Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post

Word count for novels and books is something I don’t think about too often until I travel to a writers’ conference, and then someone asks a simple, innocent question: “How long should a book be?” With that in mind, I’ve tried to put together the definitive post on word count for fiction (novels, young adult, middle grade, children’s books and even memoir).

The most important thing here is to realize that there are always exceptions to these rules. And man, people love to point out exceptions—and they always will. However, if there is one thing I remember from when my wife dragged me kicking and screaming to He’s Just Not That Into You, it’s that you cannot count on being the exception; you must count on being the rule. Aiming to be the exception is setting yourself up for disappointment. What writers fail to see is that for every successful exception to the rule (e.g., a first-time 175,000-word novel), there are at least 100 failures if not 300.

Almost always, high word count means that the writer simply did not edit their work down enough. Or—it means they have two or more books combined into one.

“But what about J.K. Rowling???” asks that man in the back of the room, putting his palms up the air. Well—remember the first Harry Potter book?  It wasn’t that long. After JK made the publishing house oodles and oodles of money, she could do whatever she wanted.  And since most writers haven’t earned oodles, they need to stick to the rules and make sure they work gets read. The other thing that will make you an exception is if your writing is absolutely brilliant. But let’s face it. Most of our work does not classify as “absolutely brilliant” or we’d all have 16 novels at this point.


Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for. This is a 100% safe range for literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere.

Now, speaking broadly, you can have as few as 71,000 words and as many as 109,000 words. That is the total range. When it dips below 80K, it might be perceived as too short—not giving the reader enough. It seems as though going over 100K is all right, but not by much. I suggest stopping at 109K because just the mental hurdle to jump concerning 110K is just another thing you don’t want going against you. And, as agent Rachelle Gardner (Books & Such Literary) pointed out when discussing word count, over 110K is defined as “epic or saga.” Chances are your cozy mystery or literary novel is not an epic. Rachelle also mentions that passing 100K in word count means it’s a more expensive book to produce—hence agents’ and editors’ aversion to such lengths.

In short:
80,000 – 89,999:       Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999:       Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999:       Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999:    Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000:           Too short
110,000 or above       Too long

Chick lit falls into this realm, but chick lit books tend to be a bit shorter and faster. 70-75K is not bad at all.


Science fiction and fantasy are the big exceptions because these categories tend to run long. It has to do with all the descriptions and world-building in the writing.

With these genres, I would say 100,000 – 115,000 is an excellent range.  It’s six-figures long, but not real long. The thing is: Writers tend to know that these categories run long so they make them run really long and hurt their chances. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it short (say, 105K) in these areas. It shows that you can whittle your work down.

Outside of that, I would say 90K-100K is most likely all right, and 115-124K is probably all right, too. That said, try to keep it in the ideal range.


Middle grade is from 20,000 – 55,000, depending on the subject matter and age range, and the word count of these books has been trending up in recent years. When writing a longer book that is aimed at 12-year-olds (and could maybe be considered “tween”), using the term “upper middle grade” is advisable. With upper middle grade, you can aim for 40,000 – 55,000 words. These are books that resemble young adult in matter and storytelling, but still tend to stick to MG themes and avoid hot-button, YA-acceptable themes such as sex, drugs and rock & roll. You can stray a little over here but not much.

With a simpler middle grade idea (Football Hero, or Jenny Jones and the Cupcake Mystery), aim lower.  Shoot for 20,000 – 35,000 words.

(Learn the differences between middle grade and young adult fiction.)


Perhaps more than any other, YA is the one category where word count is very flexible.

For starters, 55,000 – 79,999 is a great range. 

The word round the agent blogosphere is that these books tend to be trending longer, saying that you can top in the 80Ks. However, this progression is still in motion and, personally, I’m not sure about this. I would say you’re playing with fire the higher you go. When it gets into the 80s, you may be all right—but you have to have a reason for going that high. Again, higher word counts usually mean that the writer does not know how to edit themselves.

