Manuscript Editing and Word Count

manuscript editingHow Many Words Are “Just Right?”

Manuscript editing involves much more than correcting grammar. A book editor should be familiar with various genres and know the ballpark word count recommended for each. I’m often asked, “How long should my nonfiction novel/memoir/biography/fantasy/historical/novella be?”

I could easily suggest 55,000 to 100,000 words, but that’s too easy. Each genre has its own industry standard. Knowing the industry standard is key.

I must shout out an excellent blog post by Chuck Sambuchino at Writer’s Digest — one of the best at explaining word count requirements. Sambuchino’s recommendations are as follows, but visit his article to see the entire scope:

Adult novels (literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller, horror): 80,000 and 89,999 words

  • Sci-fi and fantasy: 100,000 – 115,000 words
  • Middle grade fiction: 20,000 – 55,000 words
  • Young adult fiction: 55,000 – 79,999 words
  • Picture books: 500-600 words (32 page count)
  • Westerns: 50,000 to 80,000 words
  • Memoirs:  80,000-89,999 words

In fact, check out the Reader’s Digest website for writing tips, manuscript editing tips, and some great interviews with authors and literary professionals. I’ve been a fan of the site forever.

Another Good Source

By the way, I’m also a fan of The Write Life, which is filled with inspiration and advice for writers. Blake Atwood at The Write Life also weighs in with word count recommendations, and goes a bit further by breaking down subgenres. Check out his article in its entirety to get the full low-down on word counts.

General

• Flash Fiction: 300–1500 words
• Short Story: 1500–30,000 words
• Novellas: 30,000–50,000 words
• Novels: 50,000–110,000 words

Fiction Genres

• Mainstream Romance: 70,000–100,000 words
• Subgenre Romance: 40,000–100,000 words
• Science Fiction / Fantasy: 90,000–120,000 (and sometimes 150,000) words
• Historical Fiction: 80,000–100,000
• Thrillers / Horror / Mysteries / Crime: 70,000–90,000 words
• Young Adult: 50,000–80,000

Children’s Books

• Picture Books: 300–800 words
• Early Readers: 200–3500 words
• Chapter Books: 4000–10,000 words
• Middle Grade: 25,000–40,000 words

Nonfiction

• Standard Nonfiction (Business, Political Science, Psychology, History, etc.): 70,000–80,000 words
• Memoir: 80,000–100,000 words
• Biography: 80,000–200,000 words
• How-to / Self-Help: 40,000–50,000 words

More on Manuscript Editing and Word Count

Although I suggest authors produce word counts within the suggested frames, there have been instances when word counts broke barriers.

Question: What book series has spanned the highs and lows of word counts?

Answer: The Harry Potter series.

Take a look at the disparity:

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — 76,000 words
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — 85,000 words
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — 107,000 words
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — 190,000 words
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — 257,000 words
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince — 168,000 words
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — 198,000 words

Takeaways

Emerging authors should stick with recommended word counts. Once you have a literary agent, or have successfully self-published, you may have some leeway regarding the length and robust aspects of your manuscripts. However, remember that industry standards and literary guidelines exist for a reason, and readers have come to expect a specific book thickness when they order online or pick up a copy.

Have questions?

Contact me for help! Melanie Saxton | melanie@melaniesaxtonmedia.com

About the Author

Hi! I'm fortunate to be one of those creative types who work in the world of words. I knew very early on that I would be a freelance writer and editor. What I didn't know was that I'd end up interviewing some of the most fascinating public figures around! I also write about wonderful community-minded people who are making a difference in the world. I'm an English major and proud alumnus of University of Houston. Through the years I've studied various writing and reporting disciplines and have built a career writing papers, press releases, announcements, speeches, toasts, newsletters and obituaries. I've also written many magazine articles for some of the best publications around. As a ghost writer, online editor, contributing editor and news reporter I've learned a thing or two about people and the stories they feel compelled to share. I love teaching what I know best. As an English tutor (ESL and Special Education) as well as a certified English, Language Arts and Reading teacher, I share insights into the writing disclipine. I earned my teaching credentials well after establishing a writing career. Bringing real life experience into a classroom is very rewarding, especially when working with special needs students. I specialize in editing, ghost writing or co-writing books for aspiring authors. And yes, I have a couple "Great American Novels" of my own percolating at this point. The advice any good writing expert will give is, "Finish what you start." We'll see as time goes on if my own books end up on your Kindle. If you are over your head with a writing project, consider hiring an editor. That's what we do . . . a good writer / editor's job is to make your manuscript, press release, article, speech or paper sparkle.

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