When someone first begins writing books, one of the first things they learn is that page count is far, far less important on the writing end of novels than it is for the reading end. Books are rarely the same dimensions, whether that be in length, height, or both. Line spacing, margins, font and font size, even the way chapter pages are set, all mean that even if books were the same size, physically, they don’t necessarily have the same word count. The same substance. The same amount of story.
The second thing that a beginning author learns is that it is next to impossible to find the word counts of most books. Wikipedia and Goodreads may have page counts set down somewhere for the curious reader, but nothing for the curious author. That poses a problem in a big way. Because if you ask,”How long should my story be?” the supposedly correct answer is, “However long it needs to be.” This is only true to a point. Have a story too big, and you’re going to be asked to cut it down because more pages means more money to publish and a bigger financial risk to the publishers. Too short, and it’s hard to market as a full-length novel.
When I first started writing fantasy, I looked up on the internet how long a fantasy novel should be. (Key note: word count ranges vary based on genre, 100%.) The answer I’d found to be satisfactory up until recently was a anywhere between 90,000-120,000. Anything longer than that was going to be too big to publish, anything shorter obviously needed to have its plot beefed up. Until I started finding other blogs and sites that did some calculations on word counts like I’m going to do below, and I realized those numbers must be vastly outdated.
Hold onto your hats ladies and gents and all folk in between. Things are about to get statistical.
Allow me to first introduce the sample. When I made these selections, I established a few criteria. First, a matter of logistics: unfortunately, they had to be books I owned a physical copy of, and you’ll see why shortly. Second, they had to be distinctly fantasy. Urban/paranormal fantasy counts, of course, as you’ll notice on the table below. Third, I did not choose any sequels. I only chose the first books in a series or standalones. (I thought I had two of those, but A Song Below Water is, in fact, going to be a series. So whoops.)
This is admittedly a relatively small sample size. I’m not going to disagree with you on that. But if it gets me any bonus points, it took me two full hours to calculate the word counts of just these ten. (You’ll see why in a little bit.)
|Harry Potter #1||Yes||Urban||Series||YA|
|A Song Below Water||No||Urban||Series||YA|
|The Raven Boys||No||Urban||Series||YA|
|Tess of the Road||No||Epic||Standalone||NA|
|Six of Crows||No||Epic||Series||YA|
|Eye of the World||No||Epic||Series||A|
Explaining the Categories
Debut novels are, generally speaking, going to feature a smaller word count. That can be seen in the ever-expanding size of the Harry Potter books, but it makes sense from a publishing stand-point. A debut author is untested, probably has little to no fan-base starting off. The smaller the book, the cheaper it is to print, and the smaller the losses if the prints don’t get bought. Beginning authors with lengthy manuscripts may want to consider either paring it down or holding off that particular story until they have some form of track record in book sales to back up the heftier page count.
This is just a matter of logistics, something I’ve mentioned before in blog posts. Epic fantasy requires a lot of words to establish the setting in which the book takes place. Urban fantasy can usually have a smaller word count because they don’t have to explain earth concepts to the reader; just the non-earth ones. The magical creatures and what little magic system might be involved.
This may not play as big of a role as the other categories, but when I first began this little project, I was curious to see if standalones could be longer. It makes sense, in a way, because you have to fit a whole narrative arc in a single book. You may also have to establish more setting information more quickly because it all has to happen in one book. But even if we can count A Song Below Water as a standalone–and, in a way, perhaps you could, because the sequel is going to be from a different PoV, so A Song Below Water is a narrative that can stand on its own–the two books on the list wind up being the shortest books of their respective subgenres. Sorry. Spoilers.
The exact nature of the effect this category might have on word count was a little unclear. I would say that young adult books tend to be shorter, have a slightly more simplified narrative, especially in comparison to adult books. New adult is a new audience range, at least in terms of marketing, so one could expect them to be a middle ground between YA and adult. Its newness also makes it hard to say if a book should be identified as NA, or if it’s better fit with YA (Like Tess of the Road), or adult (like the Magicians).
Alright. I know, I know. If you liked math, you probably wouldn’t be a fantasy writer. But I promise, this makes sense.