A good reason to have a longer YA novel that tops out at the high end of the scale is if it’s science fiction or fantasy. Once again, these categories are expected to be a little longer because of the world-building.

Concerning the low end, below 55K could be all right but I wouldn’t drop much below about 47K.


The standard is text for 32 pages. That might mean one line per page, or more. 500-600 words is a good number to aim for. When it gets closer to 1,000, editors and agents may shy away.

(Deconstructing five spooky picture books with spoilers and word counts.)


I remember reading some Westerns in high school and, if I recall correctly, they weren’t terribly long. There wasn’t a whole about this on agent and editor sites, but from what I found, these can be anywhere from 50K to 80K. 65,000 is a solid number to aim for.


Memoir is the same as a novel and that means you’re aiming for 80,000-89,999. However, keep in mind when we talked about how people don’t know how to edit their work. This is specially true in memoir, I’ve found, because people tend to write everything about their life—because it all really happened.

Coming in a bit low (70-79K) is not a terrible thing, as it shows you know how to focus on the most interesting parts of your life and avoid a Bill-Clinton-esque tome-length book. At the same time, you may want to consider the high end of memoir at 99,999. Again, it’s a mental thing seeing a six-figure length memoir.


You have agents like Nathan Bransford (now formerly an agent) and Kristin Nelson who say that you shouldn’t think about word count, but rather you should think about pacing and telling the best story possible—and don’t worry about the length. Yes, they’re right, but the fact is: Not every agent feels that way and is willing to give a 139,000-word debut novel a shot. Agents have so many queries that they are looking for reasons to say no. They are looking for mistakes, chinks in the armor, to cut their query stack down by one. And if you adopt the mentality that your book has to be long, then you are giving them ammunition to reject you. Take your chances and hope that excellent writing will see your baby through no matter (and I hope it does indeed break through).

But I believe that we cannot count on being the exception; we must count on being the rule. That’s the best way to give yourself your best shot at succeeding.

Push yourself beyond your comfort zone and take your writing to new heights with this novel writing workshop meant for novelists who are looking for book editing and specific feedback on their work. When you take this online workshop, you won’t have weekly reading assignments or lectures. Instead, you’ll get to focus solely on completing your novel.

Click to continue.

69 thoughts on “Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post

  1. AvatarWorked_the_World

    My experience is that a book reaches it’s right length when the story follows the beats in “Save the Cat Writes a Novel”, the characters come alive and become memorable, their development is believable, and the plot develops and wraps up properly.

    My current historical fiction novel of the sea ended up at 85,000 words after nine revisions. With eleven point font and 1.15 line spacing, it is 337 pages including the normal front and back matter. This feels just right and readers seem to agree.

    Other genres seem to have other natural lengths. I suggest to write the story first and improve it to your best ability. Then look at word count.

  2. Avataracadia1997

    I’ve read many articles and blog posts regarding word count, but not one mentions how that should be determined. Word processing programs like MS Word keep a running tally, but is that what we should use? Traditional publishers and agents advised using the industry formula for determining word count, which is (assuming certain standards – 12 pt. Times New Roman, double-spaced, left-side justified only, 1″ margins, and widow control turned off) – 250 words per page x the number of pages (250 wpp x 320 pages = 80,000 words.) I’ve always used this formula regardless of the actual word count, but my pages tend to be a bit dense, more like 350 words per page, which makes my word count high, but not my page count. Now that I’m ready to query, I want to use the industry formula, but is that proper and acceptable, or do I have to use the actual word count?

  3. AvatarDA_Hansen

    Tamora Pierce originally wrote the ‘Song of the Lioness’ quartet as one continuous novel and then once she began the publishing process it was split into four separate books because of the length. I suppose this is as good an example as any on the importance of word count in the publishing industry.

  4. AvatarSarutaValentine

    I just have to say that this post made me a little angry. I don’t understand why, as an aspiring author, I should follow every little guideline and ‘rule’ that comes my way. Some of the greatest books ever published didn’t have the proper word count and I believe they were better for it. My other point is that those that haven’t worried about word count are those that we know of; the authors we recognize. Those we don’t recognize have worried about word count and every other ‘rule’ that’s put in place when publishing a book. I say that if you think you have a great idea, write it and don’t worry what critics say. I believe that I will be published and successful whether I’m in the right word count or not, because all of the best authors are. Just wanted to put that on here.

