Word Count, Novels, and Headaches

All right, I just spent an hour researching word count. Again.

Most writers, I hear, tend to write and then query amazingly long novels--150,000 words, 200,000, sometimes 300,000 or more. Publishers prefer most genre fiction for adults to land around 80,000-100,000 words, in case you need the comparison. I really don't know where these people get the words.

With a definitive authorial preference for things like clearly marked scenes, tight third-person (limited omniscient) perspective without exceptions, just enough description to give a visual feel to the writing (NO more), and what Tolkien called "unexplained vistas", I have the opposite problem: my work tends to run on the short side. According to various sources on the internet, looking at the most reputable ones I can find: A young adult novel should be in the 50,000-80,000 range. I'd like to shoot over 60,000 with this book. I'll be lucky to hit that.

The fact that there are multiple ways to estimate word count is not helping my headache.

There are two chapters and a little bit left to rewrite in my story, with chapters running 3-4,000 words by Open Office's (overestimating) counter.

If I format in Times New Roman (yes, 12 point double-spaced with 1" margin all around), my current 155 pages x 250 words = 38,150 words. (Open Office gives me a word count of about 350 per page in this format, however, and it's not that far off.)

If I format in Courier New, I have 204 pages x 250 words = 51,000 words (except that I can't seem to figure out how to make Open Office put 25 lines to a page and keep a 1" margin all around. Open Office counts about 230 words per page in this format.)

Open Office's counting tool gives me a current word count of 47,425.

Google Docs gives me a current word count of 45,647.


For the rest of you tormented souls, here's the best post I've found on the subject. As for me, I think I'm done headaching about it. When I go to query, I'll use my software word counter and round the dang thing off.

P.S. And if my critiquers tell me that my word count troubles are due to thin plot rather than "definitive authorial preferences," I will be rewriting again before I query. Oh, yes.


  1. Well, if you write 60,000 words (or even a bit less) you'll be right in the range! No fear!

    I hadn't seen Tolkien's "unexplained vistas" quote before (maybe I'd heard of it?), and it intrigues me. I'm guessing this is a reference to the fact that he created so much history and culture that never actually appears in LOTR, but is instead hinted at. But then, how much of this history and culture is "necessary" to create? And how do we incorporate this into a story so that it appears that there is much more depth than what appears in print? How are you going about that?

    Too many questions!

  2. David, great questions! They intrigued me so much that I decided to do a whole post on them. Enjoy!


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