Being a writer – part 6 – word count

Hi Everyone,

One of the questions I receive about self-publishing is how many words should I write?

This past Saturday, I wrote 700 words using the “power hour” technique. A busy Sunday’s writing saw me take my word count on my new project up to 24,000. I have 2 planned chapters left to go, final word count will be around 30,000. Happily this is what I had planned when I started.

So how many words should a novel be?

There are those who say that a novel should be as many words as it needs to be in order to tell the story from start to finish. And they’re absolutely right.

There are also those who say a novel should fit within broad bands of words depending on what kind of novel it is, and they’re also right.

Here’s the broad guideline numbers:

  • Middle Grade – ages 9 -12 – 30,000 to 50,000;
  • Young adult – 55,000 – 80,000;
  • General adult fiction – try to get around 100,000;
  • Sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction books tend to be longer – around 125,000 words.

As a rule of thumb, 80,000 to 100,000 will give you a paperback of around 300 – 400 pages. This depends on font size or whether you have a lot of pictures.

There are clearly many books that do not fit in to these guidelines, think Tolkein, JK Rowling or George RR Martin for examples of authors who have written significantly longer books.

So, how do you write your book to fit within these guidelines?

Here’s my 2 main theories:

  1. Don’t bother with the guidelines and write the book. If you’re shorter then consider adding an extra scene. Too long, go through and ruthlessly edit.
  2. Have an outline of what has to happen and when. Work out how many chapters you need (between 2,000 and 4,000 words per chapter) and plan accordingly, each chapter being its own event.

In practise, I had a rough outline of where the story was going to go and so was able to plan my chapters accordingly. I have deliberately gone for smaller chapter sizes.

If you have any questions about writing you book, or self-publishing, contact me, and I’ll be more than happy to help.

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