Kill Your Darlings, my darlings: Word Count Goals By Genre And How To Meet Them (Kinda)

Chick Lit is supposed to be 75,000 words? My first draft is 105,000!
Chick Lit is supposed to be 75,000 words? My first draft is 105,000!

I recently read a brilliant piece by my friends at WriteOnSisters (are you not following them? Why not??) that touched on word count.

Agents and publishers have word count goals by genre, and you should be within it – and then the post discussed how to do that in their typically brilliant way.

READ about how to tighten your story HERE

Mystery solved – Here are the goals. (From Writer’s Digest)

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Not really adult but I'm always up for a shameless plug here
Not really adult but I’m always up for a shameless plug here

ADULT NOVELS: COMMERCIAL & LITERARY, including mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller, horror and Chick lit (but chick lit books tend to be a bit shorter and faster, 70-75K)

80,000 and 89,999

Below 70,000:           Too short

110,000 or above       Too long

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Sci Fi Thriller - coming soon
Sci Fi Thriller – coming soon

SCI-FI AND FANTASY

100,000 – 115,000

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MIDDLE GRADE

Middle grade is from 20,000 – 55,000

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YOUNG ADULT

55,000 – 69,999

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Yep, we have those, too
Yep, we have those, too

PICTURE BOOKS

The standard is text for 32 pages, and 500-600 words.

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WESTERNS

50K to 80K. 65,000

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MEMOIR

80,000-89,999

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Learn about critiquing your own work HERE

All that trimming is easier said than done, though, right, my voluminous friends?

My editor
My editor

Here’s the thing, writers: it’s better to have too much than too little, because it’s easier to cut than to add in a meaningful way – so when you use the analysis of “does this advance the plot or develop a character, etc.,” you can also pull a section out and just say it in fewer words.

A 600 word passage about the metaphor of the old barn and the MC’s marriage, while possibly one of your darlings, can easily get boiled down to a few lines – and if you can do that a few times, you’re home free. Just copy paste it into another document, sum it up, and paste it back in.

Simple.

Painful, but simple.

Use the bigger passage for your blog or as a bonus section on your fan page. (It’s okay to cry, just do it when nobody else is home. Funeral services for the deceased passages are not okay.)

Who sees places to cut? ALL of you? And it' s different places???
Who sees places to cut? ALL of you? And it’ s different places???

You can also have your critique partners and beta readers on the lookout for places to cut (and there are always places to cut if you went over 100,000 words). Cut what they tell you to cut. Again, simple but painful.

Usually there’s a long passage in the overworded tome that can go, and sometimes a whole chapter can. (Guilty!) We don’t want to cut it because we worked hard to create it – but that doesn’t mean it should stay. Sometimes WE need that information as writers, but the reader doesn’t. Write it, refer to it when needing guidance about your character, but don’t leave it in the book.

Most of the time when you’re done cutting, readers say the pace is better. That’s a nice way of saying it was too wordy and dragged before, and besides, if it’s too long, readers won’t read it.

Publishers don’t make rules to be mean, they make rules to help sell books.

Help them help you. Follow their guidelines.

And die a little, yeah…

Until…

People are reading your stuff and enjoying it. Then you’ll be alive in ways you never knew possible.

Got a QUESTION? ASK IT! Send it as a comment to any post or hit the Contact Me button and, you know, contact me. I’ll see what I can do. (I have lots of smart friends, too.)

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Mr. Helpful
Mr. Helpful

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the upcoming hilarious and educational “Write Better Books” – wonder what that’s about. Check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.

7 thoughts on “Kill Your Darlings, my darlings: Word Count Goals By Genre And How To Meet Them (Kinda)

  1. I agree, for the most part. As an author and fairly structured person, I think it’s important to have a word goal. We need one to keep our story on track and moving at a decent pace.

    As a reader, I don’t really think about it… never even considered it before I started writing. I only care about how drawn in and entertained I’ll be. If it takes an extra five thousand words for the author to wrap things up, it doesn’t matter… as long as the story is good. That’s the key, in my opinion. Quality over quantity.

    That said, every first, second, and maybe third draft can afford to lose some fluff. And, from the look on your editor’s face, you better set a stronger password for those darlings.😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well for the most of the 16 yrs of my life, or rather 6 yrs of my literary life I should say, I’ve faced the “trauma of word counts” ! You’ve put it down perfectly …it kills to cut down what you’ve written !
    Well I haven’t really paid attention to the thickness of the book…I just read whatever I get and find interesting! So that’s that ..and as for the ‘publisher’ part…I yet need to experience that …n I wish to do it before I turn 18 lol !
    That was a great insight on an author’s life (little but great)!

    Liked by 1 person

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