    1. Avatarkcparrish2

      I was angry, too, when I was told ‘you have no choice!’ when it came to following the ‘rules’ of story structure (Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks). Or that my sci-fi novel should fit within a certain word count! Then I decided to just do it. Develop and refine the structure for my story, determine the plot points, pinch points, controlling premise, my character’s fatal flaw. I’m now halfway through zone 2 of my novel, and pretty much dead on the word count – I’ll hit 50,000 word right at the mid-point, and will have a durable first draft ready for editing before year’s end.

      I would urge every frustrated, aspiring author to give it an honest try. You’ll be surprised at how much better the muse speaks to you – and how much more focused your writing becomes. Yes, even pantsers.

    2. Avatartigbond

      I feel your sentiment as I used to feel this way as well. The answer is simple though. There is just too much competition in the industry, so if you’re an unestablished writer, your book cannot stray from the industry norms without being labeled as someone who doesn’t know how to conform – hence being tossed into the scrap pile. Once you’re established, you can do anything you want. Just look at Rowling’s “The Order of the Phoenix”, which comes in at 257,045 words. Now imagine you’re an unknown writer submitting a book at that word count. No one is going to bother looking at it. Just a sad truth 🙁

  5. AvatarConduit to the Muse

    I’m currently at 35k or so words. I started this novel not knowing it was a novel before going in lol…. Now, I have 10 chapters and a stream of consciousness novel (although I have edited the crap out of it with tweaks and fine tunes…) and it is still coming. But I feel the end is near. It’s a humor novel. I don’t want to say it’s a detective novel although that’s the main character so I suppose it does fall in that genre. I’m not sure I’ll hit a 75 -90,000 word count….It may end up only 50,000 or so…And then again, I may ride the Muse’s blessing to a longer word count. Just not sure yet. I just don’t want to be so bent on word count that I’m meandering in and out of ideas and padding the story with useless wordy notions for the sake of word count… Make any sense?

  6. AvatarGargoyleGuy

    Ok so here’s the question I have. I am writing a fantasy novel it’s my first novel I’ve even undertaken. I am gearing it towards teens/young adults. What I need to know is, Is do I follow the word count guide lines for fantasy or do I follow the word guide lines for young adult? Please let me know any advise is good advise.

  7. AvatarTalia10

    Thanks for the guidelines, they were very helpful!

    I have noticed in one article where it has mentioned the word for sci fi fantasy particularly for young adults. However what is the appropiate word count for upper middle grades sci fi fantasy?
    Any help and advice would appreciated.

  8. AvatarVaniJoy

    I tend read very little while I’m writing for fear of plagiarism. Since I’m always writing, I read less than most authors do. I do however listen to the occasional book on tape, which according to my family isn’t really reading. As for helping with my writing, I prefer to read the very good books published by writer’s digest on writing. I’ll turn to a how-to guide over and above reading a novel, mainly because I have no analytical skills whatsoever. Now, to the topic at hand. I think publishers and agents both are biting themselves in the hindquarters by limiting the word count for novels. Most of the books I do read are older than ten years. The most current books I’ve tried to read I’ve thrown on the floor, utterly confused because there wasn’t enough context for me to follow along. While I used to be someone who felt compelled to read to the end of the book, even a bad one, I’ve learned from my mistakes. Now, I have no qualms about putting books, or in some cases throw them, down if it’s a bad one. One can not possibly sacrifice important elements in the story for sake of the word count. It’s simply unfair, not only to the writer, but to the reader as well. Being a decade or more old, most of the books I read are 120,000 words, more or less. I think that’s why more and more authors are choosing to go the Self-publishing route to bypass all the hoops agents and publishers expect us to jump through. Like my mom, an avid reader, says she’d rather read fifty books that are longer, than to read a hundred books that all leave you wondering: What the….?

