Having an outrageous word count is one of the fastest ways to get your manuscript rejected by an agent. But how long should your manuscript be? As long as you need it to be to tell the whole story, right?
Readers expectations for pacing and lengths vary depending on the genre and age category. There's always a range, and there will always be outliers, but if you're trying to get your first manuscript published, it's generally safer to stay pretty close to the established norms.
You want to research what standard length is for the age category you're writing for (picture book, early reader, MG, YA, Adult, etc) and what standard length is for your genre (non-fiction, fantasy, adventure, contemporary, romance, etc) within that age category.
Here are a few of our favorite resources for checking on word count standards:
This excellent post by agent Jennifer Laughran covers kids up through YA: http://literaticat.blogspot.com/2011/05/wordcount-dracula.html
Another great post by agent Jessica Faust here, dealing more with YA and adult fiction: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/07/word-count.html
Blake Atwood breaks down word counts here: https://thewritelife.com/how-many-words-in-a-novel/
And for those of you writing children's books, whether early reader, MG, or YA, there's a handy (free!) online tool you can use to see how long your comp titles are. If you go to http://www.arbookfind.com, you can plug in titles of children's books and it will tell you what level that book is considered to be, as well as its word count.
One last key thing to remember: these are word counts for final drafts. Your first draft may come in way under or over, and that's okay. I've taken 16,000 word drafts and turned them into 90,000 word novels. And 120,000 word novels and trimmed them down to 80,000. It's possible. So don't despair if you aren't on target right away. That's what editing is for!
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!