Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Importance of Word Count part 1

Quick explanation: I had some stuff come up last week that basically kept me from doing anything on my computer.  Hence no updates and no work on my WiP.  But onto the topic of the day!

Word count can be a touchy subject for some people, including myself.  A few years ago, I wrote a very long post that led to several long discussions on one of the writing forums about the "acceptable" maximum length for Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction.  I vaguely remember what I discussed, but I know my views have changed DRASTICALLY over the following years.  Mostly because I'm no longer in the bubble that surrounded me while I worked on my first several books.  (It wasn't a bubble that I put up to remain naive, it was simply a state that I didn't realize I was in until I started working toward the next step in my career.  Education and interaction with the writing community brought new information into my life, along with new perspective and a larger bubble that will probably prove to be ill-informed as I try to educate myself more.)

Anyway, two years ago, I learned that, especially for unrepresented debut authors, word count is a huge indicator of the writer's ability to craft a story.  If the book they're writing is targeted toward Middle Grade readers, for example, a short word count (less than 45k) might reveal (from an agent's perspective) a lack of story arc, world-building (depending on genre), and character development that will help the reader engage with the book.

A long word count, on the other hand (longer than 70kish) can indicate a writer's struggle to remain concise with an audience that's considered to have a shorter attention span and therefore needs to be engaged regularly in order to entertain them.  (Before a debate on THAT subject begins, keep in mind that I don't necessarily agree with that concept, but it's something that drives the industry and MUST be considered when writing.  Agree or not, it's a fact that CANNOT BE IGNORED!!)  And remember, it's easier to sell a book that's "longer" than the industry standard than it is to sell something that's shorter.

I could go on for a very long time, and I intend to continue my thoughts on the subject.  But for now, let's discuss this one aspect of word count.  Keep in mind, I'm sharing something that I have heard from several agents.  What do you think?  Is this something you've heard, and do you agree or disagree?

In part two, I'm going to delve into some thoughts about books that are "too long" for industry standard.  I'll share some of what I've learned from other people, and then put in my own two cents worth.

So discuss!  Throughout the next several days, I'll do my best to join in.  Have fun, and let's learn something :D


  1. This is a lesson I learned well in the last couple of years. To think my latest book is 95K and it's my shortest yet. :)

    1. I've met a few people who refuse to learn the lesson, and it's one that I struggled to accept for several months. But now I'm coming to terms with the fact that word count really matters. Especially for debut authors.