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The Word Count Conundrum- A Guide to Word Count for Writers
From:
San Francisco Writers Conference San Francisco Writers Conference
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: San Francisco , CA
Friday, January 17, 2020

 

by Jill Marr, Agent, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency

If you are just learning a new craft, such as knitting, you’d certainly study up on the basic skills and tools you would need in order to knit well–for instance the difference between knitting and purling, getting to know patterned stitches, you’ll want to become familiar with the various terms and techniques, and more.

One does not just sit down and start knitting. But it seems like many writers, after deciding that they want to pen that book they’ve always had in their head, will just pull up a blank Word doc and start writing. It’s important to get going, sure–but it’s also crucial that you do a little research about your genre first. And while it seems like it is not a big deal, knowing your projected final word count is more important than you probably think.

At the Dijkstra Agency many of us use Query Manager for our submissions. In the program, I can easily scan incoming queries to see what the word count is for each manuscript. And lately I’ve noticed that at least a quarter are either much too long or fall way too short (this is the case most often–I’m literally seeing novellas and short stories submitted that the writer is calling a complete manuscript). Unfortunately, unless it’s a concept that I really am taken with and can make suggestions to the writer, it’s a quick pass for me. You don’t have to hit the sweet spot exactly–but you want to come in close.

It takes time, passion, energy and love to write a manuscript. So don’t sabotage yourself right out of the gate by not knowing the parameters in which you should be writing. Study your genre. Read “like” books. And know what is expected.

A Handy Word Count List Per Genre (all are approximate)

Romance: 65,000 to 85,000

Mystery: 80,000 (subgenres like cozies can be shorter, 65,000 to 70,000)

Thriller: 90,000 to 100,000

True Crime: 80,000 to 100,000

Sci-Fi: 100,000 to 120,000

Mainstream fiction: 80,000 to 100,000

Historical fiction: 90,000 to 120,000 (you are “world building” here much like sci-fi so a heavier word count is fine)

Memoir: 65,000 to 90,000

Literary: 80,000 to 100,000

Young Adult: 70,000 to 100,000

Middle Grade: 60,000 to 80,000

Picture Book: 500 to 1,000

Visit us at https://www.dijkstraagency.com/

The San Francisco Writers Conference and the San Francisco Writing for Change conference are both produced by the San Francisco Writers Conference & San Francisco Writers Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit. The SFWC Director is Laurie McLean.  For registration help, contact Richard Santos at registrations@sfwriters.org. For SFWC sponsorship and scholarship opportunities, contact Barbara Santos at Barbara@sfwriters.org.  The SFWC website is:  www.SFWriters.org

 
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