Goldilocks and the Word Counting Bears

110,000, 100,000, 85,000, 50,000 . . .






What’s your word tally? Did you land in the magic Goldilocks Zone of, this book is just right? Fantabulous. Launch the query campaign. Best case scenario, you’re stoked because an agent or publisher requested a partial. Don’t be fooled, nay-nay. After receiving their constructive criticism, you may still have to boost scenes, chapters, characters, or plot, which might raise the word count again, forcing you to delete, delete, delete. Equally likely, though you first slid into the Goldilocks Zone with just the right amounts of prose and dialogue, you may still have to slice and dice that word count.


Maybe you’re stuck in the book-is-too-short lane. Don’t be all doom and gloom. There’s nothing wrong with a good novella. Not convinced? Lasso some new ideas and objectives. Insert new dialogue. Flesh out your characters. Spice them up with perks and quirks. Add plot twists. Build on story concepts. With any luck, your novella will grow into a novel in no time.


Is your novel in the book-is-bubbling-over-with-too-many-words pot?

Grab your Ginsu knife and commence with a first-rate chopping session. Slice out chunks of exposition. Hack clichés. Give busy words the ax. Prune dialogue tags. Think about severing some of your darlings right out of your story. Though it may be sad and uncomfortable, a good hatchet job does wonders for eliminating words and helping you coast into the Goldilocks Zone.


The average word count for a novel is between 60,000 and 110,000 words. Let’s divvy up the word counts according to genre because genres matter. However, there are always exceptions.


Commercial & Literary Novels – 80,000 – 110,000

Romance – 80,000 – 100,000 (word count for sub-genres vary)

Fantasy – 100,000 – 115,000 (some are as high as 140,000)

Middle Grade – 25,000 – 55,000

Young Adult – 55,000 – 70,000

Western – 45,000 – 75,000

Thriller – 90,000 – 100,000

Mystery – 75,000 – 100,000

Memoir – 80,000 – 90,000

Children’s Books – 250 – 700 (depends on age group – younger – less words/older – more words)


If you’re not an established writer yet, stick to the word counts assigned to the genre you’re writing in. Always check the website of the agent or publisher you’re querying and adhere to their guidelines.

While there are many famous authors who exceed customary word counts, newbies don’t always have the same luxury.



Hi. I'm Liz Ambrico, freelance proofreader and aspiring author. I too am querying agents, editors, and publishers in hopes of becoming a published author.

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I co-founded and managed a successful author and writer group on Long Island for five years. During events with publishers and authors I learned what matters, what agents are looking for, and the benefits and pitfalls of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.

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