The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

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…

Our Authors’ Go-To Writing Books, III

March 25, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Q&A

Today’s post presents the third and final additions in response to this question:

I wondered, what do your authors read in the way of writing books? Do they have favorites they refer to again and again? Do they read the classics like, Bird by Bird, or Writing Down the Bones, or do they favor books on craft like, Save the Cat?

Reading (and writing) minds want to know!

Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“The best investment I EVER made was Blockbuster Plots by Martha Alderson. The book is terrific, it is well written, full of examples and exercises. I also invested in getting my plots whispered out of me via consultation with Martha. You can’t go wrong with this book and/or her help.”

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

“I love Donald Maass’ books. He does a good job of inspiring without being too precise.

“I no longer read books on releasing one’s imagination and creativity. They’re invaluable when you need them, but I had enough “release your inner creativity” in acting school to last me a lifetime. (I’m also of a specific age and demographic that had touchy-feely public school. Remember trust falls? We used to do those in *gym class*.) I’m glad I learned it, but I don’t need to add to it any more.

“At this stage, I get most of my writing advice from industry blogs and discussion at Absolute Write and Backspace.”

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

“The only book you’ll ever need is TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT by Lawrence Block.”

Danielle Younge-Ullman (Falling Under):

“I always come back to Steven King’s On Writing and there’s a book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield that’s great. Both of these are particularly good for motivation, pushing through when you don’t feel like it. (And I guess I prefer writing books written by guys named Steven, lol.) For editing I like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.”

Meredith Cole (Posed for Murder, Dead in the Water coming May 11, 2010):

“I enjoyed reading Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s book On Writing. I have a large collection of screenwriting books that I reread as well. Creating Unforgettable Characters by LInda Segar is worth a read, no matter what you’re writing.”

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

“The writing books I’ve found particularly helpful include Stephen King’s ON WRITING and YOUR FIRST NOVEL by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb (the latter discusses both writing and publishing). And yes, I adore BIRD BY BIRD.”

Eve Brown-Waite (First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria: How A Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and A Third World Adventure Changed My Life):

“My very favorite writing book has always been, Bird by Bird. Also, when I read what I consider a really, really well-crafted book, I re-read it, trying to see how the author did that. Amy Tan’s THE HUNDRED SECRET SENSES and Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE. fall into that category for me.”

Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy):

“I gravitate more toward craft books than inspirational ones, though I own both. My two favorites—the ones that will always be on my keeper shelf—are “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass and “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder, because they provide the tools for creating a standout novel.”

A major thank you to all our authors who contributed to this book list!

Our Authors’ Go-To Writing Books, I, Our Authors’ Go-To Writing Books, II

Robert Gregory Browne’s Kill Her Again

June 30, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Robert Gregory Browne (author of Kiss Her Goodbye and Whisper in the Dark) offers a new thriller in Kill Her Again released today, June 30, 2009, just in time for summer beach reading

Would you like to learn more About Rob and his background? By clicking on that website link, you’ll discover:

“Rob was born in California, but at the age of 11, moved with his family to Honolulu. His father had threatened to quit his job in Los Angeles, but the company wanted to keep him so badly they offered to send him wherever he wanted to go. He jokingly said, “Hawaii” and the next thing he knew, the transfer was approved.

“It took Rob a while to adjust to life on a tropical island, but once he got used to it, he fell in love with the place. In high school, he exchanged glances with a cute girl at the back of one of his classes (just prior to dropping it) and had no idea that he was looking at his future wife. As of this year, he has been married for 30 years.

“During those thirty years, Rob has spent time as a musician, a screenwriter, and now novelist — all the while holding a variety of jobs to keep his family eating. He worked as a janitor, a flower delivery boy, a Hollywood messenger, a hotel room maid, a clerk for the Hawaii Legislature, a criminal intake processor for the Honolulu Public Defender, a legal secretary, a magazine columnist, and a video editor.

“Ever since that first year living in Honolulu, Rob has browsed the bookstores, looking longingly at the shelves full of books in hopes that he’d one day see his name on a novel of his own. He now has three of them in (or about to be in) stores and has just completed his fourth thriller for St. Martin’s Press, Macmillan UK, and Droemer Knaur Germany.

“Rob and his wife have two grown kids, one cat, two dogs, and live in California.”

Ideas for his novels come from everywhere as he admits: “I get ideas from watching news shows, reading books, newspapers, browsing the Internet, etc. Most of the ideas pop into my head as fragments that eventually work themselves into something whole. Once they take enough form to get me excited, then I start seriously thinking about writing a book.”

Yet what’s most revealing is that Rob is a “pantser” — that is, he doesn’t outline his novels. Instead he notes, “Once I come up with a premise and a few characters, I start writing. When you’re on pages 25, you know as much about what’s going to happen as I did when I was writing it. I figure if I can surprise myself, then you’ll be surprised, too. I’m basically reading to myself.”

And here’s the story he came up with in this Kill Her Again Synopsis:

Ever since a close call with death, FBI Agent Anna McBride has been having strange visions of a kidnapped little girl… a little girl who is about to be murdered. Is she going crazy? When Anna is assigned to a multiple homicide case, her visions recur with an even fiercer frequency…and she can’t shake the feeling that what she’s seeing is somehow connected to this latest grisly crime.

When Anna meets Daniel Pope, a hypnotist who’s no stranger to the paramormal, he suggests the impossible: that the girl in her visions is Anna in a past life. But Anna refuses to believe Pope — until she finds herself face to face with the killer from her nightmares. Now she must go into the dark recesses of her mind and relive the horrors of her past to find a diabolical psychopath who won’t rest until he kills her again…


Now visit the Kill Her Again book page, scroll down a bit to read an Excerpt.

Fascinating and chilling? So what makes this writer’s heart pound? You may be surprised by reading Rob’s post, Every Day, from Wednesday, June 17, 2009 on the Murderati blog. And that’s a wonderful glimpse into an author’s life beyond his pages.

So for all those who seek a great mystery thriller, remember Kill Her Again is available everywhere today, including Amazon’s Kindle!