Word Counts, How Important Are They?
Everybody’s All About That Word Count
When I first integrated myself into the writing community, I found the obsession with word count to be so odd. NaNoWriMo? Based solely on word count. Writing sprints? Based on word count (most of the time). Genre? Has preferred word counts. Novels? Novellas? Short stories? Flash fiction? All based on word count.
Success is linked to word count, and I can see why. Almost every aspect of the writing and publishing process is linked to your work’s word count. I, personally, hate word counts. I feel like they are stifling to writers, though some people find them to be helpful and keep them motivated. Regardless of my opinions, though, word counts are important, and here is why:
Most Literary Journals take Fiction of a Certain Length
With more and more journals moving online, the old reasons for stricter word counts such as, “longer works are more expensive to print,” are quickly becoming a thing of the past. However, web space is still a hot commodity.
Web design is key in creating a great user experience and keeping the bounce rate low, so they have to be selective in what they put on their page. Longer works mean longer pages, which means decreased user experience. So don’t be surprised when online journals still require work under 5,000 to 10,000 words.
Publishers Require Manuscripts of Certain Length
For larger presses, big books are expensive to print, so profit margins will be lower for bloated manuscripts. This, of course, is a major reason word count is so important for publishers. However, that is only surface-level. Having an extremely bloated manuscript tells the publisher that this work probably hasn’t been edited. Above all, the manuscript will probably be more trouble than it’s worth to edit and print.
On the other hand, a lean manuscript will be hard to print because of sizing issues. A thin book doesn’t typically catch a possible reader’s attention when sitting spine-out on a shelf. Above all, though, a lean manuscript tells the publisher there are probably developmental issues in the story that will need to be fleshed out. Again, the manuscript is probably not worth the time or trouble.
Every Genre Has a Word Count Expectation
Writer’s Digest has a post where they have various word count suggestions for most genres.
For example, for the fantasy and sci-fi genres, Writer’s Digest suggests:
- 90K – 100K is most likely all right, though on the lower end
- 100,000 – 115,000 is an excellent range
- 115 – 124K is probably all right, too, though on the higher end
I would highly recommend the link above for word count suggestions. It’s a great place to find your final goal.
Finally, Word Counts are Encouraging
There is a reason NaNoWriMo is always so successful. People like having a specific number to achieve. When you are writing without some finite goal, it can be a bit discouraging. You write and you write, but you have no idea if you are close to getting done. You will probably be more likely to quit without a goal.
As much as I hate word count restrictions, they are a great way to keep me motivated. I can keep an eye on my progress, and once I’ve hit my goal, if I go over a bit, then I feel like I have gone above and beyond. It is a great way to keep your morale high.
Bonus: My Word Counts
Word counts are important, but in all honesty, write until the work is finished. There is no point in adding fluff and useless info just to reach a word count goal. If you finish the draft, then it’s done. Same goes for cutting things out. If you think the work is as complete as it’s going to get, once editing is done, then don’t worry about trimming it down. Now, just for those who are interested, here are my personal “rules of thumb” for word counts:
What Type of Writing:
- Novel – over 40,000 words
- Novella – 17,500 to 40,000 words
- Novelette – 7,500 to 17,500 words
- Short story – under 7,500 words
- Middle Grade Fiction – 25,000 to 40,000
- YA Fiction – 45,000 to 100,000
- Paranormal Romance – 85,000 to 100,000
- Romance – 85,000 to 100,000
- Mysteries – 65,000 to 90,000
- Horror – 80,000 to 100,000
- Western – 80,000 to 100,000
- Thrillers and Crime Fiction – 75,000 – 100,000
- Mainstream/Commercial Fiction – 50,000 to 120,000
- Science Fiction and Fantasy – 90,000 to 120,000
These, of course, are not set in stone. This is just my own personal goals when I go to write in any of these genres. Always, always, always, if you have a publisher in mind, read their recommendations. Every publisher is going to have a different expectation.
Thanks for reading.