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
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