Publishing 101: Why Word Count Matters
When working on a new story I will often get asked how long it is. When I tell my friends or family that the manuscript is 85,000 words, I'm met with confused looks. For the average reader, word count doesn't paint a very clear picture of length as opposed to page count. So, why does the industry use word count instead?
Word count is the most consistent determination of length in manuscripts because the page count will differ depending on the writing platform you're using, the length of your chapters, and font or line spacing. For example; in its draft form book 2 of the Wicked Conjuring series is 89,600 words. This translates to 330 pages in Microsoft word document with size 12, Times New Roman font, double spaced. If I change the line spacing to 1.5 instead, the page count becomes 248. If I change the font to Calibri, the page count goes up to 349. While most authors (should) submit their manuscripts to industry professionals with the standard 12 size Times New Roman font double spaced, the page count isn't a consistent value.
Word count is also used to identify distinctive differences between age categories, and sometimes genres. There are industry standards for word count across the different age categories in publishing, and these categories determine the pricing of the book and where it's placed in book stores. It is important for an author to know what word count they should be aiming for.
The average young adult novel falls between 55-80K, though some novels reach 100K. By comparison, adult novels are usually around 100K, with science fiction and fantasy averaging at 125K. Middle-grade novels generally fall between 35-55K words.
Word count also influences a publisher or an author's budget. Some freelance editors charge their rates on word count rather than by the hour. For example, a copy edit (line-level editing) may cost $0.02 to $0.05 per word. The cost to physically print a book is in part determined by page count, and the more words your book has, the higher the cost to print.
The publishing industry uses word count as a guide for determining the length and appropriate reading level of a book. It also determines the costs for things like editing and page printing. Still, for the average reader, these numbers don't paint a clear picture of what a book looks like in published form. And there are always exceptions to those industry standards. Here are the word counts for some popular books:
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin (Adult) – 424,000 words
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (Adult) – 209,117 words
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Adult) – 155,717 words
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Young Adult) - 135275 words
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (Adult) - 107,010 words
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Young Adult) – 99,750 words
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Theif by Rick Riordan (Middle Grade) - 87223 words
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (Adult) - 88,000 words
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Adult)– 66,556 words
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (Young Adult) – 48,523 words
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Adult) – 47,094 words
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (Middle Grade) – 30,644 words
Word Count for Novels and Children's Books: The Definitive Post. Writers Digest. https://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/word-count-for-novels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post
How long should my novel be? Writers and Artists. https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/writers/advice/33/preparing-for-submission/how-to-find-a-literary-agent/how-long-should-my-ms-be
Writing for Young Adults - A Look at the Numbers. Hannah Holt. https://hannahholt.com/blog/2017/10/19/writing-for-young-adults-a-look-at-the-numbers#:~:text=9)%20What%20is%20the%20typical,between%2050%2C000%20and%2080%2C000%20words.
Everything you need to know about novel word counts. Nathan Bransford. https://nathanbransford.com/blog/2018/04/all-about-novel-word-counts#:~:text=The%20Outsiders%20by%20S.E.%20Hinton%20%E2%80%93%2048%2C523%20words%20(source)