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What’s In a Word Count?

A couple years back, I started writing a novel. (It’s still…in progress. Ahem.) I remember assigning myself a daily word count—I wanted to write 1000 words a day minimum.

That’s one of the “do’s” I recommend to our clients: When you’re writing a book, it can be a great help to assign yourself a daily word count for every writing day. Keeping track of how many words you’ve written, rather than how “good” those words are, is a great way to keep yourself motivated.

Back to my Hemingway days… At a certain point early in the process, I remember checking the word count that’s always running in the footer of the Microsoft Word screen. I was both thrilled and pained.

On the upside, I had written 12,000 words!

On the downside, I had been in book publishing enough to know that 12,000 words does not a novel make. A novella? Maybe. A short story? Possibly. But a novel? Not quite.

I talk to clients all the time who call to say they’ve written a book and need some help with it. One of the first questions I ask is how many words the book is. Too often the reply comes, “I don’t know, but it’s 27 pages long.”


Twenty-seven pages is not long enough to count as a traditional book. It’s more of a pamphlet. Which is fine, if what you want is a pamphlet. But if you’re hoping to be published by a traditional house, or to generate media attention for your book, you’ll need to beef that word count up significantly.

Word Count Cheat Sheet

While every book is different, here’s a little cheat sheet to give you an idea of how many words authors are packing into their books:

  • How-to/Self-help/Spirituality: 50,000-70,000
  • Memoir: 60,000-80,000
  • General Fiction: 75,000-100,000
  • Genre fiction (Romance/Science Fiction/Crime): 100,000 words-ish
  • New Adult (YA Fiction): 50,000-70,000
  • Children’s books: 800-2,000 (more about children’s book word count)

It bears mentioning that these word counts are averages. And I often recommend that first-time authors—especially those who are planning to self-publish—aim for the shorter side of the average.

Why? Most of us contemporary humans have a lot competing for our precious time and attention. Show us a skinny little 40,000-word book and we’ll see time in our schedule to fit it in. You’re more likely to sell a book—and have that book get read—if you can get your readers to think, “Hey! I could read that on a plane ride/while the kids are napping/on my lunch break.”

So how many words have you written so far? Leave us a message below! We’d love to hear from you.