  9. Avataremilymaidman

    Fascinating comments – yet 6 of the top 10 ten novels of the last 100 years according to an amalgamation of different surveys we did came in at less than 60,000 words, 4 of these 6 had less than 55000, 2 had less than 50000 an 1 had less than 45,000.

    The novels were:
    The Great Gatsby
    The Lord of the The Flies
    Animal Farm
    As I Lay Dying
    Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
    The Old Man and The Sea
    This doesn’t include a whole host of others that came outside of the top 10 from the amalgamated list but inside the top 50, e.g. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, As I Lay Dying etc.
    The hardest part of a novel is an encapsulating idea. If you can do that, don’t worry about the word count.

    1. AvatarSpellcrafter711

      That’s the six best novels to come out of that century. How many others were published? Thousands. Those books worked because the writers possessed the skill to craft an entire story using the most sparse prose possible. Most people simply are not capable of that. If you think you’re as good as Hemingway, go for it. Just don’t get your hopes up.

  10. Avatarrich olson

    I just did a word count on Maurice Sendak’s picture book “Where the Wild Things Are.” It was 333 words which tends to be lower then the average picture book. I am using this number count as a benchmark for my own storybook.
    Richard Olson/children’s book illustrator

  11. AvatarHannahEMurphy

    Great article! Thank you for sharing!

    One question, though. Sci-fi/Fantasy tends to be in the 100,000’s range while YA is in the 55,000’s range. What about a fantasy YA?



  12. Avataraladida

    What about an historical novel. Edward Rutherford’s first historical Sarum was very well over 100,000 words. Do you really think writing an historical that is epic-like can be done in less than 100,000 words? This is one of the most disappointing articles I have read. It seems there is no room to write an epic that covers thousands of years in one book. Is everyone supposed to appeal the ‘lesser reader?’ is writing a business of’ ‘laz agts & cst ctg pubs?’

    1. Avatarkpglasgow

      That’s actually not what the article said. He said in the article that these word counts are a ‘general rule’. There are exceptions. If it’s your first novel, it said to try to keep to this word count, it makes everybody want to look at your work more than if you go over. Once you start making everybody money, word count becomes less important.

  13. Avatarjannertfol

    This is a dreadful trend. I know it makes it ‘easier’ for publishers to whack through their pile of manuscripts, arbitrarily rejecting ones that are ‘too long’—without even bothering to read any of them. But length has nothing whatever to do with quality, or pacing, or story content.

    I know as a reader, I am never put off by how long a novel appears to be. Many of my favourite books of all time are ‘long’ ones. Some stories offer full immersion, and are not meant to be quick reads. These are the kinds of books I prefer, as a BUYER of books.

    This arbitrary length ‘rule’ is just laziness on the part of agents and publishers, unless they represent a genre that requires a certain format, such as Mills & Boon. Sorry. No wonder so many people—including already-published authors—are planning to go the self-publishing route for their new work.

    I have no interest in writing-by-numbers to satisfy some agent’s notion of an ideal word count. I don’t write genre stories, and I never will. I edit my own work to within an inch of its life, down (or up) to whatever word count that works best for my story. I want to be proud of what I’ve written, and I want my novel to say what I want it to say. What’s the point of writing, if that’s not my goal?

    1. AvatarSarutaValentine

      Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!!!! Thank you for writing this. I made an account here just to write a comment, and you said exactly what I was going to say. Word count doesn’t matter in the least. Some of the greatest books of all time threw word count out the window, and they’re better for it, I say.

    2. Avatarmarnerman

      Very much agree. We are told the reason to go the route of traditional publishing rather than to self-publish is for “the credibility.” But how much credibility has the agent who would reject unread the first books by Charles Dickens, the Brontes, George Eliot, Garcia-Marquez, Joseph Heller, Tom Pynchon? The list, of course, goes on and on and on.

