Are word counts really that important?

Good morning, readers! 

I want to talk about word counts. I know some writers could careless about word count, but these days it’s important. Well, I guess it has always been important. For me, I write shorts or novella’s as they are called. I have ghostwritten some novels, but I don’t write them per-say until now. As some of you may know I am doing Nano this month. My goal was my usual 35-40k. Then I had a nice long talk with my mentor about word counts. She stated, ” If you are a self-published author than word counts don’t matter. But, if you are looking to be picked up then it has to be at least 60-90k.” I heart sunk when she said that. I could not believe it. I mean I guess it’s doable, just work out some plot points and not have any fluff what so ever.


I love writing, but I don’t know if novella’s are just my niche or I haven’t applied myself to write more. Well, now this is thriller novel that I am writing, I really have to take it there. No problem, I can do this. I guess it is a point of me focusing and getting it done. I know that different word counts are for different novels.

Let’s see…


I am going to give you a list that I found online for word counts. My previous teacher gave this to me yesterday.  Here are the rules of word counts.

Genre Guidelines

  • Literary / Commercial / Women’s: 80,000 to 110,000 – These genres vary greatly in how their stories are told, but not in how many words are used to tell them. There are few exceptions of published debut novels not falling between these strict markers. The adherence to this is never more tested than when a writer pushes the limit to the full 110k or beyond. The upper marker is still accepted but will almost certainly be cut by an editor should the writer secure a deal. A literary agent will always look more favourable on these genre submissions being around the 100k mark.


  • Crime Fiction: 90,000 to 100,000 – The page-turning demands and competitive market enforce a word count which it is advisable to comply to.


  • Mysteries / Thrillers / Suspense: 70,000 to 90,000 – The variation covers Cozy Mysteries which can clock in at just 70-75k, to noir and historical which are often published at 80-90k.


  • Romance: 40,000 to 100,000 – Since it has many sub-genres this genre can vary greatly depending on the story. Regency Romance, Inspirational Romance, Romantic Suspense and Paranormal Romance all have a minimum of 40k. But for mainstream romance novels the parameters are between 70K and 100K.


  • Fantasy: 90,000 to 100,000 – One of the few genres with some leeway in first approach submissions, since many literary agents know publishers who will happily accept 120K. This is not to say one should aim for that higher count. But if a writer queries with 110k it will not be rejected on word count alone.


  • Paranormal: 75,000 to 95,000 – Although commonly entwined with other genres, standalone fiction in this genre is best when it is concise. Literary agents and publishers will allow flexibility when the story merits it, but for debut manuscripts it is best to refrain from anything above the industry standard.


  • Horror: 80,000 to 100,000 – A writer must be as ruthless with their words, as their antagonist is with the lives within the story. For if a grip on the reader is lost by overly long descriptions and digressions, the very tension which drives this genre fizzles out. Never go beyond the 100k limit without first checking with a freelance editor for revisions.


  • Science-Fiction: 90,000 to 125,000 – Encompassing many sub-genres results in a flexibility across the genre that is not often given to the others. Many publishers will accept works in the higher bracket and even beyond. While literary agents are open to submissions far below 90K, they will usually lean more towards those within the requirements because they know the devoted readers of this genre do not mind an epic read.


  • Historical: 100,000 to 120,000 – A genre rich with historical events means writers are afforded the luxury of an extended word count. However, writers who edit down to a 100k submission increase their chances of being read beyond the partials.


  • Young Adult Fiction (YA): 50,000 to 80,000 – This particular genre has become one of the hardest for writers to grasp when deciding on their own word count. This is due in large part to the variety of sub-genres within it and the trend for a book series with an ever greater word count. But for mainstream YA it is always best to stick to under 80K.


  • New Adult Fiction: 60,000 to 85,000 – Coined by the industry for the industry meant the requirements could be defined from the outset. Going above 85K still happens, but those for that do, they are giving a literary agent an easy reason to reject them.


  • Middle Grade: 25,000 to 40,000 – Such a tight restraint can be beneficial to a writer because it allows them to demonstrate their ability to edit accordingly. For debut books in this field the average word count tends to be 35K and it has therefore become the marker many industry professionals look for in queries from new writers.


  • Picture Books: 500 to 700 – When this is applied it equates to one or two lines per page, for a 30 page book. The one main advantage this genre has over every other is that literary agents and publishers will accept the full text with the initial query. There is no need for partials.


  • Novella: 20,000 to 50,000 – A story can be written in any of the other genres, but if its word count falls within these parameters it is usually classified as a novella.


  • Non-Fiction: 70,000 to 110,000 – Covering a broad range of topics still sees little variation in the size of published books. Although there is not a requirement for the work to be complete before an initial query, this is the word count literary agents want projected and delivered.

So, these are the numbers that writers are suppose to follow if you want to be picked up by a mainstream publisher. I have more writing to do. Don’t get me wrong, there is NOTHING wrong with self-publishing, I just want to see if I can go mainstream. I have been self publishing my work for years. I want to try something different. What word count do you usually stick with, does it match what is here?

  • Short Stories: 1000 to 8,000 – Many contests will advise on their own maximum word count, sometimes as high as 20K. But those requests are extremely rare, as the majority will set a limit of 8K.


  • Flash Fiction: 100 to 500 – There is no flexibility to this as the word count determines if it is Flash Fiction.


10 thoughts on “Are word counts really that important?

  1. It’s interesting that people put such a different amount of emphasis on word count. For me personally, I don’t mind what the word count is or whether it matches the norm for its genre; as long as it’s a good story then I’m happy.

    I can understand that publishers may have stricter guidelines to stick to through for the sake of printing costs, pricing and whatnot. I suppose that’s one of the benefits of self-publishing; the writer retains the power as to the word count regardless of genre.

    Interesting topic! 🙂

    • I thought so too. It goes to show that it really doesn’t matter. I feel the same way, but I am going to try. Most of my other reads that are YA, Urban Fiction, Erotica, and Thrillers are all around 35-40k. I feel as long as a good story is told, that’s all it is.

  2. These are good guidelines to follow. I am also seeing many articles, though, speaking to the fact that the novella is becoming more and more popular as people’s time demands are making it difficult to commit to a more hearty read. Good luck with your writing. As long as you are writing something, regardless of word count, you are doing well!

  3. Interesting. I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to word-count (because I’m not to the point yet where I’m doing much more than information gathering for the eventual point when I’ll be ready to look for agents/publishers). It’s nice to have, at the very least, something of a ballpark idea of what might be looked for. Can I ask the source for this list?

  4. I have trouble making the longer word count too. I am going to start with self-publishing, but I also intend to try mainstream eventually. I intend to be one those hybrid people that publishes both ways, if I can. I think both option have great merit. Good Luck! I did NaNo too, and met my word count, but it was only 20000. In November I will go for 50000, when it comes around this year.

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