The Question of Word Count: Let it Go, Let it Go.

Some of the most common questions I get asked are “How many words should a picture book be?” “How long should my book be if it’s a chapter book? Or a YA novel? Or nonfiction biography?”

 It's heresy to say so, but I actually do think this book is a bit slow to get going.  It's not too long because it's 791 pages, but for my taste, there is a lot of recapping before the story takes off.

It's heresy to say so, but I actually do think this book is a bit slow to get going.  It's not too long because it's 791 pages, but for my taste, there is a lot of recapping before the story takes off.

The answer is, I have no idea, and, to tell you the truth, I don’t care, either.  I guess publishers have a preference for picture books that are shorter rather than longer, but an editor will work with you to pare your picture book down to its essence.  And I have never once looked at word count, or page length, before I started a manuscript .  I was much more interested to start reading and see if the book was good.

 A wonderful YA novel. 116 pages.

A wonderful YA novel. 116 pages.

Joy Peskin, editorial director at FSG Books for Young Readers, says the same thing, but more eloquently. "To be honest, I can't tell you the word count of a single book I have ever edited. I've bought books that felt too slim and asked authors to bulk them up. And I've bought books that felt too long and asked authors to trim them. But "feel" is the operative word. I read the first 25 pages of each ms I am considering. Sometimes those 25 pages seem to go really slowly, and sometimes they fly by. It's about pacing, not page count. My advice to you is this: Tell the story you want to tell the very best way you can. Don't get hung up on page count or word count. It's not about the numbers; it's about the words."

 

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Still, I am not a mean woman (mostly) so I’m willing to pass along the broad guidelines that literary agent to the stars Jennifer Laughran has drawn for what your word counts might be in different genres.  (Though my advice is, pay attention to Sharyn November, Senior Editor at Viking Children’s Books: "I live by this rule: ‘A story takes as long as it takes.’"

 

Without further ado, here it is, Jenn’s tally of some books and their word counts.  Just promise me you won’t take it too seriously.  Go write your heart out in the story you want to tell, and everything else will follow.