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Guidelines for Word Count

Word count matters. As much as we would like to think we will happily read 250,000-word books or plunk down $16 for a 25,000-word book (really a novella), the truth is we tend not to. We, as readers, feel most comfortable reading books within the range we’re used to–the length of time it takes to read 80,000-100,000 words.

It’s true, agents will reject a book based on word count, but not just because we’re too lazy to read long books. It’s our experience that leads us to those rejections and in our experience, a debut author writing 300,000 words hasn’t yet mastered the art of editing.

Knowing word count requirements for your genre not only helps you write a stronger query, but it’s part of learning the business. You need to know word count in the same way you need to know where commas belong and what genre is.

Reaching out to the Agents of BookEnds, I’ve come up with a word count cheat sheet. Use it and use well.

  • Picture Books: 0-1000 words; ideal length around 600 words
  • Chapter Books: 5,000-15,000 words; ideal length around 10,000 words
  • Middle Grade: 20,000-55,000 words, ideally 35,000 words
  • Contemporary YA: 60,000-85,000 words, ideal length 80,000 words
  • YA SFF: 70,000-100,000 words, ideal length 90,000 words
  • (Most) Adult Fiction: 80,000-100,000 words
  • Category Romance: 50,000 words (might vary by line)
  • Adult SFF: 100,000-120,000 words
  • Cozy Mystery: 70,000-85,000 words
  • Historical Fiction 80,000-120,000 words

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2 comments

  1. I feel like these numbers are always changing. I love having an update, so thank you.

    Another reason I have heard agents reject longer books is because regardless of if they love a story, it’s difficult to get published. It costs a lot more money to get it edited and printed, and publishers are wary of taking on that commitment for someone who doesn’t yet have a following.

    I think of this, because sometimes I hear writers debating that if their writing is good enough, a long debut will be OK. Even if their writing / editing is fabulous, if the novel is long enough, it’s still likely to get rejected.

    So… good to have guidelines!

  2. I hadn’t thought of children’s books being shorter, it makes perfect sense and my word count is leaning that way. I just hadn’t thought anything about it.
    Wouldn’t the less complex story lines naturally lead to a smaller word count?

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