In every piece of writing we do, as much as it may annoy us, the word count is an important factor to consider. Too short and it won’t be considered, too long and you’ve done all the work for nothing. I once read about an author who covered his word counter and just wrote until his story was complete, whatever the count ended up being was what the count was. The argument for this is that the narrative ends up being pure quality over quantity and avoids waffling on unnecessarily. But then this quality writing could be rejected on the grounds of it being too short.
There seems to be no real definitive answer when it comes to the actual word count needed for a book, regardless of the subject matter, books tend to still be relying on their content over their quantity which is relatively relieving for we writers. Added to this, it seems to be at the discretion of the publishing houses and literary agents as to what they prefer. For example, the average count for adult fiction is 70k+ but some publishers require first time authors to keep it within the 50k range.
Thinking about word count, I think it’s important to look at some of the major players in the genres and see what they accomplished with their counts.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – 86,400 Words
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James – 105,000 Words
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Book 1) – 99,750 Words
Divergent by Veronica Roth – 105,000 Words
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer – 118,501 Words
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (Book 1) – 24,744 Words
Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin – 298,000 Words
Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone by J.K Rowling – 76,944 Words
The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkein – 95,022 Words
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – 75,142 Words
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 47,094 Words
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank – 82,762 Words
As you can see the word counts seem to be pretty standard in their range except for two, Lemony Snicket’s would be counted as rather short and George R.R. Martins would be counted as exceedingly long yet both were exceptions to the seeming rules of the word count.
If we can go by the advice of editors like Kristin Nelson, then the focus should be on quality BUT if you pop over to Veronica Roth’s blog at http://veronicarothbooks.blogspot.hk/2011/10/how-much-it-changed.html then you get an insight into the real writing, how the drafts merge and the narratives change, part are added that change the dynamics and before you know it, you have double the book you started with.
I enjoyed Roth’s post, and it definitely made the whole process of writing a novel seem a lot less daunting. Sometimes we forget as writers that the well known successful ones were not always so and only through hard work and patience (maybe a little editing advice) we can all achieve that book we want!
I have mixed feelings, sometimes when I write I have 3000 done in three hours and I congratulate myself on a job well done, other times I hit 450 words in three hours and I want to throw my laptop out of the window.
Thoughts or advice on word counts? Please share in the comments!