by Alison Clifford
Word counts are something all writers become familiar with. It’s one of those things no writer can escape—it will always play a role eventually.
A word count is simply the number of words in a body of work. Authors who write for traditional publishers will often aim for a specific word range, while indie authors can be more flexible. Copy writers, journalists, and those looking to submit to magazines have to be strict with a word count—too many or too few will cause serious difficulties with layouts, so editors make sure any item length is just right.
There are many different sets of guidelines for word counts when it comes to creative writing. Publishers will set guidelines for different genres, and different groups will state different counts for various works. The below word counts come from the ALLi website and were debated amongst members, and a consensus reached.
Novel – at least 40,000 words
As stated above, counts can vary greatly from genre to genre. Fantasy books are often over 100,000, while romance can often be at the low end of the range. Most traditional publishers require a word count of 80,000.
Novella – 17,500 to 40,000
Novellas are short novels.
Novelette – 7,500 to 17,500
A long, short story, or very short novel.
Short story – under 7,500
These can vary greatly and publishers putting together anthologies will usually state the length required.
Flash fiction – up to 1,000 words
These are usually a story within a single scene
Needless to say, when you’re an indie author, you can make the book as long or short as it needs to be—one of the many advantages of being your own publisher. Some will argue that readers expect novels to be a certain length, but I think that is changing. Page counts are included in Ebook websites, so the reader can check the length of any work before purchase.
Many writers use word counts as a goal when writing. By this I mean they will set a minimum number of words to write each day, week, or session. It’s a good way to keep momentum going and it’s a method I use all the time. I don’t have a strict daily amount; I set it each time, depending on how I’m feeling and how much time I have. For me, 500 to 1,000 is fairly normal for a week day, and I stretch that out to around 2,000 each day on a weekend. I don’t always hit the goal, but it gives me something to aim for. Most software includes a word counting function, making keeping track easy. When writing by hand it’s usual to work out an average count per page to use as a guide.
One thing the phrase Word Count brings to mind for many writers is NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. This event is held in November every year and challenges each writer to write a novel in the space of thirty days. The word count goal is 50,000 (that’s 1,667 words per day). You reach that target and you are declared a winner—once you’ve verified your word count, that is. It’s a wonderful way of connecting with writers around the country and internationally. I’ve done NaNo a couple of times and won once. It’s a big commitment—50,000 words is a lot!
Having said all of the above, there is one thing any writer must keep in mind—don’t let word counts rule your writing. It’s too easy to add unnecessary words to make the count you’re after, but that only risks ruining the story. Word counts should be used as a tool, not an unbreakable rule.
How many words do my books have? Here’s a list in order of publication, rounded to nearest 500:
Roses – 74,000 (the first draft was 102,000!)
Retribution – 64,000
Seeing Red – 68,500
Deception – 68,000
And the next book will be around 70,000
Remember, one word is one word more than you had before!
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