Welcome to our quick guide for word count! If you’re about to query or submit your work, word count is something you should include in your query letter. Word count is a general rubric to show that you’re putting in the work to make sure you’re developing your story enough without being overly wordy or including unnecessary details. It also shows you’ve done your research to know what the word count is for a given category and genre. Now, of course, these are just guidelines and not hard and fast rules. Some stories (even debuts) do fall outside of these ranges, but there needs to be a really good reason for it.
Adult Fiction: 75,000 – 100,000
In adult fiction, it’s usually more contemporary or quieter (e.g. no speculative elements). Therefore, while it can run up to 100,000 words it’s usually not more as it relies on an already existing world/setting and relationship dynamics.
Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy/Speculative: 90,000 – 125,000
Adult speculative fictions can be epic with huge worlds and whole magic systems. In order to allow for descriptions of these news worlds, the word count allowances are generally higher.
Contemporary: 50,000 – 75,000
Just like adult fiction, YA contemporary is set in a modern world with relatable relationship dynamics and quick references that are easily recognized by the reader. Therefore, it doesn’t require as much exposition to set up the world.
Science Fiction/Fantasy/Speculative: 60,000 – 100,000
Also like Adult, the speculative genres of YA involves a lot of world building and setting up systems of societies or magic that might not be immediately recognizable. This is why the word count can be higher for these novels.
Lower Middle Grade: 25,000 – 40,000
These stories are often quicker and deal with themes of childhood and adventure. Because of their quick pacing they are often told with less words. Characters are closer to 4th grade age than 7th grade.
Upper Middle Grade: 40,000 – 60,000
Upper Middle Grade is a bridge between childhood and coming of age. It also includes many adventure themes, but it can have more complex systems and worlds which would require more descriptions. Characters are closer to the upper-range of MG (around 7th grade)
(Note: For Middle Grade please also assume that speculative genres do warrant higher word count)
The general internet consensus for other forms of fiction (Just a note, I do not normally write in these fiction formats):
Novella: 17,500 to 39,999 words
Short Story: < 7,500 words
And because I always have videos on these topics, here’s my word count video:
7 thoughts on “Word Count Guide”
So helpful to see this all laid out. Thank you! I’ll definitely be referring back to this.
What about between 7,500 and 17,500?
That range is often attributed to “novelettes” though this format isn’t as common as others.
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Would you say, then, that a short story or a novella is easier to market/sell/publish?
I have what might be a silly question. In sample query letters, I always see the word count listed as exact, even numbers. For example, the author might say, “My manuscript is complete at 75,000 words.” I never see lines in queries like “My manuscript is complete at 73, 254 words.” My question is, should a writer edit their manuscript to an exact, even word count, or are these writers rounding up or down for the query letter to give an approximate word count?
You would round up or down depending on how many words you have. So if you have 73,254 just says your MS is 73,000 words. If it was 84,780 then you’d say your MS is 85,000
Thank you so much! 🙂