Word count for novels comes up frequently at my meetings and conferences. Yes, there are guidelines. There are averages and expectations. Agents, editors, and publishers might actually give you a number goal, but I hold to the idea that the story takes as many words as it takes, and not a word more. Or less.
A friend and fellow writer is working on an historical novel that runs 220,000 words. My six publications probably do not total that word count. That does not make her wrong, it just makes her reaaaaaaally dedicated to her story. That’s how many words she needs to tell her tale.
At a recent writer’s meeting, we were each discussing our progress. I said I guessed I was about 30,000 words shy of completion. A newbie asked me how I knew that? Where’d I get that number? First of all, it’s not a hard and fast number. It’s not like if/when I hit 80,000 words I will stop typing. Mid-sentence. But that would be funny. If I fall short, I also will not fill to hit a set target. I told him I’m about 50k in and I’m more than halfway through telling my tale. Plus, experience shows, my stories run about 80 thousand words.
With the expansion of indie publishing and the continued growth of e-books, word count matters less now than it used to. An industry big five may not be interested in the major investment of printing a 220k sweeping historical romance by a debut author, but that author could self-pub. It may cost more for print books and they’d have to raise their price point to make a buck, but it’s absolutely their option. And hybrid publishers, vanity, and indie presses are always eager to take your money and print your book.
That same sprawling novel on Kindle probably costs the same as Pocket Money, my 50,000 word count e-book. (That’s $2.99, in case you were wondering.) Without paper, ink, and print costs, digitalizing levels the reading field.
As you are writing, you may certainly use word count as your guide. Most YA stories run between 55,000 and 80,000 words. Historical fiction is between 80k and 100k. Sci-fi/Fantasy novels are usually about 90k to 120k. Those’re mighty broad windows, don’t you think? Plenty of wiggle room to write your best words. Guidelines, not hard-and-fast lines. If your story is perfect at forty-seven thousand words, congratulations, perfect stories are hard to come by!
When you talk about how long your novel is, always use word count as reference. It’s a language other writers speak. When asked “How long is your book?”, one should never respond with page count. That factors in margins, page breaks, font, size, formatting, etc. and can imply wildly different results.
The most important thing is, and always has been, to tell a good story.
And use as many, and few, words as it takes to do just that.
Word count? Make your words count!
“Three carefully stringed words are worth more than a book of gibberish. It’s not the word count but the impact of those words that counts.”
“It’s not about how many words you write, but how good those words are.”