Sunday, April 28, 2013

Your Book is HOW Long??

Earlier this month,Ryan blogged about the importance of writing from the heart, and I couldn’t agree more.   For me, personally, I have to feel that tingle of excitement when I think about my characters or sit down to write.  Does it happen every single time? Well, no.  But overall? Heck, yeah. I couldn’t imagine writing something that didn’t capture my imagination. 

HOWEVER, I want to provide an addendum to that advice.  If your goal is to be a writer, it is always enough to write what is in your heart. If you strive to be a traditionally published writer, you also need to be mindful of the market. This is not to say follow trends, because with the long lead times in publishing, what’s hot today might well be old news by the time you have a polished manuscript.  However, as a serious writer with a publishing goal it pays to be aware of certain unwritten “rules”. The closer you are to the beginning of your writing career, the more mindful you should probably be.

I’m blogging about word counts this month because I’ve begun taking on freelance editing work and have had several clients recently who’ve asked for help with queries and/or full edits on manuscripts that are very, very long. Too long, in my opinion (as in, way over 100k).

Words are free, so why does it matter if your story runs long? After all, that just means there’s more of it to love, right? Wrong. Words are free, but paper isn’t and printing isn’t and book design isn’t and copy edits aren’t and shipping isn’t and the time required to edit your book isn’t and these are all things that become more expensive with longer books. However, the bigger (pun intended) issue is shelf space.  Imagine you are a buyer for an independent bookstore with a small children’s section (or even a buyer for Barnes & Noble, which also has this spacing concern). You only have the shelf room to order a limited number of YA books.  Do you order two different books to allow your customer greater options or do you reserve that same amount of shelf space for only one book by a debut author without a built-in fan base? Seems like an easy choice and publishers know it.

You will often see, as authors gain in popularity, the size of their books increase (Which is why Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 257,154 words versus Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone at 77,508) but this is far more the exception than the norm for debut authors. And there are exceptions, of course. However, given the difficulty of getting published, why make it that much more of an uphill battle for your manuscript?

So, what are those norms:

Picture book (fiction): 300-900 words  (Example: Emeraldilicious 840 words)

Chapter Books: 5,000-15,000 words  (Clementine 12,706 words, Ivy and Bean 7,828 words)

Middle Grade: 15,000-60,000, with rare longer exceptions for fantasy (The One and Only Ivan 26,263 words, Out of My Mind 56,872 words)

Young Adult: 50,000-90,000 with books at high end of that range generally being fantasy (The Fault in Our Stars 65,752 The Selection 80,248)

**I pulled most of the example books from this week’s NYT bestseller list for children’s books.  A great resource for researching word counts of published books is the website AR BookFinder.  

Have you hit any roadblocks with your word counts? Are you a rule follower or a rule breaker?


  1. Thank you! My YA had trouble with word count.

  2. I'm learning so much from you! Thank you!

  3. This is so helpful. You can't imagine how many times I've tried Googling this...

  4. I've been wrestling to get a PB word count below 1,000. I almost wanted to go the other way and turn it into an easy-reader, but everyone tells me they are so hard to get published. Today, I finally figured out what I needed to change and cut it to 813. I might need to take it down a bit more - but at least now I know I'm in the right territory.