The Long and Short of It: Book Lengths/Word Counts

Tuesday’s Tutor: Writing tips and answers from The Teacher
EASY AS A, B, C . . . from BB “The Teacher”

On our “Welcome to the ABC Writers Guild” blog, Maren asked “Is there a certain guideline as to how many words are in a chapter? How many words make up a novel? I know nanowrimo is 50,000 but is that standard?”

The answer to the first questions about “guidelines” and word lengths: many books, publishers, editors, agents have suggested lengths for books, but don’t generally specify for individual chapter length Yet all differ from each other on book lengths. And “50,000″ standard?  50K is a short novel.  Chris Baty (the founder of NaNoWriMo) even said it should more rightly be called “a novelette or novella” . . . but it just feels so much better to say “I’ve written a novel”!

In other words, requirements are extremely fluid.  Then there are the “rule breakers”— J. K. Rowling comes immediately to mind.  Her word lengths or page lengths were certainly not the “standard” in anyone’s mind.  Yet she got away with it all.  Like most rules in writing, if you write well enough, you can get away with anything.  In adult books, think Robert Jordan, and now Brandon Sanderson (Utah writer).

That said, Maren, et al., you might like to look at some of the figures. In one book (Lamb, Nancy. The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children, NY: Writer’s Digest, 2001.) “Standard categories & descriptions” were given.  Note the already “dated” material.  And even for 2001, the estimates of ages and pages seemed a little off.  Take everything as only a general rule of thumb:

1.  Picture Books…….3-7 yrs…….(could be 0 words)…….24-32 pages
2.  Easy Readers……..7-9 yrs……1,000-1,500 words……..32-64 pages
3.  Chapter Books……7-10 yrs….1,500-10,000 words…..40-80 pages [8-10 chap]
4.  Middle Grade……..9-12 yrs….10,000-16,000 words..64-150 pages
5.  Young Adult………12+ yrs…..16,000+ words……….120-150 pages

Other sources have broken ages down even more with various word counts:

Toddler…………………..0-500 words
Preschool……………200-1,000
4-8 yrs………………..500-1,500
6-9 yrs……………..2,000-9,000
7-10 yrs………….10,000-20,000
8/9-12 yrs……….12,000-25,000
9-13/10 yrs……..20,000-40,000 — This & next item have contradictory ages
12+ yrs…………..25,000-60,000
Young Adults…40,000-80,000

Nonfiction word counts will also vary, but may be somewhat lower.  (For ease of estimation: a double-spaced page holds approximately 250 words, therefore  4 pages = 1,000 words.)

Another consideration is age level of the reader.  We have all kinds of names for different “age” levels as publishers split and refine their definitions.

Picture books: intended to be read to the child

Easy readers (and similar designations): for very young, still learning, readers

Chapter books: children ready to read more complex stories
— see another Utah writer, Mike Knudson, whose short chapters run 7-15 pages — each chapter includes one full page illustration

Middle Grade (MG): may be grades 4th – 6th

Tween: those “beTween” childhood and teen age
— upper elementary to early middle or junior high school
— may be grades 5th – 7th
— I’m told 8-year-olds like to consider themselves tweens too
— thanks to Hannah Montana?
— As a category, they’ll include light romance, friendship drama
— not the drinking, drugs, sex often found in YA

Young Adult (YA) – usually edgier, now being broken down to younger/older
— or lower/upper teen
— the older the reader, the darker the story

I’ve heard editors/agents say write for the younger teens 12-13 years old
— or write for older teens at 15-18 years old

Wait!  What about 14 year olds?
— That book will die at the first reader’s desk in the publishing house
don’t write for 14 year olds who will read for the “older” teens as ready
— younger teens will stay within the lower parameters

 My general rule of thumb is look at the age of your main character.  Most kids like to read about others a year or two older than they are.  A 13 year old already knows what 13 year olds say, think and do.  They want to know “what comes next?”  That would mean if you’re writing about a 15 year old, 13 year olds would/could be your audience.

See you day-after-tomorrow for Thursday’s 13

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Long and Short of It: Book Lengths/Word Counts

  1. That’s awesome, I learned so a lot. Thank you so much Brenda!

  2. Thanks—sorry it had tro go so long to give you a more complete picture!

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