Dear Editor – Word count requirements confuse me. Should I try to reach a certain number before I submit my novel? Does it really matter? —Rob, Studio City
Dear Rob – An ideal reference for word count is SCBWI’s annual publication, The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children, available to SCBWI members at https://www.scbwi.org/online-resources/the-book/. The printed version is a bargain at $6.25 plus shipping, or download the PDF for free.
In the 2016 edition, information about a book’s expected length is located on page ten. The guidelines are stated in page counts rather than word counts. To convert them to word count, calculate ~250 words per page, double-spaced, in 12-point black font with one-inch margins. These are some of the guidelines:
MIDDLE GRADE: 100 – 250 pages (25,000 – 62,500 words). Reader age: 8 – 12.
YOUNG ADULT: 200 – 350 pages (50,000 – 87,500 words). Reader age: 12 and up.
In the Writer’s Digest’s Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 2016, Marie Lamba’s article, “Middle Grade vs. Young Adult: Different Audiences, Different Styles” lists the word-count guidelines as follows:
MIDDLE GRADE: 30,000 – 50,000 words (longer for fantasy or complex world-building). Reader age: 8 -12.
YOUNG ADULT: 50,000 – 75,000 words (longer for fantasy or complex world-building). Reader age: 13 – 18.
As you can see, depending on the source, figures will vary.
IN SUMMARY Knowing word-count expectations saves time because you can aim for that range while you are writing. It’s disappointing to spend years perfecting a manuscript only to find your word count far out of bounds; you’ll either have to revise or hope your piece is the exception to the rule.
When word counts are specified (such as in magazine submissions or writing contests), nonadherence usually results in disqualification.
When word counts are not specified, it’s advantageous to be a savvy writer, aware of the industry standards and submit accordingly.
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Answers by Christine Van Zandt, SCBWI’s Kite Tales managing co-editor and freelance editor at Write for Success, www.Write-for-Success.com