do and don't · writing problems

Word count trends

These are the basic guidelines I’ve discovered in my work. For a more detailed rule for word counts by genre, see Writer’s Digest or Literary Rejections.

  • Keep it under 100k. Once a book hits six digits, an alarm goes off in my head. If I detect any wordiness in the sample, I reject.
  • Books that hit 120k should only be tightly-edited fantasy, SF, or thrillers. Tightly-edited means you removed every fluff and flower possible. The book is long because of intense plot twists or multiple POV, not from channeling Tolkien.
  • Historical fiction is the exception to everything. It can hit 120k without concern. But don’t go too far beyond that.
  • Books may go over their word count range if they’re particularly high-concept. I see this in high-concept YA, literary, and women’s fiction.
  • If your book is a genre romance, keep it on the shorter side. Romances tend toward shorter.
  • Your book will only be rejected for being too short if you’re under 50k. (For romance, under 40k.) If you’re under 50k, I assume you don’t know what you’re doing.
  • Shorter is better than longer. Lengthening a good book is easier than shortening one. Agents know this and it figures into their decision.

TLDR: books within their genre range > books shorter than range > longer than range.

Maximize every word and read Stephen King’s ON WRITING.

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3 thoughts on “Word count trends

    1. High-concept boils down to especially original with mass market appeal. When PG Wodehouse was writing his comedies-of-error, plenty of other authors were writing similar stuff. His work was still original, but it wasn’t groundbreaking. But when Mary Shelley wrote FRANKENSTEIN, she was extremely popular and also changed the face of speculative fiction. She created archetypes instead of merely using them.

      Similarly, THE HUNGER GAMES was the first popular YA book with such intense, emotional violence. The discussion of violence in YA was already going on, but there weren’t a lot of teen books portraying the harsh realities of war, starvation, and torture. “Game shows” and “child soldiers” weren’t concepts anyone had thought to combine before, making it original, but they were also concepts everyone is familiar with/has an emotional connection to. High-concept = groundbreaking.

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