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Do Word Counts Count 2015

I like numbers.

After all, I do pretend to be a banker from time to time. And what can be more banker-ish (that is so not a word, but should be) than my annual Do Word Counts Count? post. It’s an annual look at the word counts of bestselling teen books as well as a comparison between traditional and indie published word counts.

It’s the first question that most new authors ask, but there isn’t much out there on the topic. While there are no official ranges for fiction novels, there is an expectation.

To start, we take a look at bestselling authors. Below is the Barnes & Noble bestselling teen fiction list from earlier this month. Every book on it is traditionally published, which should give us an idea of strategy for the market makers.

Barnes & Noble Bestselling Teen Fiction 5/4/15
Novel Page Count Word Count*
The Heir by Kiera Cass 368 92,000
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir 464 118,384
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard 400 100,000
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen 432 108,000
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas 432 108,000
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 384 96,000
Paper Towns by John Green 336 84,000
After the End by Amy Plum 352 88,000
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart 240 60,000
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews 304 76,000

*Word counts are estimated based on the standard of 250 words per page

Weird random fact: The 1st place book in today’s 2015 list has the exact same number of pages as the 1st place in the 2013 list (The Fault in Our Stars).

Last year’s B&N Teen Bestseller word counts averaged 88,875 words. This year’s average is 93,038.

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 5/4/15
Novel Words
His Bad Boy Ways by Faye Aden 55,850
Flit by Abieth Winter 78,810
Wisdom by Amanda Hocking 91,079
Torn by Ashley Stambaugh 83,040
Newborn by Joshua Dee Preece 19,670
Undeniably Chosen by Shelly Crane 152,550
Crutch by Alex Rushmur 2,600
Bloodline by Kei 9,950
Masked SheWolf by Yara Gharios 108,550
Rise of the Valiant by Morgan Rice 81,050

Last year’s Smashwords list included a novella, so I think it’s interesting to note that this year’s list contains two: Newborn and Bloodline.

Average word count for books distributed through Smashwords is 68,314, well under the 93K plus we saw from the B&N bestsellers. Not surprising. The last two years have demonstrated the same as traditionally published works on average tend to be longer than indie published work (though there are exceptions).

As a writer, I typically hear 55k-80k is the way to go for a Young Adult novel. I used to hear that a debut author should never go over 100k as publisher’s, tight with their dollars, often find it hard to justify printing that many pages on an unknown. These numbers seem to reinforce those mindsets with a decreasing average word count every year.

Here’s the comparison over the last few years that I’ve been doing this post.

wordcount

 

Bottom line: Keep it short and sweet, kids.

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