When submitting their manuscripts to publishing houses, many authors worry that their manuscript is not the proper length that the company is expecting. While good writing trumps everything, there is a standard word count range that publishers want to see.
The word count of your manuscript is dependent on many factors, the primary of which is genre. The following is a rough breakdown of expected word counts by genre.
Literary – 80,000 to 110,000
Mystery/Thrillers – 70,000 to 90,000
Romance – 40,000 to 100,000
Fantasy – 90,000 to 100,000
Horror – 80,000 to 100,000
Science Fiction – 90,000 to 125,000
Historical – 100,000 to 120,000
Middle Grade – 20,000 to 55,000
Young Adult – 50,000 to 80,000
Biography – 50,000 to 110,000
Narrative Nonfiction – 50,000 to 110,000
Memoir – 50,000 to 90,000
Self-Help – 40,000 to 90,000
Devotional – 30,000 to 50,000
However, rules are made to be broken.
Different publishing companies will have slightly different expectations, and their priority will always be a well-written manuscript, not a word count. In fact, the most successful book series of all time obliterated the expected word count for its genre.
The first two books in the Harry Potter series, which is considered a middle grade book, were 75,000 and 85,000, surpassing the middle grade maximum of 55,000 words. As the series went on, it completely left that word count maximum in the dust, with the longest book at 257,000 words.
However, Harry Potter is the exception, not the rule. It would be unwise to submit a manuscript with double the word count maximum for your genre, especially as a first time author.
So how do you fix it?
If your manuscript is too short, don’t simply go into your manuscript and pad it with fluff. Publishers can easily tell when you’ve added content simply to meet a word count. Instead, try restructuring your manuscript so that you can add more tightly written content. Are there any summaries of scenes or events that you can show instead of tell? Are there any story beats you can expand upon or add?
If your manuscript is too long, start by looking at the easy cuts. Empty words, empty dialogue, unnecessary tags, etc. You’ll be surprised how many instances of words such as “only” and “just” you find. Then, look for chapters, scenes, points, or even sentences that don’t advance the story you’re trying to tell, and cut them. Even on a micro level, sentences can often be trimmed down to only include the information that’s most important.