Word Count

Found out something lovely the other day. Apparently mystery novels usually run between 65,000 and 75,000 words. I probably should’ve paid more attention to word count when I started this book, since I’m already 25,000 words in and still not done setting the stage.

Eh. I’m sure I can chop a good chunk out when the next draft rolls around.

For the curious, here’s how the word counts typically break down by genre. Of course, every publisher does things a little bit differently, but these seem to be the accepted generalizations.

  • Literary/Contemporary: 75,000 to 95,000
  • Fantasy: 90,000 to 150,000 (youch!)
  • Historical: 85,000 to 100,000
  • Young Adult: 50,000 to 75,000
  • Serial Mysteries: 65,000 to 75,000
  • Westerns: 50,000 to 75,000

I found one agent who said 80,000 to 90,000 was the magical safe zone for fiction. Great news for me. The first book I tried to sell came in at an obese 130,000 words. Call it a rookie mistake. I thought longer was better.

I pared that baby down to 95,000 words and instantly drew more interest from agents. In the end, the book needed so much reworking I lost interest, but I definitely learned a lot.

I’m aiming for between 70-75k for my current project. This puts the finish line somewhere in April, and I’m stoked. I used to be scared of editing down my books (no! not my precious words! I spent HOURS on them!), but I have to say once you start cutting it can be addicting. I love it.

Instant energy. Better pacing.

I’m a fan.

Of course you have to write the words before you can realize you don’t need them. Will maybe work on that.


3 thoughts on “Word Count

  1. Fascinating little tidbits! And I like your thought about editing that you have to write the words before you can cut them. It makes it seems more worthwhile to be writing stuff that will eventually get pruned.

  2. This takes real discipline. Don’t think I could do that! I’m an avid mystery reader. The latest I read was from Stig Larson. He’s a master at keeping up the suspense and I couldn’t put the book down, but I think the author had a sick mind and let his fantasies run away with him. Still he can sure write a story!

  3. I’ve heard a lot about the Stig Larson saga, but haven’t found time to read them yet. I *think* of them every time I go to the bookstore or library, but I guess that doesn’t count, does it?

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