Faye Arcand, My Twisted Writer Brain…

Why You Need to Keep Word Count in Mind While Writing

The fast answer is You Betcha! But there’s a few things you need to consider when you’re considering the length of your new book.

New writers often ask—how do I know when I’m finished writing my book? 

That’s a bit of a loaded question because you’re the one in the driver’s seat. Is it that annoying age-old question from the back of the car: Are we there yet? When are we going to be there? How come it’s taking so long to get there? 

First, you need to define exactly what you mean by “there”—once that’s done you’ll hopefully have more confidence to know where you are in the process.

Let’s look at word counts. Apparently, there’s a mental alarm bell that goes off in the heads of agents or publishers when the word count gets into six figures aka 100,000+…If you can stop at 99,999 that’s a good thing.

According to Writer’s Digest, a novel is anywhere from 80,000-89,999. That of course is only a ball-park figure as the numbers vary widely. https://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/word-count-for-novels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post

Sci-Fi Fantasy is 100-115K words.

This is open for debate and dependent on the world-building and the caliber of writing. Some go to 124K but then you risk being too long and agents/publishers could shy away. 

Westerns 50-80K

Short and sweet. Ride in on a horse and do what ever else happens in a western… I don’t think I’ve ever read a western themed book. Hmm..

Memoir 80-90K

The thing about memoir is keeping the writing sharp and tight. Often because the stories are our own and we experienced them, unneeded details may sneak in that don’t need to be there. Editing is key.

Middle-Grade fiction 20-55K.

The lower count being for the younger age range which is anywhere from 8-9 years old to 12 or 13.

Simpler (younger age or easy reading with easy vocabulary and linear) middle grade is between 20-25K (like Jenny Jones and the Cupcake Mystery or Bent not Broken)

Young Adult-55-80K

These books tend to be grittier and more involved with more mature subjects like sex, drugs, suicide etc. than in middle grade. Written for an older audience the length goes up a bit. WD says you should aim to stay at 79,999 or risk getting too long. 

Picture Books

Picture books are a standard 32 pages and average around 500-600 words. If you do the math that works out to approximately 15-18 words per page.


The answer to the question Am I there yet? is really up to you.

When you complete the first draft it’s a mish-mash of writing that is the bones or skeleton of a story. Do not make the mistake and think that as soon as you put The End on the final page that you’re done because really you’re just beginning.

The story is written down but now it needs to be cleaned up, fleshed out, and pared down.

The editing process is one that never seems to end. It means doing a rewrite and then another and possibly even another and another. Once that’s done then let some who’s a better writer than you and knows a thing or two about characterization and plot structure read it. Sorry, your mom and best friend don’t count.

Ask your readers to look for things like inconsistencies, plot holes, character problems, or lags. Take the notes from that educated readers (beta readers) and now do another rewrite with their recommendations in mind. There could be things to fix or perhaps just a few sentence edits.

Make sure it’s the best you can make it and then put it aside for a couple of weeks and then pick it up and read it from start to finish. Ahhh…

If there’s still changes you want to make then go ahead and make them and then find peace in knowing that you’ve done your best and it’s time to let your baby fly.

Whether you’re querying for an agent or self publishing, you always want to take the time to put the best work out there because it has your name on it.

Now that you’re finally “there”–go start your next project. What are you waiting for?

10 thoughts on “Why You Need to Keep Word Count in Mind While Writing”

  1. Ah, word count, the bane of my life. I’ve always struggled to make them, and have always only scraped by the minimum amount needed. I always aim for 80,000 for my cyberpunk novels, but I tend to end up at 70,000. The second draft turns that to 65,000, then I’ll have to add in some fluff to pad it up again. Maybe I should outline more lol. Great stuff as usual Faye.

    1. Hey Stuart! I have exactly the opposite problem. I usually end up around 95K. Hmm…is it more difficult to add 10K or trim it? Toss up. Thanks for commenting. So appreciate it. Thanks! xo

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