Do word counts count?

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There are surprisingly few articles on the subject of word and page counts in novel writing. Yet, it is something that perplexes many indie authors.

According to Colleen Lindsay, associate director for marketing, social media and reader experience for NAL/Berkley and former book agent, the rule of thumb on word count for mainstream YA fiction novels is between 45 and 80 thousand words. She goes on to say that YA paranormal and fantasy average word counts tend to run a little higher with the top of the range at 120 thousand. She notes that many publishers try to stay below 100 thousand to keep production costs low.

Chuck Sambuchino, Writer’s Digest, tightens up that range even more. His advice for YA authors is to keep it between 55 and 70 thousand words. According to him, under 55 is okay, though not optimal, but never drop below 47 thousand.

Both Lindsay and Sambuchino agree that there are always exceptions to the rule. However, their opinions differ from what I am currently seeing from established authors in the industry, which seem to be consistently over 80 thousand words for YA novels.

Barnes & Noble Bestselling Teen Fiction 5/30/13
NovelPage CountWord Count*
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green36892,000
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey480120,000
Divergent by Veronica Roth576144,000
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak576144,000
The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen38496,000
Insurgent by Veronica Roth544136,000
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton19248,000
The Maze Runner by James Dashner400100,000
Crushed by Sara Shepard35288,000
The Elite by Kiera Cass32380,750
*Word counts are estimated based on the standard of 250 words per page

Sambuchino suggests that the range may be higher for commercially-successful authors. According to him, first-time authors should stick to the lower end of the range. The thought behind this is? The bigger the book; the bigger the cost to produce it. Therefore, publishers may shy away from unproven authors with large projects. It is a business, after all.

To get an idea of word count average for indie authors, below are the current bestselling books from Smashwords, a leading distributor of indie novels. As you will see, these are significantly lower word counts than their B&N counterparts.

Smashwords Young Adult/Teen Bestsellers 5/30/13
NovelWords
The Posterchildren: Origins by Kitty Burroughs127,604
Pieces of You by Cassia Leo75,781
A Vow of Glory by Morgan Rice74,154
Wisdom by Amanda Hocking91,079
Minutes Before Sunset by Shannon Thompson76,491
Just a Little Honesty by Tracie Puckett34,908
Fate and Fury by Quinn Loftis106,000
Free Falling by Kirsty Moseley132,429
Flit by Abieth Winter78,832
Kings of the World by Matt Pike101,699

And another interesting note on the Smashwords bestsellers is that one, Just a Little Honesty, would actually be categorized as a Novella. Novellas are becoming more and more popular. Not only are they easy to read on an electronic device, but authors are using them more and more to market their full-length work, and in doing so, are offering them for free which makes them extremely attractive to readers.

As for average word count ranges for novellas, there doesn’t seem to be an industry standard yet. I’ve seen stated ranges anywhere from 7 to 50 thousand words. Perhaps the most “official” range that I’ve seen is the one quoted by Science Fiction Writers of America for their Nebula Awards. To qualify for the Novella Nebula (say that five times fast), your work must be between 7,500 and 40,000 words.

There are so many theories on this topic. Make sure you collect them all to make an informed decision.

5 thoughts on “Do word counts count?

  1. Bryna….I love that you compared popular novels & their word counts. I’m interested in the novella’s rise. Once again, a great, informative & inspirational post! *waves*

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