Be A Word Count Wizard

Antique Writer's FriendsYou’ve likely heard some of these guidelines:

  • “Picture books should be under 500 words.”
  • “Your novel should be 90,000 words — max.”
  • “The sweet spot for middle grade is 35,000 words.”

Each genre and category has its own guidelines for how long (or short) the book should be. If you follow them, your work is more likely to be considered by agents and editors. (If you’re not sure how long your book should be, check out these suggestions from Writers’ Digest and LitRejections.)

But sometimes, what counts in your word count isn’t 100% clear. Do art notes count for a picture book? What about novel prologues?

I’ve talked to several agents and authors to find out what counts in your word count.

Picture Books (typically give an exact word count, though some choose to round)

  • Include: main text
  • Don’t include: art notes, sidebars, backmatter (author’s note, timelines, glossaries, etc.)

Novels (round to the nearest 1,000)

  • Include: main text, prologue, epilogue

Nonfiction proposal (estimated page count and/or word count)

Nonfiction is slightly different since it is often sold on proposal versus with a full manuscript. Your proposal includes the number of pages or words you envision, but the final word count and format will be hashed out with your publisher.

  • Include: main text
  • Don’t include: sidebars, endnotes, bibliography, backmatter like timelines, glossary, index, etc.

Graphic Novels/Comics (estimated page count)

Like nonfiction, graphic novels are often sold on proposal. (Unless you are an author-only, in which case you may have to submit the whole script.) Proposals include estimated page count instead of a word count. Just make sure you’re aware of the general guidelines for the number of panels per page and words per panel. This sample script format from Dark Horse Comics is a good reference.

If I’ve left anything out, let me know in the comments.



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