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

April 29, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Q&A

Today’s post is the continuation of how authors responded to a recent question posted on The Divining Wand’s Q & A page:

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?

Also please welcome The Divining Wand’s latest about-to-become author, Allie Larkin, who leads off with:

Allie Larkin (STAY coming June 10, 2010):

“The final version of STAY is around 100,000 words. The first draft was just short of 70,000, and then grew through the revising process, as the story became more layered and I developed the characters further. I don’t think word count should be a concern in the first few drafts of a book. Those drafts are about creating the framework of the story and getting to know the characters. Obviously, there are ideal lengths for books, but I think reaching an ideal word count should be more of an organic process than a goal to meet. You never want to add words just for the sake of adding them. So, even if it’s necessary to add 10-20,000 words to make the book a marketable length, I think the focus should be more about figuring out a way to grow the story and grow the characters, than trying to hit a certain number.”

Melanie Benjamin (Alice I Have Been):

“This is a good question. Before ALICE, I always aimed at 80,000; my earlier contract, for my 2 contemporary novels, stipulated that should be the approximate word count. When I moved to historical fiction, however, I found that there’s more leeway, and ALICE came in at around 100,000 words, and nobody blinked an eye. That’s the word count I have in mind for my next historical novel, too.

“However – word of advice. Let the story develop as it needs to and try not to obsess about the word count until it’s finished. Revisions always change things. If you finish and you find you’re way under the typical word count (which is, yes, anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000, depending on the genre as I said above), then you may have to decide whether or not the work would be better off as a short story. If you’re way over, you can edit and perhaps divide the work into 2 novels. So – try not to obsess while telling the story, but at the end of the day, word count does matter.”

Judy Merrill Larsen (All the Numbers):

“Ooh, I definitely think about word count as I’m writing . . . my novels tend to be in the 75,000 word range, which is a bit on the short side. And I NEVER get to that in my first draft. My goal in a first draft is to get to 65,000 words because I know that in revising (which to me means mostly adding and rearranging), I’ll get in that magical realm of 70,000-80,000 words.”

Holly LeCraw (The Swimming Pool):

“Mine is about 80,000 words. I didn’t think about word count as I was writing, but assumed I would come in at 300ish pages. As it turned out, mine is 307. I tend to like books that are tightly constructed and not overlong, although there are always exceptions.”

Lauren Baratz-Logsted (most recent Crazy Beautiful YA, Sisters 8 series with Book 5: Marcia’s Madness coming May 3, 2010):

“Since I write for pretty much every age group imaginable, I’m all over the place on this. Each volume in The Sisters 8 series for young readers comes in at about 22K. My one middle grade was 35K. My adult novels range from 70-100K. Even within YA, I’m all over the place, with most coming in at 45-50K while The Twin’s Daughter (due out on Aug 31) is a whopping 96K! It all depends on what the individual book demands, how long it takes to tell the story right.”

Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“Sounds Like Crazy weighs in at just over 105,000 words. I wrote without regard to word count and was lucky enough to have my book published under an imprint that believes a book should be as long as it needs to be to tell the story.”

Maud Carol Markson (When We Get Home, Looking After Pigeon):

“I don’t have the exact number but I believe Looking After Pigeon was just around 80,000 words. The novel I’m working on now is about 85,000 words.”

Sarah Pekkanen (The Opposite of Me):

“The Opposite of Me is 105,000 words (give or take a few). My second novel is about 90,000 words. I do think a little about word count as I write, knowing it would be much harder to sell a book that came in at 60,000 or 200,000 words.”

Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars and The Life You’ve Imagined coming August 17, 2010):

“I had to look this information up. REAL LIFE & LIARS was 85,498 in the pre-copyedited version, and THE LIFE YOU’VE IMAGINED is a little longer at 91,171. My work-in-progress will end up about the same. Since I measure my daily progress in first drafts by word count I suppose I do think about it as I write, but only as a handy way to measure productivity. I do feel very pleased when I hit the big round numbers divisible by 10,000. It’s arbitrary, but it does feel like a milestone and since writing a first draft is so solitary it’s nice to congratulate myself on leaping those hurdles. No one else is going to throw me a party.”

