Don't Sweat The Small Stuff Week: Word Up!

This post, from author Janice Hardy, originally appeared on her The Other Side of the Story blog on 3/23/09.

I’m in the mood for a theme week, so I’m going to talk about the stuff that writers typically agonize over at some point. These are the things we debate on the boards, but ultimately don’t matter as much as we think they do.

On the list for the week:

Word counts
Exclamation points
Back story
Fonts and formatting

One of the first things writers do is figure out how big the book is going to be. You don’t always know, but you usually have a general idea to shoot for. Going over or under can send a writer into a fit of panic. And there’s so much contradictory info out there. For every person who says you’ll never get published with a 145,000 word book, another says BestsellerBob was 145,000 words, so don’t worry. The really frustrating part, is that they’re both right. But it’s all depends on the book. (Doesn’t it always?)

Basic word count for a typical novel runs between 80,000 and 100,000 words. Mysteries often go as low as 60,000 and historical fiction and epic fantasy rise as high as 140,000. Childrens fiction runs 30,000 to 50,000 for middle grade, and 50,000 to 80,000 for young adult. Chapter books run 5,000 to 25,000 words. Picture books come in under 500.

Now, none of these are set in stone, as evidenced that Shifter, my middle grade novel, is 71,000 words. But it still falls under the basic YA guidelines. You’ll also find plenty of people who offer different ranges, which is okay. These are all just rough guidelines to give you a basic idea of how big a typical book runs. Plenty of books fall outside of these averages and nobody cares about that if the book is good.

Here’s something I’ve learned since selling my own novel and working with top-notch, professional editors who do this for a living.

It’s not about how many words you have, but what those words do, that counts.

This, folks, is the holy grail of word counts.

Read the rest of this post, about word counts, on Janice Hardy’s The Other Side of the Story blog. Then see her related posts about adverbs, exclamation points, backstory, and fonts and formatting.