Monday, April 15, 2024

The Sweet Spot When it Comes to Word Count

You might not think about word count while crafting your masterpiece, but writers have to if they hope to sell their book. Publishers and agents are looking for a specific length. Readers expect genre books to be a certain length. So, it’s important to hit that sweet spot when it comes to word count.

Writer’s Digest gives a general breakdown for the average adult novel:
In short, word counts should be:
80,000-89,999: Totally cool
90,000-99,999: Generally safe
70,000-79,999: Might be too short; probably all right
100,000-109,999: Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000: Too short
110,000 or above: Too long

It also depends on the length of the story:
Short story under 7,500
Novelette – 7,500-17,500
Novella – 17,500-40,000
Novel – over 40,000

But what is a good length for each genre? After exploring over a dozen top websites, it became apparent that the range varies. Below is a list of multiple genres with a general word count range and an estimated sweet spot in parenthesis.

General fiction 70,000-110,000 (80,000)

Literary fiction 50,000-100,000 (80,000)

Romance 50,000-90,000 (75,000-80,000)

Mystery 70,000-90,000 (80,000)

Suspense-thrillers 70,000-90,000 (80,000)

Horror 70,000-100,000 (80,000-90,000)

Science fiction 70,000-125,000 (90,000-115,000)

Fantasy 90,000-150,000 (100,000-115,000)

Historical fiction 75,000-100,000 (80,000-90,000)

Chick lit 70,000-80,000 (75,000)

Westerns 50,000-80,000 (60.000-70.000)

Picture books 500-700 (600)

Middle grade 25,000-50,000 (35,000-40,000)

Young adult 55,000-80,000 (60,000-70,000)

New adult 50,000-80,000 (70,000)

Self-help 30,000-60,000 (40,000-50,000)

History 80,000-200,000 (100,000-150,000)

Memoir 50,000-80,000 (70,000)

Are there books that fall out of those word counts? George R. R. Martin and J. K. Rowling have multiple books that far exceed the average in their genres. But they are the exception not the rule and as established authors, they have a lot more leeway.

Now when your manuscript is finished, you’ll have a good idea if it falls into a good range for both publishers and readers. And you’ll know if you need to do some serious cutting. (Or flesh out the story more!)

Do your stories fall within range?


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Some writers think their story is the exception to the rule, but it rarely is.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I tend to write short, so if I can get my first draft over 50K words it's such a victory. My most recent book came out over 80K, but feedback from readers has been they were sorry when it ended which makes me feel like making it longer was okay.

Mirka Breen said...

Word counts are good to know and best to consider, but not be "religious" about. As a kidlit writer, I have been more mindful about this because children's publishing is (much) more regimented when it comes to scopes for various ages. Those who write literary adult novels can be less concerned as long as the work is "the size it has to be."

G. B. Miller said...

I try to shoot for the novella word count since that's what I feel most comfortable writing. Although, I do have a monstrosity of a series that should click in at 500k when the first draft is done (four volumes, so not to worry).

debi o'neille said...

Great list, and I'm sure people are going to find it helpful.

Miffie Seideman said...

Thanks for the list. My agent mentioned she's getting push back for manuscripts over 90K right now, for a variety of genre's. The Grim Reader is ~75,000- but it also is a non-fiction, so slightly different. With my new fantasy, I'm targeting somewhere around 130K for the rough draft, and hope to pare is back. Wish me luck!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Alex - I'd heard of these before ... and probably would note only ... I'm not good at following the crowd, yet realise I need to slot in somewhere. As long as one is engaged that's the criterion in a book for me. Initially I wondered about blog length ... and was advised on 500 words ... I tried to comply, eventually just doing 'my thing' ... but even for the A-Zs I took part in I failed for short postings - such is life ... but I'm still around, and people (thank you) still come by - I'm grateful to say. Cheers Hilary

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Glad this has been helpful to everyone!

Steph W. said...

Much appreciated advice! Good to see I'm on target.

Fundy Blue said...

Thanks, Alex! This is useful and interesting. I have to cut a lot of words ~ lol!