Allison Winn Scotch (The Department of Lost and Found, Time of My Life and The One That I Want coming June 1, 2010):

“All of mine hover around the 85k mark. I do think about WC as I’m writing – I think about the book in a series of acts, and I know when to begin each one (generally), so I can time the action – and the necessary arc of that action – to the word count.”

Barrie Summy (I So Don’t Do Mysteries, I So Don’t Do Spooky and I So Don’t Do Makeup coming May 11, 2010, Ages 9 – 12):

“My novels (tween mysteries) are 52,000 to 55,000 words. Do I think about word count while I’m writing?

“Yes. Yes. Yes.

“I’m a HUGE plotter, and I know where I should be word-count wise for the major plot points, darkest moment, the resolution. This is how I keep the pace up.

“And also how I keep my sanity. I promise myself treats all the way through the first draft. For example, when I reach the first plot point, around 13,000 words, I get to have a package of licorice as a reward.”

Wendy Tokunaga (Midori By Moonlight, Love in Translation):

“I believe that my word counts come out to be around 85,000. I never think about this when I’m writing, though. I just write as much as I need to tell the story and it always seems to work out okay in the end.”

Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy):

“My publisher, Shaye Areheart, likes books to come in right at about 90,000 words, which is the word count for The Last Will of Moira Leahy.

“I keep tabs of word count using Word, but I don’t stress about it much while drafting a story. I tend to trust that the word count will fall near the right mark in the end. Word count definitely becomes more important during editing, though. I find it easier to edit a “fat” story down to size rather than add new beef.”

And a final word on just the facts….

Randy Susan Meyers (The Murderer’s Daughters):

“According to fictionfactor.com, ‘”Most print publishers prefer a minimum word count of around 70,000 words for a first novel, and some even hesitate for any work shorter than 80,000. Yet any piece of fiction climbing over the 110,000 word mark also tends to give editors some pause. They need to be sure they can produce a product that won’t over-extend their budget, but still be enticing enough to readers to be saleable. Imagine paying good money for a book less than a quarter-inch thick?”‘

“That said, there is much back and forth on this issue. I think the topic is very well covered by agent Colleen Lindsay in her blog, the swivet.”

If you have a question for our authors feel free to post it on the Q & A page or email: diviningwand@gmail.com

* * * * *

ATTENTION: This site’s rather exclusive sidebar has a new addition under the category of Must See. ArounderTouch is an iPhone app from Arounder.com. The virtual reality site — featuring gorgeous 360-degree panoramas of the world — is what I frequently used on Seize A Daisy’s “Friday Getaways.” It’s a first-class ticket for your travel plans or imaginary flights of fancy, please check it out.

Announcement: The winners of Quick’s debut YA novel, SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR, are Keetha and Beth. Congratulations! Please send your mailing addresses to: diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com, and I’ll have your copy sent out promptly. Many thanks to everyone who entered.

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


  1. Welcome, Allie! And I really like your approach to word count – frame it up and then add in more layers later. I imagine that when i finish my first draft I will be doing something similar, but I also do what Allison Winn Scotch wrote about, I try to think about the manuscript in three acts and use word counts to help me do so.

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  2. Yay yay yay! Can’t wait to read it!

    Again, it’s so interesting to hear different authors’ takes on word count. Great question.

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  3. forgive me if I repeat myself, but this survey of writers is SO MUCH more informative than a simple word count guideline from a handbook on writing. Your authors provided wonderful insights, thank you and them!

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  4. Thank you so much for the welcome! I am thrilled to be a part of The Divining Wand! And very much love reading all the other perspectives on this!

    4

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