Photo credit: Pierre Metivier via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

A to Z Challenge: O is for Overshooting Your Word Count

Photo credit: Pierre Metivier via Foter.com / CC BY-NC
Photo credit: Pierre Metivier via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

OWe 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.

Photo credit: jaci XIII via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: jaci XIII via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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.

Photo credit: reebob via Foter.com / CC BY-NC
Photo credit: reebob via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

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?

Photo credit: Michael Comeau via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: Michael Comeau via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

14 thoughts on “A to Z Challenge: O is for Overshooting Your Word Count”

  1. Julianne, the whole word count thing is a huge problem for me. I have been quite interested in writing for kids but realized that my vocabulary and length was better suited for adults.
    I totally overshot the mark for the A-Z Challenge and clocked up around 68,000 words which I wrote over 6 weeks. I was not in good shape at the end and have been making up time with the family.
    However, while I’ve totally blown the word limit for the challenge, I now have the makings of a draft.
    How did the challenge finish up for you?
    I’m by after posting my reflections.
    xx Rowena

    1. Are you going to turn your “Letters to Dead Poets” into a book? You truly wrote something to be proud of with this series of posts. I was amazed at your dedication to the challenge. I thought that I had put in a lot of work, but you take the cake!

    1. Exactly! Better to have too much and be able to whittle it down, than to start with too few. Killing your darlings, can end up being a thing. :) Thank you for checking out the post, Sheila!

  2. I do like the way you have framed this particular matter plus it does indeed give us some fodder for thought. On the other hand, through just what I have experienced, I just hope as the commentary pile on that folks stay on point and in no way embark upon a tirade associated with some other news du jour. Anyway, thank you for this exceptional point and even though I can not really concur with this in totality, I value the perspective.

    1. It is sad, but happens often (from my research on the subject), that an agent looks at a query and immediately scans for the word count and category/genre. If it is the first published work of an author, and the word count is way above the standard, they will move onto the next query, not even reading what the proposed book is about. They have a lot of queries to get through and it can be difficult to sell books that have far surpassed the norm in word count. Thank you for stopping by, Glayds. I hope you come back again :)

  3. I don’t think about word count when I am writing a first draft, but I am very aware of it when I enter the editing phase of a project. Sometimes whole sub-plots have to be cut and sometimes they need to be fleshed out. It’s hard to cut, but the end result is usually a better product.

    I don’t think I could write for middle grade readers. I admire your ability to do so. Kids are so insightful and demand good content at that age.

    1. Thank you! The only non-fiction I will write (and plan to in the future) are How to Crochet Amigurumi books filled with fun patterns to make. Thank you for stopping by, Anna!

  4. If my Word program shows the word count I tend to keep track of where it stands, but otherwise I don’t keep too much track of the count. Of course I’ve haven’t been writing like I should lately so word count has been zero for the most part.

    When I have written I fall so in love with all my words that I hate to cut any of them. I probably shouldn’t grow so attached.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

    1. It’s so hard not to grow attached to our words. I do the same thing with checking on the word count. I won’t let it halt me from telling the story I want to tell, but I’ve noticed, that for the categories I’m writing for, they tend to start wrapping up when they should. Thank you for stopping by again, Arlee!

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