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Word Count by Genre

Here’s information worth reposting. I got it from the SCWC blog (I’m attending in February). Check out these word counts. The last word counttime I checked, they were longer. Fits what I’ve heard that publishers want shorter and shorter books:

Word counts for different genres of novels vary, but there are general rules of thumb that a writer can use for how long is too long. For the purposes of this post, I’m only talking about YA, middle-grade and adult fiction:

    • middle grade fiction = Anywhere from 25k to 40k, with the average at 35k
    • YA fiction = For mainstream YA, anywhere from about 45k to 80k; paranormal YA or YA fantasy can occasionally run as high as 120k but editors would prefer to see them stay below 100k. The second or third in a particularly bestselling series can go even higher. But it shouldn’t be word count for the sake of word count.
    • paranormal romance = 85k to 100k
    • romance = 85k to 100k
    • category romance = 55k to 75k
    • cozy mysteries = 65k to 90k
    • horror = 80k to 100k
    • western = 80k to 100k (Keep in mind that almost no editors are buying Westerns these days.)
    • mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction = A newer category of light paranormal mysteries and hobby mysteries clock in at about 75k to 90k. Historical mysteries and noir can be a bit shorter, at 80k to 100k. Most other mystery/thriller/crime fiction falls right around the 90k to 100k mark.
    • mainstream/commercial fiction/thrillers = Depending upon the kind of fiction, this can vary: chick lit runs anywhere from 80k word to 100k words; literary fiction can run as high as 120k but lately there’s been a trend toward more spare and elegant literary novels as short as 65k. Anything under 50k is usually considered a novella, which isn’t something agents or editors ever want to see unless the editor has commissioned a short story collection. (Agent Kristin Nelson has a good post about writers querying about manuscripts that are too short.)
    • science fiction & fantasy = Here’s where most writers seem to have problems. Most editors I’ve spoken to recently at major SF/F houses want books that fall into the higher end of the adult fiction you see above; a few of them told me that 100k words is the ideal manuscript size for good space opera or fantasy. For a truly spectacular epic fantasy, some editors will consider manuscripts over 120k but it would have to be something extraordinary. I know at least one editor I know likes his fantasy big and fat and around 180k. But he doesn’t buy a lot at that size; it has to be astounding. (Read: Doesn’t need much editing.) And regardless of the size, an editor will expect the author to be able to pare it down even further before publication. To make this all a little easier, I broke it down even further below:
    • hard sf = 90k to 110k
    • space opera = 90k to 120k
    • epic/high/traditional/historical fantasy = 90k to 120k
    • contemporary fantasy = 90k to 100k
    • romantic SF = 85k to 100k
    • urban fantasy = 90k to 100k
    • new weird = 85k to 110k
    • slipstream = 80k to 100k
    • comic fantasy = 80k to 100k
    • everything else = 90k to 100k

Editors will often make exceptions for sequels, by the way. Notice that the page count in both J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series gets progressively higher. But even authors who have been published for years and should know better will routinely turn in manuscripts that exceed the editor’s requested length by 30k to 50k words, which inevitably means more work for that author because editors don’t back down. If a contract calls for a book that is 100k words and you turn in one that is 130k, expect to go back and find a way to shave 30k words off that puppy before your manuscript is accepted.

Remember that part of the payout schedule of an author’s advance often dangles on that one important word: acceptance.

I cannot stress highly enough that there are always exceptions to every rule, especially in SF/F. Jacqueline Carey and Peter F. Hamilton, among others, have proven this quite successfully. If an agent finds a truly outstanding book that runs in the 200k range (yes, it happens!), he or she may advise your cutting the manuscript into two books to make life easier for everyone. But for a debut novelist who is trying to catch the eye of an agent or editor for the first time? Err on the side of caution with your word count.

Here are some famous novels, old and recent and their word counts.

  • HARRY POTTERS
    Philosopher’s Stone….77,325
    Chamber of Secrets…..84,799
    Prisoner of Azkaban…106,821
    Goblet of Fire……..190,858
    Order of the Phoenix..257,154
    Half Blood Prince…..169,441
    Deathly Hallows…….198,227
  • Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe…36,363
  • Anna Karenina…349,736
  • War and Peace…587,287
  • Gone with the Wind…418,053
  • The English Patient…82,370
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany…236,061
  • Crime and Punishment…211,591
  • The Brothers Karamazov…364,153
  • Sense and Sensibility…119,394
  • Great Expectations…183,349
  • Ender’s Game…100,609
  • Moby Dick…206,052
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…30,644
  • Emma…155,887
  • The Hours…54,243
  • The Golden Compass…112,815
  • The Fellowship of the Ring…177,227
  • The Two Towers…143,436
  • The Return of the King…134,462
  • The Lord of the Rings…455,125
  • The Tenth Circle…114,779
  • My Sister’s Keeper…119,529
  • A Tale of Two Cities…135,420
  • White Teeth…169,389
  • Atonement…123,378
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle…22,416
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn…109,571
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer…69,066
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude…144,523
  • Memoirs of a Geisha…186,418
  • Snow Falling on Cedars…138,098
  • Cold Mountain…161,511
  • Midnight’s Children…208,773
  • A House for Mr. Biswas…198,901
  • All the Pretty Horses…99,277
  • A Suitable Boy…591,554(est.)

 

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53 thoughts on “Word Count by Genre

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    • I think most genres are shorter than this now, but I’m not sure. Considering it takes me six years to write a book, if I aimed for the thriller word count back in 2010, I’m sure not whittling the story down now.

      Liked by 1 person

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    • There are so many options now. Short novels can be sold as novelettes. And, overall, books are shorter than they used to be–I think thanks to ebooks. Go back into your book and add detail, build your characters, and relate your setting to your plot. That should add a few thousand more words.

      Like

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  15. Great Article! I’m trying to write myself, and at 29000 words I wasn’t if I should add to the story just for the sake of wordcount but this helps puts things into perspective!

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  24. Jacqui, Great post. Knowing the word count is important. I think it is funny that you say no one is buying Cowboy novels.. Just saw Cowboys and aliens yesterday and it had some good underlying messages… so who knows! I love at the Gateway to the Grand Canyon and have a good western writer friend.. I’ll let him know 🙂 Great to connect on Google+

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  25. Thanks for the comment, Jacqui, and for the advice about the buzzy wrists. Given that “Arthur” (as one dr. referred to the arthritis) is an annoyance for me elsewhere, it could very well be the problem. I’m guessing I’ll just have to pace myself since, like you, typing is what I do.

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