How Important Is Word Count?
Writing a novel is an incredible investment of time. The reward for that investment is for others to read and enjoy the fruits of all that labor.
For me, having a small group of friends and family read my finished work isn’t what I’m pursuing. I hope to reach a lot of readers. That means getting published.
If you have hopes of getting published the traditional way, you’ll need to make sure your manuscript gets past the initial screening. Submissions get rejected for many reasons, including being too big or too small.
But the most common malady for new writers is producing bloated manuscripts. So agents and publishers will often rejected manuscripts from unpublished authors that exceed their personal word count tolerance, without even perusing the submission.
Even if you are self publishing, the number of words in your finished manuscript is important.
How many words should your finished manuscript have?
Some agents insist that manuscripts by debut authors not exceed 100,000 words. There is solid logic to that. Larger manuscripts cost more to proof and edit and are more expensive to print, creating a bigger risk.
The maximum word count for new authors is lower than established novelists. It is common for word counts to grow in length after the debut novel.
The first novel in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had 76,944 words. By the fifth book, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, the word count had grown to 257,000 words.
There isn’t any hard, fast rule for determining word count targets. It varies by genre. There are different opinions regarding the tops and bottoms of the ranges. I’ve assembled the numbers below by synthesizing numerous opinions. I’ve listed the best articles on the subject near the end below.
- Young adult fiction: 50,000 – 80,000 words
- Romance: 75,000 – 100,000 words
- Science fiction: 90,000 – 120,000 words
- Fantasy: 180,000 – 200,000 or more words
- Other fiction: 80,000 – 120,000 words
That doesn’t mean that manuscripts exceeding these word counts can’t get published. They can and they do. But your work better be exceptional to justify the extra cost involved. Even then, you will have to work harder to sell your work.
I’m planning to self-publish, so word count doesn’t matter. (NOT!)
Word count still matters. Editors charge more to review longer works. If you plan to print books, bigger will cost you more.
Most importantly, and this applies to physical and digital works, readers understand that longer works require a larger investment of their time — and will often avoid bigger-than-average works by unknown authors.
Don’t let your word count block your creativity.
Don’t be like me. On my first novel, when I got to point where I could estimate the word count for the completed work, I would panic and start chopping and reworking. I made it 75% to 80% of the way on four different rewrites of my first manuscript before I finally completed the story on my fifth attempt. I had to give myself permission to overrun my word count target in order to get all the way to the finish line.
My advice: Write your story from beginning to end without worrying about the number of words or pages. Once you are done, you can address word count issues in the edit phase.
If you are interesting in more on this subject, here are some articles to review:
- LitRejections breaks out word count ranges into many more genres.
- Harry Bingham’s post,Average novel word count. (And when is YOUR novel too long?), on the Writer’s Workshop blog is excellent.
- Lee Masterson’s article on the Fiction Factor website, How Long Should Your Story Be?, is a good source of information.
It’s important to make every word in your novel count. Be sure to Omit Needless Words.
But put word count concerns out of your mind while you are writing. When you finish, then focus on tightening up your manuscript.
As always, your thoughts and opinions are welcomed. Please comment below.
Okay. You’ve done enough research. Get back to writing!