#ContactForm1 { display: none ! important; }

Monday, January 11, 2010

Fighting Weight

0 - 250 words: Flash fiction
250 - 2,000 words: Short-short story
2,000 - 10,000 words: Short story
10,000 - 40,000 words: Novella
50,000 - 120,000 words: Novel

Do these numbers look familiar?

They should. Those are the industry standards for the adult market. If you say you have a novel that's 35,000 words long, you don't have a novel yet. You have a novella. And if you want to publish the work as-is you need to look for the novella markets (think e-publishing).

Even with a manuscript over 50,000 words long you may need to work to fit the novel into the right word count for your genre.

50,000-70,000 words: cozy mystery and some chick-lit
75,000-90,000 words: standard length for most genres (literary, mystery, thriller, scif-fi, fantasy)
90,000 - 100,000 words: high fantasy and military sci-fi
100,000-120,000 words: epic fantasy and space opera (very few debut novels are this length)

Picture books, mid-grade, and young adult novels have their own standards based on genre and the age of the target audience. For the adult market it's best to aim for right around the 80,000 word mark. Go a little higher (90-95,000) for sci-fi and high fantasy.

There are markets for novellas and short stories. Most of them are currently E-book formats, but there are reputable publishers who will want your novella. If your book is perfect at 45,000 words, don't stress, just look for a different venue to publish in.

If you go over the mark, you're in trouble.

Just like in modeling, everyone will forgive the skinny girl but the fat lady won't make the cut. Moonrat has the break down and explanation here. Long story short, you need to trim your novel down to fighting weight.

Welcome back to Editing Warfare for the New Year!


Step 1: Know your weakness
If you aren't already certain which words you overuse head over to Wordle and dump your manuscript in. The largest words are the ones you need to worry about. Character's names should be large. The word "like" shouldn't be.

Step 2: Edit - Find - Delete
Once you know what your binge words are it's time to shoot those suckers down. If you're working in word the magic formula is Edit, Find, Delete. Under the EDIT tab choose FIND, type in your target word and search. Delete whenever possible.

Start by purging the obvious (had, and, like, looked, smiled) and move on to the other words. You won't be able to delete every word on the binge list, but that's okay. A little fat is healthy.

Step 3: To Be Should Not Be
Once the binge words are gone target the passive voice in the same fashion. It doesn't seem like the passive voice would raise your word count, but it does. Limiting your passive voice will help bring the word count down and tighten the prose.

Step 4: Go Under the Knife
This is where it hurts. Look up the editing warfare post "Line by Line". The editing principle here is: Do I need it? Do I love it? Do I have to have it?

The easy way to do this is to read through your manuscript with a red pen handy, or the highlighter tool of word if you want to do this on the computer. Every time you start to skim, highlight. Those are the weak points and that is where you need to focus your energy.

Watch carefully for those sneaky info-dumps. It's easy to waste 1,000 words on info-dump. You're back filling the story and cheating the reader out of some good writing. Instead of telling us why Hero is so fantastic, show Hero being fantastic. There is a difference.

Step 5: Just Say No to Mad Character Love
Admit it, you love your characters. Just a little bit.

And sometimes authors get carried away.

Sure, your character is beautiful, intelligent, funny, and about to save the universe again with nothing but a half-baked lasagna, a bottle of sparkling cider, and a spork but that does not give you permission to write about her hair for more than a sentence.

Read it again: A sentence. Fifteen words or less, people! See how much intro you are giving characters and cut it down.

Stalking photo courtesy of and copyright to ByakuyaKuchiki125

Step 6: Save Early and Save Often
For each novel I edit I have a slush pile. It's a word document where I dump the chunks of story I can't use right now. I might pull sections back during editing because it turns out I did need that conversation. Or I might break the pieces down for parts and reuse the scene in another novel.

The point is that you should save your work. Even as you are chopping thousands of words away in the name of editing and progress, save that writing for later. Even if you are the only one who will read those words again, you can learn something from what you chop.

Step 7: Iron Out the Wrinkles
The irony of all the hard editing is that you will probably need to add words to the edited manuscript to smooth out wrinkles and tears in the fabric of the plot. Don't worry.

When you diet you don't stop eating, you eat within reason. The same holds true for editing and writing. Losing word count doesn't mean an end of writing, it means you end the binge writing and keep things under control.

Remember.... if all else fails, split the manuscript in half and call it a series!

Do you have tips for culling word count?


  1. I think this is all great advice whether you need to "lose words" or not, really...it all equals nice, tight writing. :-)

    As for me, I tend to write on the "skinny side" - I'm normally more concerned with bulking up my drafts rather than cutting them down...

  2. Excellent information. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Jamie - I'll do a post about building word count later if you want. I write on the thin side for my first draft, put too much in the second draft, and have to slim back down for the third.

    Written- Thanks for reading!

  4. Great post! Definitely good to clarify word counts for different genres.

    Cutting words = beta reader helps a lot.

  5. Liana, if you could post on building word count that would help me immensely also. I am always worried my novel will come up to short.

  6. Yuna- I love my beta readers!

    Ryan - I'll put the Building Word Count post on my To-Do list. I'll try to have it up by the end of the month :o)

  7. This is a great post! I'm definitely bookmarking it, thanks for writing!

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.