A Writer's Journey

April 9, 2012

Word Counts

When I started writing my novel(s), I was focused on my page count. Especially with “Through the Mists.” Then I started a preliminary search for agents. And looked about how to write a query letter. I also joined Book Country. The more research I did, the more I realized one important thing: it’s not the page count that matter, it’s the word count. That’s what agents and publishers ask for when you query them.

Let’s look at some word counts of published books:

Persuasion, Jane Austen: 87, 978

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway: 67,707

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee: 99, 121

The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger: 73, 404

A Separate Peace, John Knowles: 56, 787

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy: 587, 287

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne: 63, 604

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury: 46, 118

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf: 63, 422

The Lord of the Flies, William Golding: 59, 900

Since my next project is Young Adult, let’s look at some YA series as well. First up is Harry Potter:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: 76, 944

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: 85, 141

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: 107, 253

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: 190, 637

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: 257, 045

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: 168, 923

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: 198, 227 (approx.)

Now is the Twilight series (which I will never read):

Twilight: 118, 501

New Moon: 132, 807

Eclipse: 147, 930

Breaking Dawn: 192, 196

And the Hunger Games and sequels (which I do wish to read):

The Hunger Games: 76, 800

Catching Fire: 80, 000 (approx.)

Mockingjay: 100, 269

I’ve never focused on word counts as a reader. Most of us probably don’t. But now I am. Why?

Projects One (“Through the Mists”) and Two (“The Wedding Game”) were started with no word count in mind. Right now Project One stands at over 77,000 words and Project Two is about 66K+. I found that when I was writing the first three or so chapters, I thought the stories would be longer than they really are. So my pacing was a lot slower in them.

So, I decided to set a word count goal for Project Three (“The Conference House”). I hoped that knowing I had a limit would help me pace things faster. And do something with my tendency to be too wordy.

So, wish me luck!

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10 Comments »

  1. That was an excellent post today. I really enjoyed it very much. Thanks for sharing your writing.

    Enjoy writing? We would love for you to join us!

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    Comment by Writing Jobs — April 9, 2012 @ 12:47 am | Reply

  2. I am slightly obsessed with wordcount, too. I am working on my first novel, and have about 45k words written already. About another 2k every day…

    Comment by T. Z. Wallace — April 20, 2012 @ 2:06 pm | Reply

  3. Just to make a point, I’d like to say that I have a Master’s degree in English, I am a professional writer, a novelist, and a screenplay writer. I also said I would never read the Twilight series. I am currently reading it, quite unexpectedly, and I regret being such a prude about it. While her writing skills are not up to par, her skills in plot development are superior. She is a writer who should be recognized, particularly because she never considered herself a writer, and the gods apparently smiled upon her from out of no where and gave her a story that created her an empire. Who would have thought? Lesser writers, like myself, should be envious, at the very least, of her great gift of a story. Her novels are a great lesson in plot development, conflict, and romance, again, if nothing else. Recommended for aspiring writers of our generation. Highly.

    Comment by C. Lynn Kamm — May 10, 2012 @ 2:56 pm | Reply

  4. Also, thanks for the great word count list! Do you by any chance have the source information for this? A fellow writer was looking for this information. Thanks!

    Comment by C. Lynn Kamm — May 10, 2012 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

    • While there have been times where I’ve said “never ever” and then ended up enjoying something–be it a book, movie or tv show–I am confident that I will not be picking up the books. I was at college when Twilight was first published and therefore unaware of books that were not on my curriculum. Curious about this sudden phenomenon, I turned to my friends. They know my tastes and warned me away, mostly due to the characters. I trust them, especially as the more I learned about Twilight, the more turned off I got. I do not begrudge Meyers her success even if I don’t understand the appeal of her series.

      And it comes down to being subjective. You may think that Twilight is an excellent example of plot development while I think Harry Potter is–and also of character development.

      As for the word count websites, I’ll have to get back to you. I recently updated my browser to IE9 and can’t find my history tab. So I have to go through everything again, but I’ll find my sources. Just asking you to be patient.

      Comment by mackenziew — May 10, 2012 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

  5. C. Lynn Kamm

    This is the website where I got some of the word counts: http://indefeasible.wordpress.com/2008/05/03/great-novels-and-word-count/

    The rest I got by Googling the book name and “word count”

    Comment by mackenziew — May 11, 2012 @ 4:31 am | Reply

  6. First of all it says what most movie industry insiders know.
    Harry Potter mesmerizes with his hidden magical powers
    that help him successfully overcome scary dark forces.
    But the one prize they still seek is the one most valuable
    to Voldemort: Harry Potter.

    Comment by harry potter and the chamber of secrets summary — November 12, 2012 @ 8:34 pm | Reply

  7. Thanks for this post. I’m at 51k for my first novel, expecting to get to about 70k by the end, and it looks like I’m ok with that amount. When I heard that the Mistborn series was running in the low 200k I despaired, but you have helped me gain some perspective. Thanks!

    Comment by technospiritualist — March 14, 2013 @ 3:57 pm | Reply

  8. […] Just for kicks (and because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed making graphs to placate my muse), I’m including this graph which measures the opening weekend gross dollars of each film per word from their respective source novel. You can imagine where this is going. Word counts obtained from Better Storytelling and A Writer’s Journey. […]

    Pingback by Harry Potter and the Cinematic Trend of Partitioning Films | Jessy Cheung Writes — January 8, 2015 @ 12:09 pm | Reply

  9. Great article! An agent just told me recently that when assessing queries her judgement is that anything over 100,000 words for YA is too long.

    How did project 3 work out?

    Bethan (http://bethanscott.com)

    Comment by The Writer — July 4, 2015 @ 8:21 am | Reply


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