Size Does Matter, But Not How You Think

In response to a lot of folks around the internet sharing word counts that would make any publisher turn pale, I wanted to give you some average word counts for various genres and explain why word counts really do matter.

These guidelines are rough estimates based on industry standards; if you are slightly longer, or slightly shorter, you are probably going to be alright. Just make sure you follow submission guidelines for each individual publisher.

WORD COUNT AVERAGES:

Literary/Commercial Fiction: 80K – 110K
Crime Fiction: 90K – 100K
Mystery/Thriller/Suspense: 70K – 90K
Romance: 40K – 100K
Fantasy: 80K – 115K
Paranormal: 75K – 90K
Horror: 80K – 100K
Sci-Fi – 80k – 115K
Historical: 90K – 115K
YA: 50K – 80K
Middle Grade: 25K – 40K
Picture Books: 500 – 700
Novella: 20K – 50K
Non-Fiction: 70K – 110K
Short Stories: 1,000 – 8,000
Flash Fiction: Under 1,000

The reason for these guidelines is diverse, encompassing both the age bracket of each genre as well as the type of story and expected attention span of the readers. You will note that some of these genres tend to run long – that is because these genres have a target audience who expects "epics". Some of the genres run short (like YA and middle grade) due to the readers’ attention span and ability to follow a plot for a long period of time.

When looking at your own novel for publishing (whether self or traditional) word count does make a difference. On average a print book will have around 250 words per page. This is usually when printing at the 5×8 trim size, single spaced, with size 11 font, and 1" margins. If you are curious to see what your book will look like with those margins and font sizes you can adjust your page layout in almost any writing program to mirror those dimensions.

Now, yes – you can change the trim size of your book. There are multiple industry standard sizes for books in print, and you can certainly adjust your page count by employing any number of typesetting tricks. That is something all publishers of merit will do in order to make your book fit into a page count that will provide them with the best printing costs and shipping costs.

The reason these page counts and word counts matter so much (beyond the expectations of the genre) is twofold:

The first reason is that printers charge by the page, and the more books they can fit in a box to ship the less it will cost them. That’s a fundamental reality of putting a book in print, and whether you are publishing by your own means or through a traditional publisher this will be a reality for you.

Secondly, even if you do not put your book into print, editing and typesetting is charged by the word. This means the longer the book the higher the cost and the longer it takes an editor to work through it. Again, fundamental realities you will face no matter what route you go through with publishing. If I have to edit a 150,000 word book it will cost thousands of dollars more than an 80,000 word book. A 150,000 word book, based on the Editorial Freelancer’s Association rates would cost almost $4,000 to do line editing. A 75,000 word book will cost around $2,000. Literally half the cost because it takes half the time. (Assuming the writing is clean etc.)

Finally, if your word counts are reaching the high hundred-thousands there may be several things happening, and you need to consider them.

  • Are you overwriting your story and adding in scenes, characters, and description that is not necessary?
  • Can you cut your book into two or three shorter books to create a series rather than trying to fit it all into one story?
  • Why does your book need to be this size? What is the goal and purpose?

Having a large word count is, to some people, like a badge of honor. It shows that you can write that much, and it displays creativity. Unfortunately, word count is not a badge of honor. The number of words in your book doesn’t really make a difference in any way other than financial. Write what the story requires, not because you are self-conscious.

Like so many things in life, remember: It’s not the size that counts; it’s how you use it.

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