  14. AvatarLeftWrite

    I’m sorry, Chuck, but I side with Nathan Bransford and Kristin Nelson on this one. I worry more about the pacing, telling the best possible story, and having fun doing so. I’ve written a lot of flash fiction, so I know I can write tight. But my first novel, an historical fiction with two main characters, easily broke 165,000 words.I know there are plenty of writers who have written works much longer than mine; names such as Wally Lamb, Stephen King, Thomas Pynchon, and David Foster Wallace come to mind. Maybe my first novel just won’t be my springboard to success.Or maybe I just need to keep looking until I find my ideal agent.

    1. AvatarTerryRodgers

      You obviously didn’t read Chuck’s article. He said authors like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling have written longer novels. He also pointed to their first novel. How long was Carrie? Maybe 70k words. What Chuck emphasized is that for every novel published over 110k words, hundreds are not. So unless you have written an eye popping novel, Chuck suggests following a simple rule. To be a published author is one of the hardest things someone can do. There are millions, maybe tens of millions that have tried it and failed. All Chuck is suggesting is to follow a simple word count range to increase your chances of getting noticed. Then after you’re published, if you feel you need to write more words to tell a story, then you can.

    2. Avatarandy_176382

      Chuck is just laying out what the publishers are looking for and wordcount/pagecount are a key factor in just the FIRST hurdle in getting traditional publishing going.

      1/ If JK or LL Martin send in a million word manuscript it will get read because they have proved themselves. If an unknown, like myself, sends 160k words worth then it will be automatically binned as the law of averages states it won’t be worth reading.
      Agents are not on the lookout for the unknown writing genius. It is not a quest for them, it is just a job.

      2/ Bookstore shelves and shipping boxes can only hold so many books, and that is a factor too.

      3/ Cost. The cost of printing increases exponentially with file size/page count and this can be seen in the minimum retail price and the MRP does NOT include your royalty, you have to add that to the price.
      My small book is 141k and the largest is 196k and they are in a four book series totaling 166,695 words with map illustrations (readers like those maps but agents, publishers and printers do not like the increased file size that comes with them…. just another factor to weigh up.)

      Do you need an agent? I sacked that notion some time ago and sold my sheets of stamps. I pay the bills with Kindle, ePub and iBook sales, not paper (although I have paperback and hard cover versions).
      No film deals or private jet and no sign that the essential first step to those, the NYT best seller list, will ever happen.

      Keep writing LeftWrite, that is all any of us can do, but be aware of what gets under the bar and what does not if your go the traditional route.

  15. Avatarjanuary5bday

    Oh goodness, I was worried I would make my book too long, but when I saw the word count for fantasy novels I realized I was aiming a little on the short side (90,000 words). Lol. Thank you for writing this. It is very helpful.

  16. Avatarhouguinea

    Hi, I was just wondering if age affects how publishing companies look at your word count. I am sixteen, and my novel is 80k words long. I have done a good job of editing it, and everyone who has reviewed it has said that it is very good. It’s historical fiction, but really fits more into the adult or young adult genres. This is my first book, so I am rather naive about the publishing thing. Can anybody offer some welcome advice to a novice author?

    1. Avataratwhatcost

      Yes! Stop telling people how old you are!

      You’ll be published by the merit of your novel, not your age. The only thing telling your age does for you is to have slush-pile readers think, “Oh no. Another teenager who thinks this is the one.” And that’s all done in the space it takes to flick it to the reject pile. You have to be as good as any other writer, not “good for my age.” So, get your age out of your head, when approaching an agent or publisher with your query. Don’t mention age at all, until you talk or it’s time to sign the contract. The only reason you mention it then is because it’s likely your parents will want to go with you to make sure the contract is legitimate (and possibly because they don’t want you going into a big city on your own. 😉 )

      (Also, if by “everyone who has reviewed it has said that it is very good” you mean “my family and friends think I’m good,” you’re simply not ready to publish yet. If “everyone who has reviewed it has said that it is very good” means your writing group has read it, and some people in your writing group are authors–not merely writers–then you’re ready to start studying the publishing aspect of getting your manuscript out there. But realize this, you are most certainly competing with older people and you are expected to be just as good, because no one is judging you by your age.)

