Word Counts…Does it Matter?

When I set out to write my first middle grade novel (think ages 9-12), I didn’t look at word count recommendations until finished. I just wrote until my story was complete. After doing the research I discovered most sources were targeting 30,000- 40,000 words, maybe closer to 50,000 for something special. Mine was at 76,000 so it was definitely time to trim. It ended up at 40,000 words but it got me thinking… are newly published novels  ending up within these guidelines?

This weekend I did some of my own research using the website Renaissance Learning. They do a fantastic job of creating book quizzes for teachers to purchase and use with students. They are reasonably priced and a bonus is the reading level and word counts are shown for the thousands of books in their catalog.

Taking nine of the top sellers this year (according to Amazon), I tabulated word counts and here are the results:

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein (47,493)

Navigating Early by Claire Vanderpool (72, 191)

Rump: The True Story of Rumplestilstskin by Liesl Shurtliff (61,156)

Paperboy by Vince Vawter (50,773)

The Colossus Rises by Peter Larangis (66, 312)

Doll Bones by Holly Black and & Eliza Wheeler (47,642)

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis (22,433)

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff (35,050)

Wednesdays in the Tower  by Jessica Day George (50, 919)

AVERAGE: 50,441 WORDS

Conclusions:

  1. Established authors  have more leverage in producing higher word counts. Debut authors may want to stay within recommended counts for their first manuscript.
  2. The numbers for any genre are just a guide. Write the best story you can and then edit, edit, edit. When your book is sold, the publishing company will continue to ask for edits and at this point word count is the least of your worries.
  3. The results are wide ranging with nearly 50,000 words separating the two extremes. This is beneficial as it opens up reading to all types of readers from the hardly ever pick up a book to the never has one out of their hand. Although I did not look at Young Adult or Adult level books, I’m sure the  range in pages would be similar.
  4. A tightly written story is more important than word count. Edit out the excess and if you aren’t in the range, so be it. You’ve written a crackling story that will get agents and editors interest.

Word count does matter, but a great, well told story matters more.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
This entry was posted in Book Lists, Editing, Resources, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Word Counts…Does it Matter?

  1. Interesting research! I think Claire Vanderpool must be given a special word count range, since both her books are on the upper end. But, they are also very good, so it works for her!

    And I agree, it seems like once you’re published the rules are easier to bend!

  2. gpattridge says:

    Yes, good writing pushes the limit upwards.

  3. Oh yes, it matters if you want to get published.

  4. Jodi says:

    I heard a great discussion about how longer books are harder to sell on the Writing Excuses podcast. I always assumed that it was because they take longer to write and edit, but they brought up that bigger books take up more shelf space and in some cases are more expensive to bind than a skinny book. I never thought of the retail angle before that.

    As for genre word counts, they are ok but not perfect guidelines. Instead, write lean and clean and avoid fluff and tell the story that needs to be told.

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