NaNoWriMo Day 15 – word count 29,169 and just, in general, 10 points about WORD COUNTS

Seriously, are we all completely crazy? Us writers, I mean. Are we totally bonkers?

Halfway through the month, I’m well past my halfway point in my manuscript and feeling pretty good. My approach has been slow and steady. I make sure to write at least 1666 words everyday. Most days I exceed this, but I don’t give myself a day off, regardless of the previous day’s tally.

A recent release from Orca Soundings

While we’re obsessing about word counts, let’s take a moment to review the standard wisdom about word counts when writing for children.

  1. Every publisher is different. Some have very strict ideas about word counts, particularly if they have hi/lo series such as Lorimer Sports, or Orca Soundings. Most publishers, if they are looking for submissions in these series will list their requirements on their webpage.

    A recent release from Lorimer Sports
  2. The word counts for thousands of YA and children’s books can be found here. This is an extremely useful site that also gives a rough grade level for each book.
  3. 150,000 words is TOO LONG for a debut YA author. Period. 80,000 is about the upper limit for debut Middle Grade.
  4. Never add stuff like pages of description, to plump your word count. A book is what it is. If it’s short, maybe it’s a novella.
  5. If a book absolutely needs to be longer, take it back to character, then plot, THEN the actual writing.
  6. Never plump your word count by removing all the contractions. Unless your book is set in some kind of medieval fantasy land, this will make everyone sound like a robot, including you.
  7. If you need to REDUCE word count, the same rules applies. Start with character, simplify. Maybe two characters can be combined into one. Maybe another character’s pages of backstory can be deleted.  Reducing unnecessary scenes about your supporting characters increases the focus on your main character, which is always good.
  8. Are all your long descriptions necessary?   Many young readers skip over long descriptions of costumes, character appearance or places. If there is a key detail that plays into the plot, better to draw attention to it by leaving it on its own.
  9. When querying, don’t forget to include your word count, rounded up to the nearest 100
  10. Many agents and publishers will tell you how long a book should be. Apart from rule 3, there are no fast rules about this.
So what are some word count guidelines? Well REMEMBER THESE ARE GUIDELINES
Picture books – anything from 0 to about 3000 words, but the best pictures books are under 1000
Early Readers – from about 350 to about 5000
Middle Grade – first chapter books  and hi/lo start at about 4000 and go up to about 15,000 to 20,000. Lower middle grade continues from there up to about 40,000 to 50,000 and upper middle grade can go up to 80,000
Young adult – Some of these can be quite short, although the more “genre” they are the longer they tend to be. About 50,000-70,000 for non-genre and 70,000-100,000 for genre. There is hi/lo in this category too, which can start at about 25,000 to 30,000.
Colleen Lindsay at the Swivet has a good summary of word counts for adult and YA genres. Others have chimed in here and here so there is no shortage of opinion on the matter.
I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice. It is true that some agents and publishers will automatically reject something based on what they consider to be an inappropriate word count. Think about it.

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