Word Count for Novels

Last summer, I queried agents like crazy. I literally sent out query letters at least twice per day, researching every fantasy/thriller/horror/paranormal literary agent out there. After receiving only one reply from an interested agent asking to read an excerpt of my book Possessed, I decided to take a break and figure out what was up. It`s freaking hard to write a query that will stand out in a busy agent`s slushpile. They do receive about one hundred queries per day usually. I needed to craft up a synopsis that gripped them with the very first words. But there was something else I was overlooking. Word count. I did not realize at the time how important the length of a book is. Adult fiction is genereally at least 80,000 words. Both of my books were in the young adult length at only 50,000.

After doing some research, I found that the 100% safe range is 81,000 to 89,000. Apparently some will accept your novel if it is at 71,000 words, but others will say it is not giving the readers enough story. Incidentally, fantasy books seem to longer and can be up to 120,000 words. Which is good news if you write longer stories. Bad news if your first draft is young adult length. So unless you are writing in the chick lit genre (Which usually moves faster and is a light read) or fantasy, stick with this gudieline. 🙂

Word Count

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

Sure, some people care more about craft and story telling than word count, but when you know that agents are being queried like crazy everyday, it is better to play by the rules rather than try to be an exception and get overlooked.

I am happy to say that I have been bulking up both of my novels. My fantasy novel By the Sword is at a solid 65,000 words now. Since last summer, that is an extra 15,000 words. I noticed that as I edited my book and added more to the story, my characters gained more depth and my story became less vague.

So, how about you? Any struggles with word count on your journey to publication?

Happy writing! 🙂

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8 thoughts on “Word Count for Novels

  1. When I finished the actual first good draft of Chasing Miracles, it was 150,000 words. I have it down to about 115,000 but it needs a little reworking on sentence structure. I don’t know if that will help it shrink anymore, but all the parts that are there, have to stay for the story to work.

    Eden Underground, however, is at a nice 55,000-ish. I’m going to have fun bulking that one up. :3

  2. My word count struggle has been with overshooting my target. Writing short stories — even though the novel is my natural format — really helped me with that. I went from always going 20-40% too long to 10-15%. Makes editing a *lot* easier.

  3. It is good to know I`m not the only writer that struggles with word count.

    Sierra, I know how you feel with the 55,000 word count, but you will get it there. Sometimes all it takes is a thorough edit and then the words just flow out more. I found that with a little more character development, I bulked my story up quite a bit more. Margo, that is good to hear that you found a way to shorten your word count more.

  4. My issue with word count is usually cutting some away & still remain within range of my genre-Romance of 75 to 90,000 word count. Daunting at times,but the plot drives it that high and when it does not, during edits I get back up there.

  5. Very good information here! I love that you share your writing/publishing knowledge as well as your stories. Very helpful. I am paying attention and taking notes. 🙂

      1. Yes, very helpful. I hope I’m not driving you nuts with all my comments. I’m glad it’s all still available on your blog. 🙂

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