Monday, August 25, 2008

A refresher on word counts...

Recently I've been noticing that the word counts included in the queries I've been receiving have started to get progressively higher again, particularly for YA. Many of the query writers included Stephanie Meyers or JK Rowling as an example of why it's acceptable to have a YA word count that is north of 160k.

Now, I've said this before but I'll say it one more time: Often the first book in a successful series has a considerably shorter word count than the subsequent volumes in that series. So if you're querying for something that you'd like to develop into a series, the first book at the very least had better not be a door-stopper.

And just for the record, the word count for Twilight, the first of the Stephanie Meyers YA vampire books, was approximately 115k. That's a bit high but not outrageous. The word count for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was approximately 77k, which is right in line with word count guidelines for upper middle-grade and YA fiction.

Here's a link back to an earlier post about rule-of-thumb word counts for various fiction genres; hopefully it'll be helpful to some of you who may be struggling with this issue.

18 comments:

pseudosu said...

Thanks! That was so helpful. I'd forgotten about that post.

You see so many conflicting comments about word count it can get confusing. Recently one agent referred to 80k as "really very short" on their blog and it made me nervous, but I think I'm right in the ballpark.

clindsay said...

Well, 80k is a bit short for adult fiction but it's still novel-length.

C. Taylor said...

That was very helpful. Thanks.

What about steampunk? Should that also fall into the 80k - 100k or should it go a bit longer?

Brown Trash Punk said...

that is very true. I think "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" is like 200 pages, whereas the last book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was almost 800 pages. Insane, huh?

Vieva said...

That's just making me more confused.

I've been guiding my book based on the count that Luna wanted for submission, because I felt that's where my book best fit - and they want 100k MINIMUM.

and I thought that was insane. (and missed it by a mile, too).

This helps a lot. Now I know that my preferred novel-writing length actually ISN'T off in whacky-ville.

(I hope!)

clindsay said...

Vieva -

Luna asks for between 100k & 120k, which is in line with most fantasy publishers.

It's a tad long for most urban fantasy that's being published but again, not extraordinarily so. And be aware that if the manuscript you're writing is turned down by Luna, another house may ask you to chop off several thousand words.

I think the important thing to keep in mind is that you want to keep your word count at a reasonable length for the genre within which you're planning to publish.

Brown Trash Punk said...

hey Colleen, another question. I noticed you wrote "upper middle grade fiction." I guess that means there's a big difference between lower middle grade and upper middle grade? Can you explain that one? It's alright if you don't want to...

Vieva said...

thanks so much!

It's awkward - I write somewhere between 80-90k novels, but they're fantasy. So I'm never sure what to do with them!

I'd much rather trim than stretch. Stretching feels - icky. So I add, then I cut it all back out, then I stare at it.

So I'm sitting on it. *wry grin*

susaninvt said...

This post is about word counts that are too long, but what about counts that are too short? Does a fantasy manuscript of 77,200 words have a chance? I keep hearing fantasy should be a minimum of 80,000...

clindsay said...

Susan -

I would refer to this great post over at Kristin Nelson's blog about manuscripts that are too short.

Yes, I'd say that 77.2k is probably not long enough for adult fantasy.

susaninvt said...

Thanks for the link to Kristin Nelson's post. She says 70K+ to 100K is the standard for a novel, but I guess fantasy is its own beast.

So, if a novel is about 3000 words short of 80,000 words, would that be an automatic form rejection (even if the query is outstanding)? :-)

clindsay said...

Susan -

Ultimately it's going to depend upon A.) the individual agent and (more importantly) B.) the strength of the writing in your query and initial pages.

domynoe said...

Then there's Michelle West/Sagara. ALL her books are door stoppers! (Why, yes, I am trying to read through on now...why do you ask?) ;)

C. Taylor said...

If you want a door stopper, try Diana Gabaldon. Her first book in the Outlander series clocked in at 850 pages and every subsequent book has gone up from there tacking on another 100 - 150 pages per book. I think the last was around 1500 pages, and in a larger paperback format just so you could still hold onto the thing to be able to read it. I read them back to back and had carpal tunnel by the end of the series. Should have got a Kindle or Sony Reader.
Worth every page though!

Bernita said...

I write lean.
Unfortunately there appears to be a (probably justified) assumption in the industry that beginning writers are inclined to bloat.

ccallicotte said...

Thanks for the reminder about your previous post - there seems to be a lot of conflicting information out there; this helps clear it up.

S. E. Ward said...

Oh, hell. I'm posting this at my blog, too, just because I know the pain involved.

People, KEEP your LENGTH DOWN. I'm condensing THREE HUNDRED FREAKING THOUSAND words into 120K. That's FORTY PERCENT of the original length. Sixty percent GONE. DO NOT PULL THIS SORT OF STUNT. If your book is even good enough to consider at that length, it will be chopped to pieces just to make it marketable. You will learn a great deal from that sort of edit, including the meaning of pain.

Seriously, take it from someone who's learning all of this the hard way. KEEP YOUR BOOKS SHORT.

Kimber An said...

This always boggles and baffles me, because I'm one of those writers who always comes in waaaay UNDER wordcount on the first draft. By the last draft, I'm scraping over the bare minimum with no padding.