Book Length, Word Count, and Readability in Writing

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The length of a book can be a vital factor in its success. It may not appear to be at first, but there is a formula followed by countless writers and publishers. Depending on the target audience, genre, readability, and book type, the word count in a book can vary substantially.

That said, there are always outliers—books that have done well outside of word count brackets. If you’re a writer with questions about how long your writing should be, this article is for you.

—Book Length Guidelines—

Although there is no fixed word count, there are generally recognized guidelines depending on genre and audience.

Audience

Younger audiences have smaller attention spans and therefore cater to short, fast-paced book length. Adults are more tolerable with longer manuscripts. For example, YA (young adult) will—usually—be less than the book-length for a more mature audience.

Age group word count examples:

  • Poetry: 5 to 3k
  • Picture Book: 400 to 800
  • Play: 1k to 32k
  • Middle Grade: 25k to 40k
  • Young Adult: 50k to 80k

Genre

Book genres, of course, play an essential role in the word count of a novel.  Science fiction and fantasy works tend toward a high word count since the writer develops a fictional world from the ground up. This takes time to describe all the new rules and phenomena associated with such a fictional universe.

Historical fiction, Young Adult, Westerners, and Mysteries prefer a lower word count—of course, there are always exceptions.

Genre group examples:

  • Romance & Erotica: 40,000 to 100,000 words
  • Mystery/Thriller/Horror: 70,000 to 90,000
  • Horror: 80,000 to 100,000
  • Historical: 90,000 to 100,000
  • Sci-fi/Fanasty: 90,000 to 140,000

General Book Types

Depending on the type of book you intend to write, word count plays another significant factor. Flash fiction and short stories are, of course, brief, but powerful tales. A novella—for those who don’t know—is a compact novel, longer than flash fiction and short stories, with a fleshed out story and characters; ideal for a quick read.

Book type examples:

  • Flash Fiction: 300 to 1,500 words
  • Short Story: 1,500 to 30,000
  • Novellas: 30,000 to 50,000
  • Novels: 50,000 to 100,000

silhouette of man

—The Endgame—

You can have your long epic fantasy and do well with it. However, for new writers, it is best to start small and work your way up. A book-length that is simple and sweet reads best.

Legacies

Once authors have a handful of books under their belt—and a fanbase—they can gamble a little more. Agents and publishers can reference this track record, and this increases the chance the book gets published regardless of word count or even prose finesse. If you have enough avid fans who will buy the book, publishers will overlook certain shortcomings, since they know the books will rake in profits regardless.

For this reason, some authors have started small in self-publishing like Michael J. Sullivan before they hit the goldmine.

Quantity Versus Quality

Quantity alone does not a good book make.  You have to earn your manuscript, one word at a time. If a document is 150,000 words long but fills its pages with redundant vocabulary, it probably won’t read well to the eye of an agent or a casual reader.

Adverbs and excessive prose often slog writing; an attempt by the writer to look professional. As a general rule of thumb, the shorter the word/phrase is, the better. The simpler a manuscript is, the more people can read it, and the more can enjoy it.

Reading Level

The average reading level for America is around the 8th-grade mark. If the author wants a book to read smoothly among a wider audience, then a book should read close to this level. By using simpler and shorter phrases, the readability of the prose goes up.

Higher reading associates with scholarly articles and doctoral theses; that’s the point of them, to demonstrate a graduate’s intelligence. Informational articles like this one can calibrate higher; their purpose is to inform and advise. Fictional novels, especially YA and children books, are for people to enjoy and immerse themselves in an easy-to-read environment.

Word Impact

Each word in a manuscript should contribute to the book in at least one of the following ways:

  • Character progression
  • Plot development
  • Environmental immersion
  • Reader enjoyment

There are exceptions, but if you find a word that doesn’t fit one of these criteria, it can usually be removed. You don’t want to be overly descriptive either as that slogs the pacing and reduces readability.

Chapter Impact

Chapter length can also have an impact on readability and word count. Short chapters organize a book better, improve readability, and leave readers with a sense of satisfaction when they count how many sections of the book they have finished. Shorter chapters also make for good stopping points when a reader needs to put the novel down.

Longer chapters are tedious, but sometimes necessary when a section of a book demands enough information or plot progress to benefit the story and characters. In this case, scene breaks are good for breaking down long chapters.

Reader & Writer Relationship

Half of telling a story comes from the reader’s imagination; give half and let the reader form the rest. This stimulates the reader’s mind, bringing with it a sense of fulfillment.

A book is as much of a journey for the writer as it is for the reader. If you can provide that opportunity—for a reader to have fun and explore—they will flip pages nonstop and won’t care about book length.

—Conclusion—

The length of a book is up to the writer, depending on his or her goals and ambitions. Identifying core variables like the audience, genre, book type, readability, and the author’s legacy are essential to the process. Authors who have built up an impressive resume of stories can skirt the rules.

A writer must first do the research, just as a builder must first draw out blueprints for a house—and research the terrain. Each brick of a manuscript’s foundation should be carefully placed with meaning. If you do this, your house of stories will last against the elements of agents, publishers, and critics alike.

Here’s a free online program called WordCounter that not only checks the word count in a written document but also checks the reading level, reading or speaking time, and word frequency. Just paste your work into the program, and it will analyze everything for you automatically.

Thank you for reading and good luck in your writing endeavors.


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Personal Thoughts on Writing and Creativity

grayscale vintage typewriter

I once read an interesting set of questions from a fellow blogger and writer: What do you write? Why? What helps you sit in front of your typewriter or computer screen on a routine basis? What exactly makes you a writer? Who Do You Write For? How Do You See Writing?

In this article, I’ll define what writing is, then attempt these questions as they relate to me. I’ll then go on to talk about my own experience with writing and how my perception of the craft has changed with time.

