Why is word count important?
Word count is the number of words in a novel, short story, or other written piece. It is important because it’s a good indicator of the length of your book. But why does this matter? Well, the length of the book helps determine how much money is needed to create and print your book. In traditional publishing, this factor alone can be the reason for a rejection from a literary agent or publishing house.
Literary agents look at your word count when considering your query
Word count is extremely important to literary agents and publishers. It’s not just a matter of how long your book is; it’s also a good indicator of whether you’ve done your research about the industry, how much you know about the genre you’re writing for, and whether or not your story has been thoroughly thought out.
When deciding which queries to respond to, literary agents will often look at the word count included in those queries. If a writer has sent a query that is 100k words over the genre’s typical range, literary agents will likely reject the request without ever reading pages regardless of whether the story sounds promising. Manuscripts that far off in word count will require too much editing before they are ready for publishing houses—time that most literary agents simply don’t have.
But So-and-So’s first book breaks word count!
Yes, some authors break the rule and get their first novels published anyway! Yes, veteran authors break the word count rules all of the time. However, those are the exceptions. Far too many amazing books are rejected off of word count alone. This post is merely meant to shed light on a possible reason for the rejection of those brilliant novels that are not even getting read. The truth is, literary agents have to follow guidelines too. They are in fierce competitions with each other for the limited publishing spots. They are more likely to secure those spots with novels that are brilliant AND follow the rules. This is because publishing is a business and they will most likely not risk spending extra money on an untested debut author.
A long word count also shows that an author has been thorough in their writing choices. A longer book means there’s more space for details, so an agent can see that an author has taken their time with plotting or character development rather than just rushing through things because they’ve run out of space on the page.
Most publishers have a word count ranges
If you’re a veteran author, the word count rules may not apply quite as much to you. This is because publishers are more comfortable with seasoned writers and their past successes than they are with debut authors. Also, if your publisher has published other books by people who write a similar style or genre as yours (and have enjoyed success), then it’s likely that they’ll trust your judgement on what makes sense for your particular book.
However, if this isn’t the case—if you’re in fact a first-time author (or an aspiring one)—then yes: word count rules do apply to you! Your publisher needs to know how many words will be necessary for their production costs and marketing efforts; therefore, these guidelines exist so that everyone knows what’s expected of them before contracts are signed. Without any kind of guidance from an editor or agent about where each project should fall within their proposed range for length, authors could easily submit manuscripts that were too long or too short; either way would be problematic from both sides because any mistakes made during this preliminary stage would mean wasted time and money later down the line!
What is the word count range per genre
Generally, we want to fall within these word count ranges depending on our genre:
Adult: 80,000 – 89,000
Romance: 50,000 – 100,000
Science Fiction / Fantasy: 90,000 – 120,000
Thrillers: 70,000 – 90,000
Middle Grade: 20,000 – 55,000
Young Adult: 55,000 – 85,000
Picture Books: 300 – 700
My failed first novel
Just so you know, I’m writing about this topic because I lived it. When I first started writing, I didn’t know word count mattered. I wrote a novel that came out to 180k words, and it was 100k too long for a YA novel (too many characters, too much plot). It was a very extensive process to get it edited down to size and by the time it was “fixed” it just didn’t work. I wasted five years writing and rewriting that novel, but ultimately realized that this story just didn’t work. That whole experience might have gone a lot different if I’d bothered to research the industry first. I’m hoping others learn from my mistakes.