A recent email exchange between Elizabeth and me led me to search our blog for an old post I thought one of us had written regarding word count. Since I came up empty, I thought it might be time to address this oft-pondered subject.
As writers, we typically care little about numbers until it comes to word count. Then we become a bit obsessed. Too few words in our manuscript and we fear not being worthy of calling it a novel. Perhaps 'novella' or even a really long short story. Too many words and we run the risk of being compared to War and Peace or maybe Atlas Shrugged.
But how many words should comprise your manuscript? How about: Enough! Not too few; not too many. Be Goldilocks and get it Just Right. But if you want your writing to compare to those who come before you, here's a breakdown of some popular titles and what I could find online as far as their word counts. Granted these might not be 100 percent accurate; I didn't take the time to count them myself. So, use them as a guideline and nothing more. Keep in mind genre has a lot to do with what's expected in terms of word count and older titles seemed to get away with extremes in both directions.
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King: 269,493
- The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein: 69,306
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: 561,996
- Beach Music by Pat Conroy: 275,272
- Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: 114,928
- Carrie by Stephen King: 59,859
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker: 66,556
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon: 62,005
- East of Eden by John Steinbeck: 225,395
- Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg: 94,540
- The Giver by Lois Lowry: 43,617
- The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: 74,218
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling: 84,799
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling: 257,154
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett: 158,012
- Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford: 92,994
- I Know this Much Is True by Wally Lamb: 305,520
- Joy School by Elizabeth Berg: 48,020
- The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards: 137,858
- Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks: 88,551
- Olive Kittridge by Elizabeth Strout: 92,574
- The Pact by Jodi Picoult: 148,903
- A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving: 236,061
- The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd: 93,316
- Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington: 60,586
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: 99,121
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed: 129,044
What do you aim for when completing your WIP? A particular word count goal or just enough words before typing: THE END?