    2. Avatarkpglasgow

      Age has absolutely nothing to do with getting published. Just remember, the guy that wrote ‘Eragon’ was only 15 when he got his first book published.
      Your age has nothing to do with how good a book is. You have to compete with many people that are older than you in whatever genre you looking atwriting for. You will be published, or not, based on the merits of your work.

  17. Avatarhouguinea

    Hi, I’m just finishing my first novel. It’s roughly 80k words long after editing. It is historical fiction, (I have done so much research it’s not funny), but it is much shorter than recommended for that genre. I am not sure if the content would fit into the guise of YA or adult. I’ve had several writers review it, and they all say it is “masterful storytelling with beautiful prose,” not to brag about myself or anything like that… but it moves very quickly, while gives plenty of historical tidbits. Does word count really matter that much to publishers? The other thing is that I am only sixteen. Will that affect how publishers look at me? Will they be more or less lenient? Since this is my first book, I’m rather naive about the publishing process. Can anyone offer some helpful and much appreciated advice?

    1. Avataratwhatcost

      No, you make it good and worry about if you have enough words only after it’s great. By that time, chances are good it won’t be 60,000 words. Padding it just makes it noticeable that you’re padding it.

  18. Avatarlisawritesbooks

    Chuck – I’m curious how word count ranges and limits have evolved. There appears to have been some shrinkage over time. In 2008 I pitched my literary novel to an agent at the San Francisco Writers Conference. He seemed enthusiastic and described himself as “very interested” until he asked the dreaded word count question. When I answered, he winced (yes, Gentle Reader, he did) and said, “I’m really interested in this. Well, I would be really interested if it were no more than 120,000. If you can get it down to that, then query me and say you pitched to me here.”

    Other agents at the conferences and workshops I attended around that time, as well as various articles mentioning word counts, seemed to be in agreement.

    I’ve no doubt you speak the gospel in declaring the permissible word count upper limit for literary fiction as 100,000, with 110,000 and up being “Too long”. That’s ten – twenty thousand less than a handful of years ago. What’s happened?

  19. AvatarMichael1950

    A very suspect article, especially when there are guidlines available from a variety of sources that actually define word counts for different genre’s as well as age groups. One example is the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ of America’s definitions. For that group, a novel is more than 40K words, a Novella is 17.5K words, and a short story is under 7.5K words. I don’t mind a publisher, agent or even a writer giving us his opinion of what word count makes a book, but to try to pass it off as definitive is more than arrogant. Pfft.

  20. AvatarAvatar13

    Chuck: I don’t see a recommended length for historical fiction. Some of the posts I’ve encountered in the past seem to support a length of between 150,000 and 200,000 for historical fiction, and I’m wondering if you would concur or take issue with that. The exhaustively-edited and re-edited novel I have written is a little under 250,000 words; hence, its length is not due to a lack of editing but the presence of two major historical narratives (one from the ninth century and one from the twentieth century) along with several smaller ones, perhaps in the vein of something like “Cloud Atlas” (but spanning a far longer period of history). This is because the book is not merely a “historical novel” but a novel about the relationship between history and myth, as well as the individual stories within it. Perhaps to you this sounds like one hot mess of utterly unmarketable excess. But I would ask: how qualitatively different is being the one in 100 (or more) “great” long novels that gets sold versus being the 1 in 200 (or more) novels of ANY length that gets sold? I’m not trying to be cute here. But really, it’s a vertical challenge regardless, yes? Isn’t the key really the writing itself? I have asked all sorts of people I know–lawyers, hair stylists, shampoo gals, teachers, admins, restaurant servers–if reading a 700-page novel by an unknown writer would bar them from buying the book. Only one of them has said ‘yes.’ The only thing they all said mattered was if they ‘heard it was good.’ That’s always been the only factor for me that mattered. I actually find very long novels “exciting”: like an adventure, a voyage. Finishing the last page of the last volume of Proust was one of the saddest days of my entertainment life. I felt like I’d moved out of state.

