What’s in a word count?

self organization

Self Organization by Courtney Brown

For starters, here’s a basic rundown of word counts:

0-500 MicroFiction
500-2000 FlashFiction
2000-7500 ShortStory
7500-15000 Novelette
15000-40000 Novella
40000-110000 Novel
110000+ Epic

Don’t take these definitions to heart as there is no common agreed upon number or even names for word counts (that I’m aware of). Although, despite what I just said, 50k+ is accepted as novel length just about anywhere. You’ll find varying definitions of word counts across the web, but these are my own take (based off of many other opinions of course).

A lot of people worry about word counts for their genre. Some think fantasy novels should be around 80-90k while others think they should be around 100k. Mysteries should be between 60k-80k and romances hover around 50k. There are good reasons for these guidelines, but just keep in mind that is exactly what they are: guidelines. It’s important to note there is a reason behind the suggestions. You don’t want a thriller too long or it might exhaust the reader. A sci-fi or fantasy that’s too short can be disappointing or not spend enough time in the fictional world the reader has fallen in love with. That being said, my take on word count is: pfffft. 

Yep. Back when 95% of publishing was with traditional publishers it made sense to follow these guidelines more closely. Printing off books is costly and publishers weren’t likely to put their money into a 100k+ novel about the thriller of Bob and his tomato dog (with exceptions of course). We live in a different era now. E-readers have all but eliminated the cost of publishing and publishers can take more risks than they used to. That’s of course not including anyone who goes the Indie route (although it should be noted that if you use Print on Demand your printing costs increase with page count). Here’s my suggestion: don’t worry about word count. Really. Just write your story. Do what feels organic. A reader would rather have a 30k sci-fi novella that was an excellent read vs a 60k novel that was too long winded. Go for quality over quantity. Don’t worry if your romance is 100k words. Is it interesting? Is it a fast read and compelling? Those are the things to look at.

When you’re editing don’t be concerned with how much longer, or shorter, your story is getting. Be concerned about the story itself. Concentrate on what’s important and the length will fall into place naturally. Focus on the flow and make your cuts (or additions) based off of fluidity as opposed to word count. The only time I take word count into consideration is for cataloging purposes. Is it a short story? Novel? Novella? Those are titles to simply categorize stories into groups of similar length. As I said, there is a reason for word count averages for genres, I won’t deny that, but I think word count is one of the last things a writer should focus on during the creation of their story.

In closing I want to point out a few examples of books that were very successful despite their length (which were against industry standards.)

Harry Potter (young adult word count suggestion 50k words)
The Philosopher’s Stone – 76,944
The Chamber of Secrets – 85,141
The Prisoner of Azkaban – 107,253
The Goblet of Fire – 190,637
The Order of the Phoenix – 257,045
The Half-Blood Prince – 168,923
The Deathly Hallows – Approximately 198,227

Other YA Titles (that are supposed to be around 50k words)
Twilight: 118,975
Matched: 89,124
Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief: 87, 223
Eragon: 157,220
The Hunger Games: 99,750
The Giver: 43,617
Across the Universe: 98,469
Divergent: 105,143
Graceling: 115,109
Thirteen Reasons Why: 62,496
Inkheart: 146,809
The Golden Compass: 112,815
The Book Thief: 118,933
Uglies: 87,274
City of Bones: 130,949
Speak: 46,591
Looking for Alaska: 69,023
City of Ember: 59,937
A Great and Terrible Beauty: 95,605
The Luxe: 88,982
Shiver: 94,502

As you can see there is a trend of these best sellers. They defy their genre’s word count! (I know, not all of them, but most!) Until next time!


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