Word Count Explained
Word count can be confusing, and there's a lot of different opinions on it. I've heard and read that young adult novels are anywhere from 30,000 words to 100,000 words. As someone who writes young adult, this made me feel like my 80,000 word novels were wrong. Either way too long or way too short. But what's the truth? How long should your novel be?
First, word count can be hard to picture. How big is a book that's 100,000 words? Or 50,000? There's no exact way to measure, because it also depends on font size, margin size, and how the text is formatted. For example, books with lots of dialogue likely have more pages than a book with very little dialogue, even if they're the same number of words.
Let's start with getting an idea of what various word counts look like. Here's a list of some books pulled from Word Count Tool sorted from shortest to longest.
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury – 46,118 words
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald – 47,094 words
Lord of the Flies, William Golding – 59,900 words
The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne – 63,604 words
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger – 73,404 words
1984, George Orwell – 88,942 words
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee – 100,388 words
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen – 126,194 words
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens – 135,420 words
Catch-22, Joseph Heller – 174,269 words
Moby Dick, Herman Melville – 206,052 words
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy – 587,287 words
Clearly, there's a wide range here. But this is a good way to get an understanding of how large a book is based on its word count. the most basic answer to "how many words should my novel be" is simply "as many as it needs to be." To Kill a Mockingbird needed more words than The Great Gatsby.
But it's still a good idea to have goals. So let's look at some averages. These numbers are pulled from Word Counter Tool and Jane Friedman's book The Business of Being a Writer.
Jane Friedman's book states that the average word count of books, regardless of genre, is 80,000 words. Some genres run higher, other run lower, but 80,000 is the average of all the books out there.
Word Count Tool pegs crime fiction, horror, fantasy and science fiction around 90,000 to 100,000 and historical fiction at 100,000 to 120,000. It makes sense, because these are genres that require more description and world-building, which take up a lot of words.
Friedman also states that anything higher than 120,000 words is going to "decrease the chances that an agent or editor will be interested in your work." Especially if you're a new author, 120,000 is just too long.
Let's look at the Harry Potter series for a second, because I think it illustrates this well. People tend to think all seven books are long, but let's look at the word counts.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone - 76,944 words.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - 85,141 words.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - 107,253 words.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - 190,637 words.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - 257,045 words
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - 168,923 words.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - 198,227 words.
The first two books were well within the average range. After that, the books got so popular that Rowling had the freedom to make them as long as she wanted. But if she'd turned in 257,000 words for the first book, no one would have published it.
Some genres have a very wide range. Word Count Tool puts romance anywhere between 40,000 to 100,000. This is because there's so many sub-genres that it really depends on the specific book. This is also why the numbers vary so much for young adult. Young adult can be a romance, mystery, science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, contemporary, etc. There's so many sub-genres that it's hard to peg down an average. Young adult also has a wide variety of readers. Young adult meant for older middle schoolers is going to be shorter than young adult that appeals to high schoolers and adults.
So let's look at a few, shall we?
Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins - 99,750
Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins - 101,564
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins - 100,269
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green – 67,203 words (Most of John Green's books are around 60,000-70,000)
The Lightning Thief, Rick Riorden – 87,223 words
The Sea Of Monsters, Rick Riorden– 63,976 words
The Titan’s Curse, Rick Riorden – 72,995 words
The Battle Of The Labyrinth, Rick Riorden – 85,079 words
The Last Olympian, Rick Riorden – 89,002 words
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky - 60,438
Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell - 78,179
Divergent, Veronica Roth - 105,143
Again, there's a large variation here. But you can see some of the trends. Book like Hunger Games and Divergent tended to be longer and John Green's books tended to be a bit shorter. It makes sense for the sub-genres they're in.
At the end of the day, your novel should be the number of words it needs to be to tell the story well. No more, no less. The average is around 80,000, so that's a great goal, but know you can come in high or low.
But remember, under 40,000 is considered a novella and over 120,000 will be very tricky to publish.
I hope this helped give you some perspective on word count! Good luck!
How many words is your novel? Does it match for the genre it's in?