Word count – does it matter?

Does word count matter?

Earlier this year, I wrote a chapter book that was around 12,000 words. The main character in the story is 11, meaning the story is more for older primary school children than younger ones. For that age group, publishers are looking for stories that are twice as long.

Word count is something I’ve been looking at and wondering whether or not I need to make the story longer to appeal to publishers. A number of people have told me that it’s not important, especially if I decide to self publish. I’m not so sure about this.

Kids of different ages have an expectation of the length of the books they read. Sometimes my kids will choose a book based on how thick it is… as well as if the cover looks interesting. I’m not entirely sure why they do this, only that they seem to think they should be reading longer stories. Looking at the word count that publishers expect for books aimed at different age groups is a good indication of the length of books kids are expecting to read.

With this particular chapter book, I could work out how to make it longer, or I could change the age of my main character. As most of the story is based on my own experiences when I was 8-9 years old, this is not a big problem. In some ways, changing the age is an easier way around this issue of word count.

Writing a first draft, I can just write – I don’t pay any attention to the word count, or at least, not much attention. Now that it’s coming to the stage where I’m polishing and going on the road to publishing, looking at word count is a bit more important, whether I submit to traditional publishers or self publish.

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  1. Melissa,
    I was just looking at some of the Rainbow Fairies series. My girls love them (ages 8 and 10), but the 10 year old likes them the most and I think they are geared more towards her age. The books vary greatly in length though. One was just under 4,000 words, while the longest was just over 11,000 words. Most ran between 4,000 and 10,000, with the majority of those falling into the 8,000 and 9,000 word count range. I know chapter books (younger than middle grade) are supposed to be between 4,000 and 10,000, but the books appeal to my daughter who is nearly 11 and reads far above her age group. She usually reads middle grade books, so I am not sure just how much word count will matter. Although, it matters more if you are going through a traditional publisher as it is one of the things they look at.

  2. P.S. An 11 year old protagonist will mostly appeal to kids younger than 11. They say to age your protagonist just slightly older than your target audience. Which would make your word count perfect for the age group.

  3. hey I agree with both of Becky’s comments. The style of writing (e.g. if it’s for more confident readers of that age group, or less confident ones) will also dictate the number of words. And definitely kids like to read about older role models, not younger ones.

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