    1. AvatarChuck Sambuchino Post author

      I haven’t seen much on historical, but I would say no more than 125K is a safe bet. 250K seems just way too long. If you really feel like you can’t edit it any more and that it MUST be that length, then all you can do is query away and hope for the best.

    2. Avatarandy_176382

      If it is 250k then try and find a natural point as near possible to 125k into the story at which to split it into two books. If you cannot find one then you may have to write one in.
      You will need a second cover, so more expense, but it is the only alternative to editing on a mass extinction scale.

    3. AvatarVaniJoy

      In this instance, I agree with Andy. Breaking it up into individual stories, or volumes, might be the best way to go. That way you wouldn’t have to sacrifice story for word count. Since everyone loved using her as an example, if it worked for JK it can work for us, right? One of my works-in-progress began it’s life as a single story. However, the more I develop the universe I realized that one book just couldn’t do it justice and have it still make any sense. As of my last count it was up to five books, but we’ll see were the story takes me.

  21. Avatarmyrtlebeachgirl

    Thanks Chuck! Kind of scratching my head over the YA numbers, tho. Teens and young adults love a lengthy read because they invest more heavily in the characters. No one can deny the success of big, honking books, in endless series, like Twilight and Harry Potter (which appeals to a far wider audience than it was probably intended to). What do you think is the reasoning behind the more conservative word counts in this genre? Are these only first novel word counts?

    1. AvatarChuck Sambuchino Post author

      First books, yes. Go look at the first Harry Potter book. Is is quite short. Only after Rowling proved herself a bestseller did she get leeway to write however long she liked.

      1. Avatarkatay444

        Just thought I’d point out that even though the first Harry Potter book is shorter than the others, it still clocks in at 77,000 words. That’s a good 7,000 words higher than your suggestion for YA, and it’s actually classified as MG, which should theoretically be even shorter than YA. I think 55-70K is on the short end for YA if you’re including YA fantasy, sci-fi, and paranormal in your calculations.

      2. Avatarmmcoxbooks

        Divergent and Hunger Games are both first books, and they both clock in around 100K. So it does seem like they’re trending longer. Also, I walked through the MG section at B&N the other day and those books are thick. Maybe that’s why kids are reading less? I hope not. Big books never scared me!

      3. AvatarAliceinWinderland

        Wasn’t the FIRST Harry Potter Novel was published as a MG Novel —the Cristopher Little Literary agency almost did not accept it, because they usually didn’t accept children’s literature. They saw it as having the ability to become a classic, and went against their own policy and agented their first children’s book. Bloomsbury had just opened a children’s division a year and a half before, and accepted it as a children’s book. Scholastic had it categorized as MG in a contest they had. Maybe that’s why so many agents said no to it (meaning she submitted it as a children’s/MG Novel at almost 80,000 words and a first time author).

  22. AvatarGillianBagwell

    Thanks – I’m sharing this with the online class on writing historical fiction I’m teaching! I’m sure you’re right that in general, under 300 pages is better. But I think that historical fiction as a genre tends to be longer. My first novel, “The Darling Strumpet,” was just over120,000 words, and my second a bit longer. And my contract specified manuscript to be between 90,000-120,000 words!

  23. Avataratwhatcost

    I have read so many versions of word counts online. WD is finally a place I trust for this topic. Thanks – even knowing now my word count will be leaning too far to too high for younger MG. (If my characters were only older by a couple of years. Alas. They are the perfect age for this story. lol)

  24. Avatarjefferymoulton

    Great post! Thanks for the numbers. Seems to me that the most important thing is to tell a good, well-written (and edited) story. But knowing the boundaries helps when considering to publish.

    So thank you!

  25. AvatarCarolyn_in_Virginia

    Can you talk a bit more about what constitutes word count? Is this simply what Microsoft Word says at the bottom “Words: 50,000” or whatever? MS Word counts hyphenated words as one word. “Seventeen-year-old” is one word for MS Word. Do agents and publishers use some other tool to count words? Is there any magic involved that’s not obvious to the newcomer?


