We all have different stories to tell. Some of us stay in the realm of Fantasy, writing for kids who love to visit the worlds created in our books. Other writers stay truer to life and the reality that surrounds us.
Which genre to write in is a matter of personal preference. Whatever genre that may be, the important thing to keep in mind is who you are writing for: Middle Grade (8-12 years old), Young Adult (teen), Adult, etc. Each category pertains to an age group and has its own guidelines put forth based on research done within the individual readerships. Such general standards can be broken if you are a seasoned writer whose books have already been published, but if you are new to writing and querying, you may want to stay as close to the standards as possible.
Let’s take the Middle Grade category to explain a little further what I mean. Middle Grade as a category is for children, ages 8-12 (there are always exceptions but this is the standard). The word count for Middle Grade audiences is somewhere in the range of 30,000-50,000 according to Brian Klems’ (online editor of Writer’s Digest @BrianKlems) blog post: The Key Differences Between Middle Grade vs. Young Adult.
Lucky for me, you are given some leeway when it comes to writing in the genre of fantasy, in order to provide for the need to world-build.
When I wrote the first draft of my book, Adeline and the Mystic Berries (Middle Grade Fantasy), I was looking at an ending word count of about 60,000 words. Not too much over the 50,000 high-end. Especially when you factored in that my book needed world-building, thus eating up some of that word count. Still, being that this would be my first book ever submitted for publishing, I didn’t want any red flags to be raised when agents were reading my query letters. For this reason, I kept my word count in mind during the editing process.
As I wrote, rewrote, revised, and continued to edit, I found there were parts that could be cut. As William Falkner put it, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings” and it was time to get friendly with that button on the upper right portion of my keyboard: delete.
It is tough to cut scenes and words that took such creativity and thought to create. For this reason, it is important to save your drafts separately. You will never really lose those words you worked so hard to write. They just may not make the final cut. Consider them deleted scenes as you often see in movies under: Special Features.
Some of these could even see the light of day through short stories or novellas you write, after the book has been published. Many fans will want to eat up anything you can give them about the background information of the characters they love or the locations your stories take place. Blogs are great for giving the die hard fans what they want: more of the characters, more of the story.
In an attempt not to “Overshoot my word count” I will wrap this up with one last thought. Don’t feel like cutting 10,000 words or more is a sign of failure. You want your audience to have the stamina to get through your book and love it from cover to cover. A nine-year-old reading in the Middle Grade category may not be able to read a 75,000-word book just yet. You want to write for the largest number of people within your potential audience.
Your manuscript will be coveted even more by agents when your word count proves you’ve done your research on the standards for your book’s category and genre.
Have you kept word count in mind when writing your own stories? How many words have you had to cut from your books to fit them into the market standard? Do you feel this helped or hurt them?