Thursday, August 13, 2009

Word Count


It can be confusing. It can depend on the genre, on the publisher, on how much you have published, whether it is mass market mainstream paperback or hardback, on a lot of things. There are some general guidelines that can help: a writer selling their first book maybe 85-100,000 words is what a lot of publishers look for (again depending on genre). Why?

Has to do with investment in the book. Lets say a publisher is asking for 90k and we’ve got a manuscript that’s 135k and no publishing history. Every 10k we are over that submission guideline represents a 10% increase in production costs give or take. The more it is over the less likely they are to want to do it for an unproven writer. Always good to start with those submission guidelines.

Here are some other very general guidelines:

Chapter book (6-8 yr) 5-25,000 words
Middle Reader (8-12) 25-40,000 words
Young Adult (12-18) 40-75,000 words
(middle reader and YA kids like to read about characters a couple of years older than they are)
Novelette – 7,500–20,000 words
Novella 20-30,000 words
Short Contemporary 50,000-60,000 words
Long Contemporary 70,000-80,000 words
Mass Market paperback (western, SF, Fantasy, etc) 75-90,000 words
Short Historical /Mainstream 90-100,000 words
Romance novel 90-100,000 words
Long Historical/ Mainstream 108,000-120,000

Then there is another factor, a number of the mainstream houses still want the word count figured on how many pages it is times 250 words per page. Most of the Christian houses have gone to actual word processor count.

Confused yet? How about it depends on how much dialogue and white space is in the book? What? In discussion with some writer friends who have hundreds of books in print they confide that they are more interested in how many pages they are sending to the publisher. Maybe the contract for that mass market paperback calls for delivering 50,000 words (western) which using the 250 per page word count would be a 200 page manuscript. But they write a lot of dialogue in them. In that case maybe they are turning in a 200 page book that only has 40k words, but it is still a 200 page book.

That’s why they call them guidelines, a lot of factors can enter into it. But as a general rule a new writer can find it very difficult to sell a book that is too large or too small per the guidelines the publisher is looking for. These guidelines are set up to produce the size book they want to produce, and it is generally a size they know their readers want to buy.

You will note I said very difficult, not impossible. Harry Potter was a huge book for an unproven writer but you know what it did. Prayer of Jabez was a tiny little thing and it knocked the doors off too. Anything is possible, but I have to say I’m not a gambler, you’re not likely to find me in Vegas putting my money on the line. Still, I understand playing the odds and writing a book defying those odds hoping to be that one in who knows how many thousands that prove to be the exception even though it does not fit the criteria will most of the time be a study in futility.

1 comment:

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Great info Terry. Thanks! I will definitely write those general guidelines where I can easily find them :-)