WORD COUNT. Like that, in all capital letters.
It is a very important concept to grasp in our writing journey.
There are several reasons for this.
I’ll start by the least sexy of them.
No, it does not have to do with the genre.
It does not have to do with the cost of editing either.
Word count is fundamental if you want to have an idea of your cover for the printed edition.
Let’s go through the process once you’ve finished everything “from soup to nuts”.
Your manuscript is ready, table of contents, copyright page, every single page has been added to your book. Now you need to format it for ebook, paperback, and hardcover. Let’s assume you decide to have the same font and font size for all. Each ends up having a different size (physical size) paper. From 2 x 3 inches (5 x 7.6 cm) all the way to 12 x 19 inches (30.5 x 48.3 cm). Wikipedia has a good article on this at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_size.
You need to decide also if the paper will be white, cream, or other. All have different thicknesses. Now you see where I’m going with this.
Books, physical books, have a spine. You have the front cover (which will work for all sizes, ebooks, and maybe audiobooks). But for physical books, you need a back cover. For hardcover books with dust covers, you will also need two flaps. All physical books, however, will need a spine. This will affect the design of your cover and the rest of the components. Do you want the spine to be a solid color and text? Do you want the illustration in it to be continuous with the image of the front and back cover? For the image to be a miniature of those? There are quite a few decisions to make.
Your word count will impact the number of pages, and therefore, will impact your cover design because of the spine.
Not so fast.
You see, the word count will also depend on the genre. So, for example, in a children’s book, you expect the illustration on the cover to be adequate for your audience, so it may not be too elaborate, which in turn means that for the physical book, the spine, which will be probably pretty small, can be simply a solid color and text.
For an epic fantasy novel, you’ll probably prefer a larger spine, so you can play with the imagery and text on it.
If your book is part of a series, you may want the spine to be part of a large image that can only be appreciated when all the books on the series are put together side by side, and so on.
So we’ve segued into genre and word count.
Readers have certain expectations of the genre they read. Editors and publishers do too because they want the books to sell well. They will advise the author to come as close as possible to the expected word count.
What are these magical word counts?
Let’s start with General Fiction.
Here we’ll start with works that are short and published either by themselves on web pages or as collections in anthologies or compilations. These are Flash Fiction and Short Stories.
For Flash Fiction the expected length is 300 to 1,500 words, something short and sweet, as it were. For a Short Story, the count is between 1,500 to 30,000 words. The regular length for a short story is no more than 5,000, but some exceptional ones go beyond that.
Then we start into the “single book formats”. Let’s talk about Novellas and Novels.
For Novellas, the standard is 30,000 to 50,000 words, for Novels from 50,000 to 110,000 words.
There are, of course, several Fiction Genres. Each has an accepted word count range.
For Mainstream Romance, which is very strict in terms of its structure, the count goes between 70,000 and 100,000 words. For Subgenre Romance it may go as low as 40,000 but rarely beyond 100,000 words.
For Science Fiction and Fantasy, the usual word count is between 90,000 to 120,000. Of course, if the world-building is very intricate, or if there are elements that demand a deep dive in the science, the magic, or any other component, the word count may balloon up to 150,000 words.
For Historical Fiction the accepted count is between 80,000 to 100,000 words.
For the Thrillers, Horror, Mysteries, and Crime genre the count is between 70,000 to 90,000 words.
For Young Adult works, the accepted counts are between 50,000 to 80,000 words.
Children’s Books have their own sub-genre such as Picture Books, which go 300 to 800 words, Early Readers from 200 to 3,500 words, Chapter Books from 4,000 to 10,000 words, and finally Middle Grade from 25,000 to 40,000 words. Here, aside from the length in terms of the number of words, you also have to take care of word choice, sentence length, and structure. I went over all of that in a previous post: https://tjmanrique.com/2020/08/07/readability-reaching-a-wider-audience/
For Nonfiction there are similar expectations, but that is beyond the scope of my blog.
So, the short version is readers have a specific expectation as to what “length” a book should be. That translates for us, as writers, into an accepted word count. Our books should fall somewhere in the accepted range to be well-received right out of the gate, in particular, if we are going the traditional publishing route.
What do we, as authors, want from our readers? It’s simple. We want for them not to be able to put the book down, and we want them to feel, when they see the pages growing fewer and fewer, a sense of dread and desperation at knowing that the characters they are now heavily invested in, are reaching the end of the story and the final outcome. We want them to say “boy, this was a short book”. Not because it had fewer than expected words or pages, but because they wanted to stay in the world we created and accompany our characters further into their adventures. That is one of the reasons why series are so popular nowadays and why so many writers embark on them. Also, it explains why some authors have their books grow in size with time. Their first works are the standard length in terms of word count, but later they disregard the count and let it rip.
How do you feel about word counts? Are they restrictive? Do they help you plan your work? Let me know what you think.
Thanks for reading and have a great day.