word count

Word count.

Most people I’ve talked to said that one should not think too much about word count at the beginning of writing. One should write what one wants. Of course there’s come a time when you’ll need to think about which audience your book is for, so you can have a rough idea how long your book should be. Though in my humble opinion, any author more or less knows for which audience he’s writing. Example, a gore horror story will not be good for middle grade, and the author must know that at the outset of writing. Or at least I hope he does.

Anyway, there still remains the crucial point. How long should be my novel? Assuming you know your target audience, here are lampposts to keep in mind.

I’ve taken them from a very good post, written by Jennifer Laughran, an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency specialized in children and YA books. If you want to read the full article, which is very good, click here.

Or here a summary for word count:

CHAPTER BOOK: 4,000-13,000 words. Sweet spot: 6,000-10,000
Magic Tree House Lions at Lunchtime by Mary Pope Osborne: 5,313
Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park: 6,570
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett: 7,682
Judy Moody was in a Mood by Megan McDonald: 11,049 

REALISTIC MIDDLE GRADE: 25,000-60,000 words. Sweet spot: 30,000-45,000
Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban: 29,052
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson: 32,888
Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech: 44,907
Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner: 48,454 

FANTASY MIDDLE GRADE: 35,000-75,000 words. Sweet spot: 45,000-65,000
Juliet Dove, Queen of Love by Bruce Coville: 43,912
White Mountains by John Christopher: 44,763
Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander: 46,926
Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo: 65,006
Harry Potter & the Sorceror’s Stone by JK Rowling: 77,508 

REALISTIC YA: 35,000-75,000 words. Sweet spot: 45,000-70,000
Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles: 40,480
Great Call of China by Cynthea Liu: 52,532
Flash Burnout by LK Madigan: 67,186 
Looking for Alaska by John Green: 69,023
Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly: 71,935 

FANTASY YA: 50,000 words to 150,000 words*. Sweet Spot: 65,000-85,000 words.
Magic Under Glass by Jackie Dolamore: 55,787
Tithe by Holly Black: 66,069 
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr: 73,426
Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray: 95,605
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare: 130,949  
Eragon by Christopher Paolini: 157,000

* It is really not advisable to go over 100,000 words as a debut author, unless you already have a following. Consider yourself warned – 100k is often the magic number that makes editors and agents curse, cry, and possibly delete. Not that you CAN’T be published over 100k, it definitely happens for select super-awesome YA fantasy in particular… just that it really will be yet another hurdle for you.

In every category, there are also a few random outliers, like Sarah, Plain and Tall (a middle grade at 9,000 words) or This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn (a YA at 250,000) … but for the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume that you aren’t Patricia MacLachlan or Aidan Chambers.

And as she stresses these are not rules written in stone, yet as a debut author it is always best to try and stick by them to ensure the strongest possible chance to find an agent and a publisher.

Happy reading.

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