In high school, I had a teacher who always gave the same answer when we asked how long to make our essays.
As long as a piece of string.
That is to say, make it as long as it needs to be. Which is pretty much the most frustrating answer ever.
When it comes to creative writing, to a certain extent, the “as long as it needs to be” mindset holds true. Your novel should be long enough to hit all the important plot points and character arcs, while staying short enough to keep the story focused. There are definitely exceptions when it comes to word counts, but especially for debut authors, it’s nice to have a feel for what’s expected.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time stressing about the “ideal word count,” so I’ve compiled everything I’ve learned here (so you don’t have to!). Keep in mind, all of these are very “give or take” a few thousand words. Remember: Your manuscript should be as long as it needs to be.
Adult novel: Between 80,000 and 105,000 words
Adult fantasy/science fiction: Between 95,000 and 115,000 words
Young adult novel: Between 50,000 and 70,000 words (but YA tends to be pretty flexible)
YA fantasy/science fiction: Between 70,000 and 100,000 words
Middle grade: Between 30,000 and 50,000 words (though I’ve found it varies a ton, as with YA)
New adult: Between 60,000 and 85,000 words
Picture books: Between 500 and 700 words
But how about a few concrete examples? I swear by the AR Book Find database (http://www.arbookfind.com/default.aspx). You can search a huge selection of titles, and it will provide you with the word and page count. In case you’re curious, here’s a sample of recent popular and bestselling young adult/middle grade novels.
The Fault in Our Stars: 65,752 words, 318 pages
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: 77,508 words, 309 pages
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: 198,227 words, 789 pages (because once you’ve become as successful as J. K. Rowling, you can make your books whatever length you want.)
The Hunger Games: 99,750 words, 374 pages
Throne of Glass: 113,655 words, 406 pages
Shiver: 94,502 words, 392 pages
Something Strange and Deadly: 85,872 words, 388 pages
City of Bones: 130,949 words, 485 pages
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian: 44,275 words, 229 pages
It’s Kind of a Funny Story: 80,289 words, 444 pages
Eleanor & Park: 78,179 words, 328 pages
Divergent: 105,143 words, 487 pages (but for a more detailed look at how much this word count changed throughout the revision process, check out Veronica Roth’s website!)
Thirteen Reasons Why: 62,496 words, 288 pages
The Darkest Minds: 137,395 words, 488 pages
So, as you can see, it varies. A lot. Just remember to cover all your plot and character bases, and try not to add words just for word count’s sake. If you have any questions or are curious about other titles, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to find an answer for you!
For more on rough genre guidelines, check out these two sources.
Literary rejections: http://www.literaryrejections.com/word-count/
Chuck Sambuchino’s post on Writer’s Digest: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/word-count-for-novels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post