Word Count Guidelines for Novels

Seems simple enough, right? You finish writing your book and then glance down at the word counter at the bottom of the screen and voilà: there it is! Uh, no, it’s not that easy. You need to make sure the word count is right for your genre. What?

Yes, there are guidelines about book length and they are specific to each genre. I thought I had confirmed this by doing {alert: key word coming} a little research on the internet. Okay, in my defense there is not a lot out there, thus the reason for this post. What I read indicated that my novel should be about 120k words. If it were any less than that, an agent wouldn’t even look at it. What’s that? They can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true? Oh, I guess I didn’t mention that I’m a French model.

These guidelines are especially important for those who have never been published before. New authors need to develop some “street cred” before considering going beyond these word count boundaries. For example, you shouldn’t write an 800+ page YA novel (well, unless you’re J.K. Rowling). What publisher would take such a risk on an unknown? BTW, JKR’s first novel was just over 300 pages (about 75k words). It all comes down to numbers, people. It costs more to print a longer book which can eat away at the potential profits (and I thought I’d left my nerdy past behind me).

There are many ways to confirm the word count that is suitable for your novel. Take a lesson from me. Look at more than one website for guidance and consider the source. Is it reliable? Can’t find anything online? Study books that have sold in your genre. Can’t convert pages to word count? Use an estimate of 250 words per page to get a general idea. Look at the success stories on querytracker.net (a wonderful little tool, by the way) which lists the genre and word count for each success story in the website’s database.

Biggest take-away? Don’t just read what I’ve learned about word count or any other topic I post. I’m a newbie, remember? There, that’s my disclaimer. Do your own research! I’m not an expert. I’m just providing some food for thought. Here are some helpful posts to get you started.




7 thoughts on “Word Count Guidelines for Novels”

  1. I know how you feel Melissa. There aren’t any rules for word-counts but plenty of internet anecdotes about agents who’ll happily skip over your many hours of labour for not ‘guessing the number in their head’. I really hope it’s just an urban myth…

  2. Yeah, I’m finding out the the rules in the writing industry are just as esoteric as the US Tax Code I’d try to decipher in my former job…subject to interpretation {sigh}

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