    1. Avatarreganator5000

      speculative fiction (and so most of the best known sci-fi, where authors often stuck to ‘what if’ scenarios to the point that 1984 has gone from ‘speculative’ to ‘very inaccurate historical’ fiction) can run off archetypes in the same way the also notably shorter westerns can, because a lot of the time the plot comes from the impacts of the ‘what if’, not the characters themselves. It’s rare that sci-fi really explores why the scientist was trying to make AI (as Mallory said ‘because it’s there’ is reason enough), but plenty have explored the consequences of them doing it.
      But then they’re still in the same genre as fantasy, and still in the same genre as space-opera style science fiction, or just fast paced action filled stories, or all those ones that end in energy beings.

  26. AvatarProfessor Beej

    Thank you for covering YA SFF. I have recently taken up my pen and finally begun plotting out the hybrid genre YA book I’ve had in my head for quite a while, and I’ve worried about the 50k word limit I’ve heard so often cited.

    And Judi Moore, how long was Dune? It definitely sits as one of the great SF books, and if I recall, it was pretty wordy. But other than that, you’re right–SF is about ideas and their realization; fantasy is about epic worldbuilding. It’s when a hybrid comes along (for instance Star Wars or Stephen King’s The Dark Tower), where genre conventions are blurred and intermingled, that SF books really get some meat on their bones.

  27. AvatarTerry

    Thank you, I’ve been confused about the numbers. Now I know. I’ve asked this question before at a writers group, and as you said, a firestorm ensued. I went away bewildered.

    Your blog is always informative. I love your agent interviews too. Great series.

  28. AvatarJudi Moore

    Like another commenter said: great to have these numbers all in one place.

    Have to take issue with you about the length of SF though – the best novels in the SF genre have all been on the short side and the best early SF novels were around 60K only. I’m racking my brains just now for a long one … nooo. Not coming up with anything. Fantasy now – that’s a different matter. All those magic swords and elves seem to bulk a book up in no time.

    Great blog. Very helpful. Many thanks.

  29. AvatarAaron Swann

    Great post. I refer to this as "the Underdog syndrome." We are attracted to underdogs. We love the Little Engines That Could. We admire success in the face of overwhelming adversity. And, because we romanticize it, many people want to cast themselves in the role of underdog. They want to be able to tell the story of how, despite the fact that only one in three hundred 150,000 word first YA novels finds any success, THEIRS did. I often coach writers to stick to telling the stories on their pages and not hope to be able to tell the story about how they beat the odds. Leads to far less heartbreak.

  30. AvatarKeira Soleore

    Thank you for this information. This is my first time on your blog. One number that I’ve been forever frustrated in finding out is: children’s first chapter books (like the Junie B. Jones ones). How many words are those? Is there a standard?

    Are these books classified under "Children’s Books?" For some reason, whenever that moniker comes up, people always think of picture books. Like they "Middle Grade" perhaps there should be an "Elementary Grade" to definite these stories.

    And a final related question is: Would agents who represent "children’s books" be the ones to approach with these chapter books?

    Thanks much for your time and advice.

  31. AvatarKathleen Wall

    Thank you–these guidelines are fantastic. I wish I could have read this before I wrote my first novel. Of course, I probably had to write the whole thing and get rejected to force myself to see I really had, as you said, enough material for more than one book!

  32. AvatarLis Garrett

    Thanks for the guidelines!

    I think many writers get hung up on word count, myself included. But I want to make sure I’m at least in the general ballpark of what is acceptable. I’m nearly done with my first YA novel, and I’m currently sitting at just over 67,000 words. I estimate I have another two chapters to complete, which might put me over 75,000 words. Of course I’ve yet to edit, and hopefully I’ll be editing out and not in. 😉

    1. Avataratwhatcost

      Just curious. When you wrote this you were nearly done your first draft. How different is it in word count three years later? (I’m in my Nthteenth revision, and I keep thinking I know how long it is, until I have to revise again. lol)


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