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How long does my book have to beeeeeeeeeee?
It’s still query letter time here, and today I want to talk about word counts. For those in the not in the query trenches, you can skip down to the bottom to hear me talk about how I’m doing with the effing word count of my own effing novel right now.
Here’s a hint:
In the grand tradition of using metaphors to describe amorphous things in publishing, different word counts for different genres and audiences is like a recipe. At first, you need someone to tell you how much salt, butter, water, oregano to put in. But over time, you get a feel for what works for you. In very, very general terms, here’s what publishing expects word count wise, for different types of books/genres:
Picture books: they’re typically 32 finished pages, and you can put a few or a lot of words per page. They are often 500-1000ish words, but it’s more important to consider the page turn and read-aloud quality of picture books.
Chapter books: 5k to 12kish
Middle grade novels: 30k-50kish (longer for SF/fantasy. Rarely 90k+)
YA novels: 50k-100k (on the longer end for SF/fantasy)
Adult fiction of basically all stripes: 50k-125k (on the longer end for SF/Fantasy)
Prescriptive non-fiction: (how-to, self help, etc): varies, depending on format/content. It’s still hard to publish books under 20k words, though.
Memoir: Same as novels
I’m sure there’s something I didn’t cover here, so feel free to send me an email and ask. But the most important thing to take away here is whether your book falls outside the general ranges here. Is your novel 22k? That’s too short. (And novellas are not often published by traditional publishers.) Is it 357,876 words? That is too too too long, and no, an agent can’t help you cut it up and sell it as three books. That’s too big a job for most agents. Shorter books are not cheaper to produce for many reasons not dependent on the cost of paper and glue. (Notice how book prices are pretty regular? You don’t really see short hardcover novels for $15.99. Do you want to pay $24.99 for a short novel, though?)
Your word count is among the first pieces of information I look for in a query. It tells me if you have a basic understanding of your genre, and sometimes, it’s an early indicator of how much revision you might have done. (Hint: if your book is 350k, I kinda assume you haven’t done a lot of editing. I could be wrong though.)
In the next few newsletters, I’ll show you a format for a basic query letter (you’ve already seen it if you’re a paid subscriber!), and how to work in that word count figure.
So, How’s my word count going, you ask?
As of today, my novel is 55,989 words long. (The pic above was taking a bit ago.) You have no idea how much I wanted to go in and write 11 more words so I could say 56k right there. Numbers motivate me. I like them to go up.
Right now, I’m on the crest of the hill of the roller coaster of my novel (#metaphors). I feel like a lot is going to happen in the next scenes and pages, and I just have to set it in motion. I’m a fast drafter. I can write 5k in a day if I have the time and mental space. But I’m also at a point where I need to go back and fix some things so that the ending will work. I don’t go back and edit previous days’ work—I usually get to the end and then go back. Lately, though, when I sit down to write (three mornings a week for about an hour), I am going back to certain parts and tweaking things here and there, setting up things for the climax and denouement. So that number is not going up very much. And I don’t like it. Sometimes it goes down! I just have to remember that it’s all part of the process and forge ahead.
I hope your writing or reading or work goes well this week, and that the numbers go in the direction you’d like.
***Agent Announcement!! It’s the publication day for Shalanda Stanley’s heartbreaking and beautiful YA novel, NICK AND JUNE WERE HERE. If you like crying, you’ll love this book! School Library Journal called it “A sincere, thoughtful romance well suited for those interested in better understanding some mental health issues, as well as fans of quiet works by Sarah Dessen and Nicola Yoon.” Go forth and buy or borrow from your library! You can even read an excerpt here. *****