On Word Count

Over on tumblr, endlessdreamer13 asked: I keep worrying about word count and length. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help but worry that the finished product will be too short. It’s an upper middle grade that’s currently 25k with about 4 chapters left. How do you stop focusing on the finished product? and

I have a short story, around 17k. It’s either too short or too long, so I have no idea what to do with it. It’s ya and is a sort of retelling of beauty and the beast. With a same-sex relationship.

I often see writers on the internet worrying about word count and the length of their stories/novels, so endlessdreamer13, you are definitely not alone. First, let me share with you this extremely useful post from literary agent Jennifer Laughran, titled “Wordcount Dracula” (heehee) which should answer all your specific technical word count questions.

Count Von Count in all his glory

So for your middle grade book, you’re coming in at the bottom end of the minimum word count length — that’s great! No problems there with word count, so you don’t need to worry about it.

For the short story, the main problem is not the word count at all; it’s that there is virtually no YA short story market to speak of. So you could write a perfect YA short story and never be able to sell it because YA short stories are hardly ever published outside of anthologies, which normally you must be invited to contribute to.

[Sidebar: According to the Science Fictioin & Fantasy Writers of America, which does give awards for short stories, a short story is less than 7,500 words. So your 17,000-word retelling would fall into the novelette range. Details here.]

That’s not to say you could never get a YA short story published. There are lots of new, innovative things happening now with ebooks and online magazines, and it’s totally possible! But I’m going to guess that if you want to publish a short story, you’d be better off focusing on the adult market — and there is an adult market for fantasy and science fiction short stories. (Here is info from SFWA, again, on where you can submit your short stories.) Be aware that a 17,000-word novelette may not fit into these markets, which are generally seeking short stories.

If you don’t feel that your 17,000-word tale is suitable for shortening into a “short story” or lengthening into a novel, you have the option of self-publishing it. That’s a whole different can of worms, but there are a lot of resources online if you want to look into self-publishing.

Personally, I love the 10,000 to 20,000-word novella length. The ebook novella I've written, “Natural Selection,” that will be released on Sept. 1 falls right into that range. I think there’s a lot that can be done with that length, and I think that with the growth in digital publishing, we might finally have a place to publish those kinds of tales. At least, I hope so! Good luck with whatever you choose to do!

P.S. Yay for queer Beauty and the Beast!