Ask Daphne! About Word Count

November 12th, 2009 • Kate

chanel-shoes1If you’re going to have numbers on your feet, you could do a lot worse than these Chanel Number 5 beauties! For S.C., who writes:

I was wondering if you would be able to answer a quick question I have been wondering about. I’ve heard that YA’s are anywhere from 40K to 60K word count. Do agents prefer it be in the middle (around 50K)? Is it bad to be on the short side (right around 40K)?

If you can tell your entire story in 40,000 words, why pad it? You’re just writing words that will have to be edited out later. Then again, you may need 60,000 to tell the story you want to tell — to make the characters jump off the page.

Like a lot of the advice I give on this blog — and a lot of the advice the many other fantastic agent bloggers provide — feel free to take this with a grain of salt and a “your mileage may vary.” For every slim YA novel on the shelves there’s a literal behemoth.

Try to remember it’s not the quantity of the words, but the quality. Am I going to turn down a YA novel because it’s too short at 40,000 words? Not if every one of those words feels appropriate.

Now, 20,000 words — that’s another story. A short one.

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6 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About Word Count”

  1. Rissa Watkins Says:

    I'm sorry, I couldn't read the actual post because I couldn't tear my eyes away from those gorgeous shoes. I want them. Sure I work from home and would be wearing them to pick up the kid from school but dangit, I would have the cutest shoes of all the moms!

  2. Stephanie W. Says:

    Thanks so much for answering my question, Daphne! 🙂

  3. Stina Says:

    Being a fast walker, I couldn't even begin to imagine wearing those shoes. I'd only sprain my ankle if I try.

    The same word count question came up frequently during the LA SCBWI conference this past August. Actually, it came up as often as the 'sex in YA novel' question. In other words, frequently. Jennifer Hunt (senior editor with Little Brown)said it best. Your book should be as long as it needs to be. There are a lot of great YA books that are greater than 70,000 words (Sarah Dessen and Sarah Ockler, for starters). SD's more recent books are in the 100,000+ range (though definitely not recommended for new writers). And Lisa McMann's book Wake, is around the 40,000 mark.

  4. Kristi Says:

    I was going to give Lisa McMann as an example of a shorter YA but Stina beat me to it. My YA is 54,000 right now, but after final edits it may be a tad longer – however, I didn't try to make it a certain length. I told the story in the way that felt right to me and that's where the word count fell, so I think the advice is right that your book should be as long as it needs to be. Happy Friday!

  5. Kaite Says:

    Right, while I completely agree with what everyone has said about their not being a 'right' number for a YA novel, I will say that- having just had our query letter critiqued by Ms. Unfeasible- one of the comments we received most frequently was that 90,000 words sounded way too long. So, it seems that while there is no standard, big numbers, particularly for first time authors, are not as well received.

    Good luck with your novel whatever the length!

  6. Kaite Says:

    Wow, am embarrassed to notice the 'their' and 'there' mistake in my post. My apologies.