In order to get the most accurate total word count, I used the format of three different pages in my calculation. First, obviously, I chose a random page and typed out in a Google Doc all the words on that page. Secondly, I chose a random chapter page and typed that up too. Chapter pages tend to have a lot less text because of the header formatting. Thirdly, I tried to find a last page of a chapter that was sort of middle ground to account for other such pages in the books that are shorter and longer.
If you wanted to find some of your own numbers, fair warning, the typing up will take the longest, even if you’re fast typer like me. Obviously each chapter is going to have a first page and a last page, so the first step is to multiple the number of chapters to the chapter page and end page word counts. That’s two pages per chapter you’ve already “counted,” so the next step is to subtract the total number of pages by twice the number of chapters in the book. Then you take the remaining word count and multiply it by the word count of the regular page. Finally, add the total regular page word count with the short page word count and viola.
If, somehow, this makes it easier to understand, here’s the equation: [(# of ch.’s * ch. pg wc)+(# of ch.’s * end ch. pg wc)] + reg pg. wc[# of pgs – (# of ch.’s * 2)]=total wc. Then I just rounded to the nearest thousand to account for any variability in page word count from any pages containing more dialogue, or more description, fewer paragraphs, more paragraphs… All the things that allow for more or fewer words to land on a page.
|Reg. page wc||ch. page wc||end ch. page word count||# of pgs||# of ch.’s||Total wc (rounded)|
|Harry Potter #1***||309||17||77,000|
|A Song Below Water||370||234||251||286||20||101,000|
|The Raven Boys||294||226||218||408||48||113,000|
|Tess of the Road||240||141||137||521||28||119,000|
|Six of Crows*||343||202||154||444||46||137,000|
|Eye of the Word**||782||53||310,000|
*Overall page count excludes the pages used for the Part separations, or else those blank pages would skew the word count.
**Calculated from EotW Statistical analysis wiki page.
***Info thanks to Word Counter, verified by other sources.
The Magicians was the most irritating to calculate, by the way. Not only were the pages dense with words, but the chapters were only named, not numbered, with no table of contents either. I had to flip through the pages by hand. Funny how a book with relatively few pages could have one of the highest word counts. I’m so glad someone else already calculated EotW because the WoT books are even worse and I would not have had the patience for that.
Reading the Numbers
Here’s some of the numbers as categorized by specific columns. In the interest of fairness, I did recognize the affect some outliers had on the data, and added the numbers both with and without said outliers.
- Urban fantasy: The range is between 77,000 and 157,000. The average is about 106,000. (For those curious, the average is about 94,000 when The Magicians is removed from the calculations.)
- Epic fantasy: The range is between 114,000 and 310,000. The average is about 167,000. (For those curious, the average is 131,000 when EotW is removed from the calculations.)
- YA fantasy: The range is between 77,000 and 156,000. The average is about 116,000.
- NA fantasy: The range is between 119,000 and 157,000. The average is 138,000.
- Adult fantasy: The range is between 84,000 and 310,000. The average is 197,000.
- Debut authors: The range is between 77,000 and 156,000. The average is about 108,000.
- Established authors: The range is between 101,000 and 310,000. The average is about 156,000. (Removing WoT: 125,000.)
What is interesting to see is the array of numbers listed above. But a pattern does emerge. There are exceptions to the rule, as can be seen in The Magicians and Eye of the World, but most subgenres do stay within a certain word count. Urban fantasy sits within that range that I mentioned near the beginning of the post. It does not really exceed 120,000 words. But there are no epic fantasy that sits below 100,000. Anything over 150,000 is probably pushing it, especially for a debut author, but that’s still a lot higher than the aforementioned 120,000 word range.
As for debuts, they are a little more scattered, but Eragon does seem to be something of an exception. Most of the debuts land on the top half of the table, regardless of subgenre, whereas most established authors can reach for slightly higher word counts, constrained really only by the subgenre expectations. Target audience seemed to hold almost no influence over word count, however. My NA books were both on the bottom half of the table, but adult books were literally on either end, with YA scattered throughout.
So I hope this helps my writing audience. I certainly found it enlightening. I wish I had more books to make something of a more well-rounded sample size. But, alas, my book shelf is a finite size and the whole endeavor was a little more time consuming than I expected. If anyone else has numbers from their favorite books, feel free to share.