The story of the word count I imagine most resembles the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The aspiring writer steps into a publishing house, alluring and mysterious. She sits down at the kitchen table and sees three laptops sitting there. The same title is on each screen, but which to pick? She starts at the first and scrolls through fast. This word count is not enough. She skips to the second laptop, four-hundred pages later she decides she needs a nap, and that this word count is too much. But the writer is most hopeful for the story on the final laptop. She scrolls through, and yes! This word count… is just right.
But what is “just right?” I did a little bit of digging to find out. I was curious to know where my novels come in, if there were any exceptions to these rules, and what the sweet spot might be.
What do the pros say?
Writer’s Digest suggests the following from Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post.
Picture Books: 500 to 600
Middle Grade: 20,000 to 55,000
Young Adult: 55,000 to 79,999
Lit Rejections has a very thorough list that explains everything from Flash Fiction to the Paranormal. Here’s where they come in with our favorites.
Picture Books: 500 to 700
Middle Grade: 25,000 to 40,000
Young Adult: 50,000 to 80,000
Lit Reactor went out and asked agents what their take on word counts were. Here’s what they came up with.
Picture Books: 500 to 700
Middle Grade: 30,000 to 40,000 (up to 50,000 if it’s really special)
Young Adult: 55,000 to 90,000
But these are just estimates, right?
Estimates are all well and good, but what is selling these days? More importantly, what are people reading? The New York Times puts out lists each week of the top 10 Best Sellers in Fiction, Non-Fiction and Children’s. I used these as my base line.
The following books have been on the most recent New York Times Best Seller List for Children’s Picture Books.
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
Word Count: 196
Waiting Is Not Easy! by Mo Willems
Word Count: 197
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin
Word Count: 501
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
Word Count: 903
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
Word Count: 999
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy
Word Count: 1803
The following books have been on the most recent New York Times Best Seller List for Children’s Middle Grade Hardcover.
Word of Mouse by James Patterson
Word Count: 34,556
Pax by Sara Pennypacker
Word Count: 50,076
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Word Count: 73,053
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Word Count: 83,254
The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan
Word Count: 111,544
Note: To give you a sense of where Riordan started, The Lightening Thief was his debut novel and clocked in at 87,223 words, even more than Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which sits at a comfortable 77,325.
The following books have been on the most recent New York Times Best Seller List for Young Adult Hardcover.
This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
Word Count: 54,032
Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simone Biles
Word Count: 60,850
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Word Count: 66,509
Wayfarer by R.J. Anderson
Word Count: 68,167
Note: AR Book Finder categorizes this book as a Middle Grade
Children of Eden by Joey Graceffa
Word Count: 85,701
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Word Count: 102,433
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Word Count: 127,167
It seems that Word Counts run the gamut. In the end, I suppose the best word count is the one that most successfully tells your story. Happy Writing!
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Age Group and Genre