—Defining What Writing Is—

Since time immemorial, writers have existed. From ancient storytellers and cave paintings/etching to modern-day typewriters and word processors, this art continues as a staple of human existence. It would be difficult to envision a society without writers.

A writer is a person who produces and conveys information, particularly by written characters. There are many types of writers, from academic, to business, creative, and erotica. Fiction and nonfiction make up the general categories, but do we really understand what makes fiction?

—Fictional Universes—

Fiction is the very definition of creativity. There are no boundaries, except for the ones we set for ourselves in the story. Some rules do exist to create a loose outline, but we can define those standards however we chose.

In some ways, the products from fiction are a mirror of our inner consciousness. The things we desire; the things we envision being possible; the things we wish we had; the things we fear the most, and so on.

Writing fiction is like exploring who we really are. One may even consider it a type of pseudo-meditation. We become so engrossed in the art at times, we almost cannot stop. It becomes us because it is who we really are.

Writing fiction wipes away the limitations in our lives, but it can also be a form of escape, for better or for worse; I can personally relate.

—Nonfictional Universes—

On the other hand, writing non-fiction is more about the observation of the universe we dwell in. Non-fiction is limited by what we know for sure, as it’s based more off real life. Unlike its counterpart, non-fiction is objective with evidence to support written ideas. It may not be as thrilling as fiction, but it is also a lot more grounding to the self. It allows us to take a step back and appreciate the reality we dwell in.

Some people consider non-fiction boring, but how can we know for sure?  We have yet to journey outside our own solar system. As incredulous as it may sound, perhaps reality is not as limited as we think. After all, we set the limitations in fiction, but who are we to know what the wildest restrictions are? Only Mother Nature knows that answer.

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

-Mark Twain

—My Experience with Writing—

Next, I’ll get to those questions (yay).

What do you write?

I mainly produce creative content via my upcoming trilogy, Ethereal Seals—then there’s some poetry and short stories I’ve sat on for a while. I also write on WordPress here and sometimes do paid commission copywriting elsewhere.

Why? 

Why do I write? Because, if I didn’t vent my creativity, I’d go insane, lol. Jokes aside, writing is an invigorating exercise for me. I don’t have many friends and my family doesn’t do much. If anything it helps organize my day.

What helps you sit in front of your typewriter or computer screen on a routine basis?

I suppose it would be the love for my OCs, Pepper Slyhart, Tarie Beyworth, and others. I can always interface with my creations—and get transported to a world of fantasy and magic. That universe I’ve created is unique, at least for me, and I hold it close to my heart.

What exactly makes you a writer?

That’s a tough one!

My journey as a writer has been a confusing one, to say the least—full of its own ups and downs, periods of enlightenment and depression. Since high school, I’ve dedicated my life to developing Ethereal Seals. The project didn’t take shape until later, well into my twenties.

So, what makes me a writer? I suppose it’s the years-long dedication I have under my belt. Although I don’t consider myself a professional by any means.

Who Do You Write For?

I write mainly for myself and a small collection of friends and fans. I’m not the next Stephen King or anything, just a dude who likes being creative with his free time. Why not use it to create whole universes and tell stories?

How Do You See Writing?

I consider myself more of an artist than a writer, as I get the greatest fulfillment from creating worlds and building characters rather than studying and refining prose.

I don’t like a lot of the tags and stereotypes people associate with “writers” nowadays. Instead, writing should be just a relaxing pastime that stimulates creativity. For a good idea of what I mean, check out this older article I wrote.

—Final Thoughts—

I don’t consider myself a writer in the widely-accepted sense; I prefer the term artist or word-smith (there’s an interesting one 😉 ). My passion comes from creating ideas and expressing them. I don’t write to make money, there’s too much stress in that—and writers don’t make good salaries anyway unless you’re someone like Brandon Sanderson. I’m simply a soul with a large imagination who likes to have fun.

Thank you for reading. 😀


Feeling ambitious? Answer the questions below like I did and post them to your blog. I’d love to read them. Cheers.

What do you write? Why? What helps you sit in front of your typewriter or computer screen on a routine basis? What exactly makes you a writer? Who Do You Write For? How Do You See Writing?

 

 

Some thoughts on Spring creativity

cool_hd_spring_wallpapers

We are in mid to late Spring now, but I thought I’d share a couple thoughts I had about what this season is about.

This time of year brings new flowers and with it new ideas and modalities to life. While some see New Years as a starting point, Spring is also an excellent period to begin fresh or check on how the year has progressed. The days are longer and the weather nicer; this makes for ideal productivity and outdoor activities.

“Springtime is the land awakening. The March winds are the morning yawn.”

– a quote by Lewis Grizzard
That said, I’ve developed a few pointers that have helped with my reading/writing life, even while outdoors enjoying the sun:

  1. Take a small notepad and pencil with you, not a smartphone as that will distract you. When ideas arise (which they will) jot them down on paper for later consideration.
  2. If your book/script is your own, don’t feel afraid to make notations or underlines where you deem appropriate. This too can be a medium to incorporate ideas. Reading while outside is an ideal way to enjoy a book, especially when it engrosses you in a quiet and relaxing environment.
  3. Engross yourself in nature’s splendor. Allow the river to whisper its secrets in your ear.  Ground your fears in the bare rock of the Earth. Hear the beautiful inspiration on the wind. Absorb the sun’s intelligent rays. Be mindful of the present beauty around you and the future will magnify your productivity. A scientific study suggested that four days out in nature without electronics improved overall creativity by 50%.
  4. Practice light to moderate exercise (like a brisk walk) through a park or trail. This practice boosts creativity. Other types of exercise such as yoga also show promising results.

Thanks for reading and I wish you all a happy remainder of Spring. Much love and gratitude to my readers. ❤