November 12, 2018– As a traditional publisher, I get a lot of questions about guidelines when writing. Sometimes I’ll receive a manuscript submission that doesn’t have the appropriate amount of content, and unfortunately for that writer, it means that it’s a no from me for picking up their script.
I want to discuss some word count guidelines in this post, but please keep in mind if you are deciding to self-publish, you can bend these rules a little. What’s that old saying? You have to know what the rules are before you break them? Sounds about right!
- Children’s Picture Book– The industry standard for children’s picture books are 28 pages of interior, illustrated pages. There are 32 pages in total, 4 of the pages are left for the first interior cover page, the copyright page, and two blank pages. The 28 page count is usually 13 double spreads (the same scene happening across 2 pages) and 2 single illustrations (where a different scene is happening on each of the two pages). 13×2=26+2=28+4 blank pages= 32. Average word length is 400-800 words and up to 1000 words maximum.
- Middle-Grade- The industry standard for middle-grade novel word counts is from 20,000 – 55,000 words, depending on the age range and subject matter, however, the word count of these books has been trending up in recent years. When writing longer works that are aimed at 12-year-olds and could 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 are similar to young adult in subject matter and storytelling but still tend to stick to tame themes and avoid hot-button issues. With a simpler middle-grade idea rather than a complex one, aim lower- 20,000 to 35,000 words is acceptable.
- YA (Young Adult)- The industry standard for young adult novels is pretty flexible. 55,000-79,999 is a good range for word count. The books seem to be trending on the longer end currently which is to say that you could write well into the 85,000-word range and still be ok. Just know that you better have a good reason for going that high! Higher word counts tend to show publishers that the writer does not know how to edit their work or themselves. Don’t go lower than 47,000 words on the low end of things.
- SCI-FI and Fantasy– The industry standard for Sci-fi and fantasy are exceptions to word counts because the categories historically run long. It really has to do with the world building and descriptions used to set the scene. With both of these genres 100,000 – 115,000 words is a perfect range. On the low end, 90,000 to 99,000 is also acceptable with the ideal range being 100,000.
- Adult novels: Commercial & Literary– Here are some industry standards, again, we are talking about ranges so keep that in mind. Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is the range to aim for. This word count is the perfect range for literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller, and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere. You can have as few as 71,000 words and as many as 109,000 words.
80,000 – 89,999: Best
90,000 – 99,999: Safe
70,000 – 79,999: All right
100,000 – 109,999: Okay
Below 70,000: Too short
110,000 or above Too long
6. Memoir– The industry standard for Memoir writing word counts is the same as a novel which is between 80,000-89,999 words. Keep in mind that most people don’t know how to edit their work, and this is especially true for memoir writing. People tend to write down every little detail because after all, it did happen! On the low-end aim for 70,000-79,000 words. This shows that you know how to focus on the meat of your life and are only telling the most interesting parts!
There you have it! The more you know before submitting your work to a traditional publisher, the better your chances of getting a book deal. Here’s to your success!