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What's the Deal with Word Counts?

Word count numbers matter

Word counts, simply put, are the way the literary world categorizes genres. Whether you are traditionally published or indie, these numbers matter. I'm always looking for a way to make things easier for my fellow writer, so I scanned the internet and averaged them all out so we can have them in one place.

Why do word counts matter?

Though these guidelines may have started in the traditional world, they aren't just pulled from nowhere. If a book is severely under or over these parameters, your audience will notice. Think about it. We've all read books that we thought were good but could have been even better if they either weren't as long or had more substance. The reader may not know the specific word count of your book or if it fits into the genre, but they will notice something is off.

Too many words or not enough?

set your writing goals around these numbers!

You don't want to sell yourself short. On the other hand, you don't want to dump a ton of information on your readers. When you have a book that is marketed for Young Adults and it's over 200,000 words, many might think it hasn't been edited to the best of its ability. Editing doesn't mean just taking out typos and words that don't make sense. It's about telling your story in the most concise way without losing any of its punch. If something isn't moving the plot forward, get rid of it. You'll thank yourself later.

Conversely, if you have a Young Adult novel and it's only 20,000 words, it may be an indicator that something is missing. Have you skimped on details? World building? Character development?

In short, word counts help guide you to that sweet spot, the balance between over-writing and not writing enough.

Literary Break Down

Every book has a word count

For this post's purposes, I'm going to be talking about fiction. However, these are averages--your book should be around these numbers; it doesn't have to be exact. Also, if you are querying, it's important to look at what the agent is looking for first. If you're indie, these guidelines change from time to time, so it's important to keep up with what other authors in your genre are doing.

Up to 1,000 words

Flash Fiction: This is the most challenging one for me because the author creates a complete story in sometimes less than a paragraph!

Under 7,500

Short fiction: Meant to be read in a single sitting


Novelettes: A short work with usually a romantic or sentimental theme. These aren't as popular nowadays, but I didn't want to exclude it!


Novellas: A good example of this is Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis. A full story told in a short span of time that is filled with a lot to unpack.

40k and up

Novels: The traditional book you see in shelves on stores.

Genre Break Down

These are the most popular genres and their average word counts.


Young Adult


Adult, historical fiction, and romance


Mysteries, horror, thrillers

Under 150k

Science fiction and fantasy (This one has some exceptions, but generally, these books aren't much longer.)

And for your sharing and visual needs, here are some graphics!

That's all for this week! Hopefully I've made it a little easier for you to keep track of those words!

--Nikki :)

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