Word count: How Long is Too Long?

Is there even such a thing as too long when you're writing a book? I mean, the story is what it is right? Well . . .

I'm a dual genre writer, fantasy and young adult and when I crossed over I wasn't sure what the word count in young adult should really be. My first fantasy novel began as a 160,000 word behemoth. At the time I had no idea that word count was way over the top and likely the reason a lot of agents turned it away. The word epic came up a lot in my first rejection letters.

I was tremendously lucky that an agent saw something sparkling brilliantly beneath the mountain of words. His critiques taught me how to tone down, cut back, and reveal the true beauty of the novel. But at 140,000 words, it is still considered by most to be a really long novel. As far as the fantasy genre goes though, it's still long, but not too bad.

When I wrote my first young adult novel it surprised me by ending at around 73,000 words. I thought I'd done something wrong, left something out maybe. I was afraid no one would buy such a short novel. Then I started researching the average length of young adult novels and reality sank in. I was right in the average! Considering the story felt very complete, that was a huge relief.

So how much do you really need to stress about word length? That depends on your agent, or the agents you plan to submit to. Editors can tweak things like word count on a page to make your book seem either longer or shorter. Pick up a few different books off your shelves and count how many words are on a page. The variation may surprise you. One book may have 250 words a page and another may have 500. It all depends on font size and spacing. However, be forewarned that many agents may not be willing to take on the daunting task of a 115,000 plus word novel.

Here is one agent's take on word count: http://www.johnsonliterary.com/blog/2009/7/14/a-word-on-word-count.html Considering I have trouble keeping an adult novel under 130,000, I must admit, I just about spit my coffee all over my poor laptop when I read this. However, this is something I'll be working on in the future!


  1. My historical romance novel is 120,000+ words. My contemporary (paranormal) romance is, I think, around 70 or 80,000 words.


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