Word Count for Novels

I am obsessed with word counts for YA and MG novels. Especially debut books. When I go to the local bookstore and browse the YA and MG sections, I sometimes take out my iPhone and take a quick shot of the cover. It makes me feel like I'm in a John LeCarre novel. When I get back home, I look up the book on one of the sites below and find out the word count.

I don't know why I do this.

I've only written a few novels. The first one was a MG at about 60k and the second one was a YA fantasy at about 59k. But the one that got me signed--Hurray--is a 36k MG.

My research tells me that around 36k is the sweet spot for MG. Although, I'm sure we've all seen MG books that are 80k+.

I find it interesting to see how many words a writer uses to tell a story. Some writer--I forget who-- said to use as many words as it takes to tell the story. I don't think I'll ever be a writer with high word counts for my books. I like paring down as much as possible.

Right now, I'm working on a contemporary YA with only one very crucial fantastical element in it.
I feel like it's done at almost 30k. But that can't be right. From what I understand, contemporary YA can be a lot shorter than other categories like romance, paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy. We'll see what happens. I still need some plotting to do on it and it may grow in length.

Here are a few really short books that were well-received and went on to win major awards:

When You Reach Me is only 39k words and won the Newberry Medal and a slew of other awards.
(That's an interesting word: slew. Say it with me: sleeeewwwwww. Let it roll around your tongue. Yum. Very satisfying word.)

Skellig comes in at only 31, 202 words. It won the Carnegie Medal, the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year, was a Michael L. Printz Honor Book of theYear and received many more accolades.

Anyway, two sites have been helpful in satisfying my need-to-know for word counts. Maybe you'll find them helpful, too.

One is AR BookFinder. The other is RenLearn.

I hope that 2014 brings you success in your writing endeavors!


Megan said...

I am completely on the other side of the spectrum. I tend to write WAY too long. My first novel was a YA fantasy that rung in at 120,000 words! I've since learned to trim a bit, :-D and the Ya Horror I'll be querying soon is 83,00 which is right about where it needs to be I think. I'm obsessed with word counts too. It might be a writer thing. ;-)

Ron Smith said...

It is a writer thing, Megan.

Hey, that's a good t-shirt: "It's a Writer Thing."

I envy writers that can write long.

I had a critique partner once who told me that a very famous novelist she knew always wrote her manuscripts quickly, and they came in at about 30k words. She would then go back and fill in the scenes and expand, revise, etc. I like that method.

Thanks for stopping by!

Johnell DeWitt said...

Interesting. I have a MG novel I'm working on that's already over 70,000 words and a YA novel that tapped out, so far, at about 36,000 words. Granted, these are still first drafts, so a lot could happen, but I just didn't have anything else to add to the YA novel at this point. To do so would have been superfluous. Maybe as I revise, things will change. Good luck with your knew novel.

Ron Smith said...

Hi Johnell,

True, a lot could happen since you're on a first draft. 36K for YA sounds pretty good, though. I firmly believe, though, like my post points out, to use as many words as needed to tell the story. I guess ultimately it's up to your agent or editor, though too!

Thanks for stopping by.

Kimberly said...

I'm like you, I don't have high word counts and cut more than I can add. I'm really trying to focus on making my next book a bit longer!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Interesting post. I really don't pay much attention to word count when I write. I'm really more concerned with the arc of the story. And then cut, cut, cut, until it's down to the best bare bones of the story. I also read both thin books and fat books, if they're good. I loved Skellig!

Congratulations on signing with an agent!

Ron Smith said...

Hi Kimberly, Elizabeth. I think one thing we can agree on is that it's all about writing the best story possible, no matter how many words we use.

Thanks, Elizabeth for the congrats!

Happy New Year, and thanks for stopping by!

Marcia said...

It used to be that 25k was ballpark for MG. HP changed all that. I signed with a 60K MG, but I wouldn't want to go much higher than that for MG, either. I've seen 100K+, but I think those are pretty rare.