction for kids between 9 and 12 -- is where it drops. I'd recommend staying between 50 and 60 thousand words across all genres. A lot of kids have short attention spans (including myself when I was young).

Chapter books -- fiction for kids between 6 and 10 -- are much like middle grade novels except shorter. They would run between 20k and 30k in all genres. Occasionally, they also have pictures in them.

Picture books: Between 200 and 400 words, the shortest of them all. Picture books are intended for little kids and are mostly told through pictures, do you don't need lots of words. This is a visual story.

Short stories: The general consensus here is that a short story is between 2500 and 7500 words. I know I've written short stories that come in a little less than that (which would be known as flash fiction) and novelettes that range from 7500 words to 20,000 words.

Novellas would be right after that -- between 20k and 50k. My sci-fi novella, DRIFTING DARKLY, came in at 32k.

Are there exceptions to these rules? Of course. Some books need a longer word count to tell the story. Harry Potter, despite being a middle grade novel (the protagonist was twelve), was published at 77k words. To me, that's a little too long for a middle grade novel. Most publishers would not take it on. But it worked for that particular book in the 90s and still became very popular.

While tempting to go above 100,000 words -- especially in fantasy with magic systems and vast worlds -- I would advise against it. Some literary agents and publishers automatically reject high word counts because they cost more to print. That becomes a risk for publishing houses -- especially small ones with less money.

Of course, once you become a well-established author, the word count becomes a little more flexible. Someone like Stephen King could easily write 200,000 words and get it sold without a fuss. A beginner should stay in the 80 thousand range just to make sure. You want to increase your chances as much as you can.

Here is my best advice for under-writers and over-writers:

Come up a little short? Add an extra sub-plot. It should tie into the main plot as well, but also give the protagonist something to do while extending the word count.

Written too much? Take out what doesn't fuel the story. Each sentence should reveal two things: either advance the plot or reveal someone's character. If it doesn't, cut it out. (I can be quite merciless when it comes to editing -- I've removed whole paragraphs for that reason.)

If you've written a novel over 200k, I'd recommend cutting it in half and making it a duology.

I recently engaged with someone on Twitter who said they don't pay attention to word counts as they write -- they just focus on the story. While yes, I do believe a story should be as long as it needs to be to wrap up the plot and character development, there are limits. Always keep in mind that a higher than normal word count can deter agents and publishing houses and even readers. (I'm not talking about a book that's a few thousand over the word count recommendation, but several thousand. That would raise a red flag in my mind.)

Writing a really long book can be fun, but I'd question the pacing of the story. There are some books with higher word counts I've read that have been wonderful, and others where I would've recommended cutting by 20k. Most of the time, those extra words aren't needed. I've had to learn the hard way that writing something short and sweet is sometimes better.

What do you think, #WritingCommunity? Long or short word counts? What are you writing right now?

As always, thanks for reading!



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