W Is For Word Count

For the Blogging From A to Z Challenge I’m doing you all a huge favor and filling you in on the 26 Things To Hate About Writing.** I’m hoping by the end of April, I will have convinced all of you not to indulge in the wild insanity of becoming a writer. If I can save even one person from offering themselves up in sacrifice to the mad and fickle word gods, I will have done some good in this world.

Check out each letter’s post here.


How long is a book? One million words? Two million? At least five pages, right? As if writing wasn’t hard enough, there’s no set amount of words that make up a book. Some books are short, some books are long, most fall somewhere in between and here we are, us writers, with no guidance. Would you tell a surgeon to just cut however much he wants? Would you tell a cook to just put however much butter in a recipe he feels like? I mean, butter is great, but you can’t just make a whole cake out of butter. Or can you? Should you? I mean…mmm, butter.

One of the worst things about writing is figuring out how many words make up a book. We wander about, all anxious and squirrelly, being told to shut up and write stuff and then see if it’s long enough. When considering your word count, you should remember:

– The general accepted length of books varies by genre. Fantasy and sci-fi novels tend to be longer than mysteries and romances because you gotta describe spaceships and wizard spells and stuff. However, books still fall outside these guidelines in all genres. How many words should you write? I don’t know. Write at least six words, that sounds about right (that includes the title and your byline).
– Check the guidelines of the agent or publisher you’re thinking of sending the book to. They usually let you know how many words they want. Sometimes they’re not helpful at all though, so just assume between one word and ten million, that narrows it down.
– The word count of your book will change, and maybe dramatically, between the first draft and edits/rewrites. This sucks when you wrote 60,000 words only to discover one paragraph is useable.

Word count is an amorphous thing and you’ll get better at hitting targets the longer you write. Paying attention to guidelines and studying other books in your genre will help. You’ll learn to tailor your stories for the length that’s needed. Or you won’t, and you’ll keep writing encyclopedia-thick books that people only buy to use as doorstops and to reach the butter on the top shelf. It’s too bad there isn’t a publisher out there whose focus is publishing bricks and stepstools. Maybe I should start one, and then I wouldn’t have to edit my books down from their initial ridiculous word counts.

**Disclaimer: If you haven’t figured it out, these posts are pure satire and simply a humorous way to vent my writing frustrations. No offense is intended to anyone. Please, become or continue being a writer. It’s awesome, I swear. It’s super…duper, awesome…heh heh.

Author: Megan Morgan

Paranormal and contemporary romance author.

29 thoughts

  1. *nods* You definitely need at least 6 words. XD And you’re probably not far off with the million word count, taking into account all the deleted parts, editing, revamping, etc hehe.

    I haven’t looked at word count this month at all and you know what? It’s been so freeing! 😀 I’ve just been writing and not worrying if I’m reaching a target word count per day, or per chapter. I definitely have at least 6 words though – I haven’t counted, but I’m pretty sure. 😉

    Here’s my “W” post 🙂 http://nataliewestgate.com/2017/04/wetwork-secret-diary-of-a-serial-killer


  2. One of the reasons I went indie is because I often write historical sagas with ensemble casts, set over long time periods, which traditionally are very long. I honestly don’t understand how any historical novel set over a longer period of time could only be a few hundred pages! I get certain genres, like cozy mysteries and YA contemporaries, tend to be short, but my genre comes from a long, rich tradition of being extremely long. I always tell people the books I deliberately planned and plotted at saga length were written more carefully and tightly than my books under 100,000 words. My shorter books tend to be the ones in most dire need of editing, rewriting, and restructuring, and indeed I’ve rewritten some of those short, older drafts almost completely. They’re still pretty short, but now they have a focus and story arc.


    1. I can totally see why historical needs to be much longer. Things like fantasy and sci-fi tend to be in the much longer range too, because of the world building. It’s interesting how every genre seems to have a ‘standard.’


  3. Then you throw in the fact that ebooks have shortened the traditional lengths. Now you can pass off long short stories as novellas. I tend to write short. Like someone else above I’m a pretty barebones writer, and I have to go back and flesh out details.


    1. Novellas are definitely easier to publish and sell than they’ve ever been. That’s a good thing for voracious readers, who like shorter works now and then when they don’t have time for a whole book.


  4. It seems like now, with publishing for Kindle, that the word count is all over the place. Many fiction pieces would have been short stories before but get individually published. Later the author can collect them together into a book bundle and sell they that way too.


    1. Yes, indeed! The novella has never been so easy to sell as it is now. Back when all reading came in print, no one would print a novella because it wasn’t cost-friendly or easy to sell. It’s great, in a way, that technology lets us explore so many different lengths of story now.


  5. Great theme, perfect for the A to Z Challenge. I have the opposite problem. I write short, bare bones, then have to go back and flesh it out. I struggle to reach count. We all write, but in our own way with our own challenges.


  6. But if I have written the words, I don’t want to cut them. Can I apply to your doorstop publishing house 😉
    Thanks for all the posts this April, they are great fun to read.


  7. One piece of advice I have for word count, is to find your problem words. Words you use a lot that are useless. A few of mine are: just, very, really. I go through and find these words after my first draft and see if removing them makes the sentence better or not. Or if there is a better way to write it.


  8. I entered a writing contest that had a character limit instead of a word limit. Now that really put my overuse of purple prose into focus.


      1. Haha. Create a story containing a minimum of 2500 characters, each one interacting with another. That would be epic.


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