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The Facts and Factors of A Novel’s Word Count, I

April 22, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Q&A

A recent question posted on The Divining Wand’s Q & A page sounded simple enough and an overwhelming number of authors responded to answer:

Here’s another question for your authors: What is the word count of most of their novels?

I know that we here all sorts of estimates of what a novel should be, 70,000 to 100,000 words. But what is the actual count for the novels featured here, and do your authors think about word count as they’re writing?

Jessica Barksdale Inclan (Being With Him, Intimate Beings, The Beautiful Being):

“Great question (I can’t wait to see all the answers). My latest manuscript Swimming Lessons is 75,656. But some of mine go up 10 109,000. the shortest was 65,000 or so.”

Emily Winslow (The Whole World coming May 25, 2010):

“THE WHOLE WORLD was about 80k when I submitted it, and about 90k after editing. (I know for most writers, editing involves taking away. I write sparely, and am more likely to add scenes in editing.) I’m very conscious of word count as I write. I generally break it down to a certain number of words for each chapter, and sometimes even scene. I don’t force conforming to that goal, but it helps me keep a sense of proportion as I craft the whole.”

Jenny Gardiner (Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, Winging It: Twenty Years of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me):

“I’d say for commercial fiction around 90K words is good. Used to be they wanted lots of words but with publication costs, etc, over the past few years it’s been downsized–in fact something w/ 100K words or more would definitely give an editor/agent pause.

“I’m not sure about YA fiction but I’m thinking 45 – 60K (I’m sure YA authors can tell you more precisely).”

Eileen Cook (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA and Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA ):

“My biggest advice for word count is to write your book and then when it is done figure out where you are in terms of word count. My two YA novels (What Would Emma Do? and Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood) have been around 65k words. My adult title, Unpredictable was just under 80k words and the middle grade I am writing now will come in at about 27k words.

“The only thought I give to word count when I’m writing is measuring my progress. I have set weekly word count goals based on a rough idea of the estimated length of the book, otherwise I ignore word count until I’m done.”

Therese Fowler (Souvenir, Reunion):

“Word count “requirements” (I use the term loosely because there are always exceptions) vary by genre. I write mainstream/women’s fiction, aiming, as I write, for about 100k-115k words–which, if I’ve done my job, means I’ll have produced a layered, complex story with subplots in place. My first drafts tend to be pretty complete, but not every writer works that way. Some like to put down a fast “sketch” and then go back in to fill things out. I’m not saying that my first drafts don’t need a fair amount of revision, just that the word count doesn’t change dramatically from one draft to the next.”

Alicia Bessettte (Simply from Scratch coming August 5, 2010):

“I’m very word-count oriented, thanks to my magazine/newspaper background. Whenever I get a freelance assignment, my first question is, How many words?

“As I wrote Simply From Scratch, I stayed conscious of my goal of 80,000 words, give or take 5,000. My agent later told me 80,000 words is the perfect length for upmarket women’s fiction.

“A previous, unpublished fantasy novel I wrote was less than 60,000 words, and several agents told me that was far too short for the adult fantasy genre. Each genre seems to have what is generally considered an ideal length. But then again, there are notable exceptions. The Harry Potter books are often singled out as exceptions, because they’re longer than average children’s books.

“I’m curious to know whether other novelists keep word count in mind as they write, or if it’s more of an editing goal.”

Carleen Brice (Orange Mint and Honey, Children of the Waters):

“My word count for Orange Mint and Honey was something like 76,000 and for Children of the Water 81,000. I absolutely think about word count as I’m writing. It’s definitely helpful. One way it’s helpful is if parts of the book that should carry a lot of weight are much briefer than other parts. Or if you have more than one POV character that should have equal weight in the story, are their word counts about the same? ”

Robert Gregory Browne (Kill Her Again, etc. and Down Among the Dead Men coming May 25, 2010):

“My typical word count is about 100,000 to 125,000 words. And yes, I do think about word count because I’m contractually obligated to turn in a book at that length. Word count differs, however, depending on the editor and how he or she actually counts the words. Some still use the old method of 250 words a page, while others rely on computer count, which seems to be the trend these days. I consider this less accurate because it doesn’t take into consideration the space on each page, the way old method does.”

Meg Waite Clayton (The Wednesday Sisters):

“The Wednesday Sisters is about 93,000 words. And yes, it’s something I keep an eye on. When I was writing the first draft of my new one, The Four Ms. Bradwells (Ballantine, March 2011), I celebrated the halfway point at 40,000 words. At 80,000 I began to panic as the end was nowhere in site. At 120,000… And the complete first draft was 140,000 – yikes! My contract with Random House contemplates a novel of approximately 100,000 words. The final version – just put into production last week – is a bit longer than that, but closer far closer to it than to 140,000. I like to think I shoot for 80,000 words, although obviously I miss the mark on a regular basis.”

Tish Cohen (Town House, Inside Out Girl, Little Black Lies YA, The Truth About Delilah Blue coming June 8, 2010):

“I never think about word count. Nor have I had a single editor bring it up. The Truth About Delilah Blue likely runs about 90,000 words or about 450 book pages– the longest of my books so far.”

Katie Alender (Bad Girls Don’t Die YA):

“I write YA, and my first book was about 68,000, which seems to put me just on the longer side. My next book will be a few thousand words more. Some authors don’t think about wordcount at all, but I use it to gauge my progress and make sure I’m getting enough work done–typically on a first draft, I shoot for 2,000 words a day (and come out at about 1200-1600 most days).”

Robin Antalek (The Summer We Fell Apart):

“Word count is one of those things that is in the back of my mind — but not something I’m aware of until the manuscript is finished and my computer gives me the number. The Summer We Fell Apart comes in at 115,103 words give or take and that final word count was based upon when I thought the novel was done — not some magic number I thought I needed to reach. When I was writing more short stories and submitting them — I was more aware of not exceeding a certain number since some journal requirements are fairly specific — and I have a tendency to cram a novel’s worth of information into a short story. Writing novels gave me the luxury of writing long and I suppose, given my word count on Summer, you could say I embraced it.”

To be continued…

3 Comments to “The Facts and Factors of A Novel’s Word Count, I”


  1. I love the anti spam words. Larramie, do you get to think them up? Because that would be fun.

    Great question and one I hadn’t thought about much. The answers are interesting. I’m writing a novel and 90,000 is about the length I’m shooting for. I don’t really know why except when I met Joshilyn Jackson she mentioned her books tended to be that length – not exactly on purpose, that’s just how many words it took her to tell the story.

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  2. Really interesting to read these responses!

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  3. Wow, I’m impressed just by the length of the answers you received! And it’s very reassuring to get specific word counts from actual novels that have been published instead of the usual broad ranges that you read in novel writing guides. Thank you for canvasing your authors for their insights!!!!

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