Tuesday 2 October 2012

Word Count: What's appropriate?

I have been reading a lot of competition entries lately and see varying word counts on the summaries.

I am curious to know: what do you think are the limits for a word count for a debut author seeking representation? I am specifically talking YA but if anyone wants to weigh in with NA/MG/Adult ideas, do.

For YA I have gone by the rule of thumb greater than 60k and less than 100k are a good spot to aim for. Shorter or longer than that raises flags, was my understanding.

I got this useful link (thanks to EllieWrites who linked to it) which says:

MG: 25-40k (average 35)
YA: 45-80k for mainstream, up to 120 for paranormal but under 100 best.

They have guidelines for adult genres too if you are interested. It is just one ex-agent's take, but interesting.

It seems to be for MG 35/40k and for YA 60/70k are safe word counts to 'aim for' and that genre may make a difference.

ETA: The best word count is the minimum you need to *tell your story* without being overlong and without leaving out key factors, of course. I am talking here I guess about a) whether too short/long hinders you getting representation and b) whether having a too short/long MS should raise a red flag to you that you perhaps haven't cut enough or put enough in....?

Any opinions? Do you plan for a specific word count when you start? Do your books always come out the same? Do you add if your YA is say 45k or cut if it's 120k?

Interested to know!


  1. No idea on young adult or middle grade, but I have heard around 100,000 for adult.

  2. Great post--I have wondered about this too. I did finally settle on 85k as a goal for my romance MS, which seems to be an acceptable standard. There is another blog post which talks about MS that are too short: http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2006/05/too-short.html. It's a bit old, but I suspect it's still true.

  3. This is a problem for me. I tend to come out too short. My MG is about 22k, which is close, but my YA is only novella length-about 32k. I've been thinking I need to start plotting a lot more ahead of time, (I've been a pantser so far.) Hopefully that will help with my next project because I have thought and thougth about how to add to the novella and can't come up with anything! :)

  4. There's a place for novellas, so long as you are clear/understand what you are marketing *is* a novella and too short for a complete novel and don't have the expectation that it will sell as a 'novel'. Actually Brenda Drake has a call on her blog right now from Month9Books *specifically* asking for novellas (all genres, YA/NA/Adult).

    I love that agent's post on genre length, while it is just one person's take, it's within the realm of what other agents seem to have as their mental guideline.

  5. I seem to be incapable of writing anything that is more or less than 103k words (in adult thriller/fantasyland). Four complete MS, and all within 500 words of that total.

    Then again, it might be the fault of my CP's, because all were either longer or shorter before I revised on their recommendations! If you're coming in too long or too short for the genre you're writing, I highly recommend finding a reliable CP. They will help either flesh out a story or figure out what can be chopped out to fit the word count expectations.

  6. I'd agree with the numbers you have posted. They certainly aren't rules, but they make good guidelines!

  7. I can't speak for YA but that makes sense. Debut novels for adult fiction are typically between 85-110K with the big preference toward the lower 85K. I mean I'd think that YA novels would be shorter than adult novels. I once had an agent who accepted pretty much all fiction genres tell me that anything lower than 80K and over 120K was an autoreject. All I can say with certainty is you do NOT want your book to be too long!

  8. Alex - thanks, that's interesting!

    Marin - thanks for the link, I'll check it out! 85k sounds a good length.

    Rachel - good luck with the planning for the next one. You sound v. close with the MG?

    Ellie - great tip about the call for novellas, thank you. I loved the post, I thought it was a *very* useful set of guidelines!

    Laura - how interesting that everything comes in almost bang on 103k!! Very good tip to find a CP in order to help work out if anything needs cutting or adding.

    Randi - yes guidelines is a v. good way to put it!

    Lisa - 85k sounds a good aim for adult fiction. Too long is to be avoided!

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts.

  9. I was going to suggest the Swivet link, but it looks like you have it already. Though I have to say, some places say they won't look at anything below 60k, so that can be a hard sell (but, I think, doable).

    I like your statement, though, that length should be determined more by the story than by any guidelines. A story's length changes so much in revisions, that if you write to length you might be stifling your story, and for nothing because all that can change later on. One of my friends regularly cuts 50,000-100,000 words from her books in revisions. (Yes, they're long.) I generally add 10,000-20,000 words. Knowing that I will add on helps me know what my target length is, but in the end it just depends.

    Happy writing!

  10. i am aiming for 50 for ya. it depends on the story. but 100 seems too long for a ya debut. then again look at harry potter - always an exception, but i dont count in being an exception!

  11. Caryn - absolutely I think a story is what it 'needs' to be but it is good to have guidelines in mind I guess, but it does end up varying according the story. Thank you for commenting.

    Tara - yes there are always exceptions to point to aren't there but good to stick to the general I guess! (And the first Harry Potter wasn't as long as the later ones grew to!)

  12. I would aim for 50-60k for YA. It'll make you're book more appealing for international markets too as most publishers have to pay translators by the word so anything over 60k can end up being too expensive...

  13. Thank you, that's really helpful to know ;)


Please comment, I'd love to know what you think! :)