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Thread: Middle grade word count - are they going up?

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    Question Middle grade word count - are they going up?

    I have read many different word counts for middle grade and young adult. They are all over the place.

    Today I got an email from amazon with middle grade books. They were award winners and debut novels. At renlearn I found the word counts:

    74k
    51k
    81k

    Anecdotal I know but do you think that middle grade novel word counts is going up? I believe the first Harry Potter was MG and 77k. so I am confused.

    Okay, the truth is that I'm afraid my MG WIP is too short. I think it will come in between 40 - 50k. and am worried it's not enough. I am obsessed with word count. Help me. Thank you.

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    practical experience, FTW clare's Avatar
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    MG is a broad designation. OAt her blog Kidlit.com, Mary Kole puts the "ideal" mg word count like this:

    • Middle Grade — 35,000 words max for contemporary, mystery, humor, 45,000 max for fantasy/sci-fi, adventure and historical

    The YA counts are much higher:


    • YA — 70,000 words max for contemporary, humor, mystery, historical, romance, etc. 90,000 words max for fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc.

    I am nervous about my mg contemporary fantasy being "too long" at 57,000, but I know that many books are being publihed which are way above these ranges. It all depends on your audience- is it young MG, like 7-10 year olds, or upper-MG, like 9-12? Also, historical,sci-fi, and fantasy need those extra words to describe the world they take place in. The answer seems to be, use as many words as you have to to tell your story--no more, no less.
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    Rewriting My Destiny Cyia's Avatar
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    40-50K is fine for MG.

    Min / Max word counts are *generally* opinion based. There is, of course, a point when a book is so short or so long that it's cost-preventative to print, but other than that, use what you need to tell your story.
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    practical experience, FTW CheG's Avatar
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    I remember a post by someone else on this forum that said for every kid reading book like Magyck which I beleive is pretty long, there are a lot of kids who AREN'T reading books that long and don't want to read books that long. There is room for both I'm sure.

    I'm aiming for 35K since mine is horror/mystery.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyia View Post
    40-50K is fine for MG.

    Min / Max word counts are *generally* opinion based. There is, of course, a point when a book is so short or so long that it's cost-preventative to print, but other than that, use what you need to tell your story.
    Do you think that 40 is the cutoff? Do publishers round so if I had 38k they'd say that's 40k or are they strict?

    with my 12pt courier, 1" margins, I have about 150 pages. That may be way too small. It is a fantasy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LearningTwoWrite View Post
    Do you think that 40 is the cutoff? Do publishers round so if I had 38k they'd say that's 40k or are they strict?

    with my 12pt courier, 1" margins, I have about 150 pages. That may be way too small. It is a fantasy.
    There is no strict word count requirement. Publishers don't require a novel to be 40,000 words. If your novel is 38,000 words, that's perfectly fine - assuming that's the appropriate length for your particular novel.

    However, MG word counts have been increasing over the years. A novel under 35,000 words is going to be a harder sell than it used to be. That's not to say shorter novels aren't still being acquired by publishers, they are.

    Your novel should be as long as it needs to be. No longer, no shorter.

    It needs to be long enough that your characters and plot are fully developed. It needs to be short enough that you've edited properly.
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    Rewriting My Destiny Cyia's Avatar
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    You really only have to worry about word counts when you hit the extremes. A book that's 18,000 words may not be long enough to support the price a publisher would have to put on it to turn a profit at the MG level.

    Likewise, a book that's 145,000 words would cost more, and the risk is that young readers would look at it and be scared off by the sheer size.

    If your book is awesome, and it's 68,000 words, then a publisher will want it. If your book is awesome, and it's 38,000 words, then a publisher will want it. The trick is to make it awesome.
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    Has semi-colon; will use it! jtrylch13's Avatar
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    I compiled a list of books in the Magic & Fantasy genre as a reference for myself. My MS is 130,000 words at this point and too long, I think. Still, I don't want to cut back too much and ruin the story. I'm not sure this will help you any, because you are wondering if a shorter story is okay. I think what others have said about length being determined by need (your book should be what it needs to be) is true. If you fel the story is complete at your word count, than it is. Don't try to make it longer just to make it longer. Make it longer if you feel there is more to your book and you held yourself back from writing it all. Here is the list:

    Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief - 87,223 (Rick Riordan)
    Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone - 77,508 (J.K. Rowling)
    Magyk - 112,921 (Angie Sage)
    Hunger Games - 99,750 (Suzanne Collins)
    A Wrinkle in Time - 49,965 (Madeleine LEngle)
    The Graveyard Book - 67,380
    Children of the Lamp Book 1 - 85,761
    The Alchemyst - 85,926
    The Name of this Book is Secret - 59,485

    Sorry, I couldn't remember the names of the all authors and I'm too lazy to look them up right now. Most of these books, I believe, would fit into the high end of MG and possibly crossover just a smidgen into YA. That is what I am aiming for, so the list was helpful to me. Maybe not so much to you. If your book is at the lower end of the age spectrum, then maybe you should be looking at how long Magic Treehouse books are. Just a suggestion. Compare your length to others that very closely fit your slot in literature and go from there. Still, your story is your story. Keep it that way.

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    practical experience, FTW MsJudy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CheG View Post
    I remember a post by someone else on this forum that said for every kid reading book like Magyck which I beleive is pretty long, there are a lot of kids who AREN'T reading books that long and don't want to read books that long. There is room for both I'm sure.
    That was probably me!

    To answer the first question--yes, in general, MG books are getting longer. SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL is about 8K. THE WHIPPING BOY is about 13K. Both won the Newbery. Both would have a hard time being published these days at those lengths. My guess is that because the writing is so good, the agent and editor would make suggestions about how to add to the story, especially with Whipping Boy.

    But it's a complicated situation. Debut authors need to be more careful about not exceeding the norm; already-published authors are usually the ones pushing the boundaries. So when you look for books to compare yourself to, try to look at an author's FIRST book, not the bestsellers.

    Also it has SO much to do with the kind of book you're writing. If you write a fantasy and it's under 35K, there's probably a level of story development that's missing. A lack of depth and struggle and misdirection, a lack of subplots, or a lack of world-building. It's hard to write a really satisfying adventure in so few words. So it isn't about what the market wants; it's about how to make a story that feels really complete.

    But there's a whole market out there for the kids who aren't such good readers, and for them short and sweet is better. But those tend to be contemporary humor books. CLEMENTINE would be a good example. They are driven by a character with a unique voice and an outrageous approach to life. The chapters focus on situations that sort of link together, more than on a strong action-oriented plot. It's much easier to have a book like that feel enjoyable even though it's short. The hard part about those is they're a challenge to write--it's a real skill to write in a way that less-fluent readers can handle comfortably.

    In general--if your book handles serious themes or is adventure/plot focused, you're better off reaching the 40K mark. But as a debut author, you're facing hurdles if you get into the really long area, over 65K or more. You'd need a really exciting query and gripping first chapters to convince an agent that you have the skills to pull off a long book for kids. If it needs a lot of editing to get the length down, most of them are going to pass.
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  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW MsJudy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jtrylch13 View Post
    Here is the list:

    Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief - 87,223 (Rick Riordan)
    not a debut author, though it was his first MG book

    Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone - 77,508 (J.K. Rowling)
    the one that started the long-book trend

    Magyk - 112,921 (Angie Sage)
    not a debut author

    Hunger Games - 99,750 (Suzanne Collins)
    not a debut author, and this book is definitely YA

    A Wrinkle in Time - 49,965 (Madeleine LEngle)
    don't compare yourself to 30-year-old books--the market has changed over time

    The Graveyard Book - 67,380
    not a debut book; at this point, Gaiman could sell his grocery list for more money than the rest of us will ever make

    Children of the Lamp Book 1 - 85,761
    this one I'd have to look up

    The Alchemyst - 85,926
    not a debut book, plus it's definitely YA

    The Name of this Book is Secret - 59,485
    this one I would also have to look up
    I don't think this is the best list to go by, if your focus is MG books. Most were by people who already had name-recognition, and most are YA.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JudScotKev View Post

    But there's a whole market out there for the kids who aren't such good readers, and for them short and sweet is better. But those tend to be contemporary humor books. CLEMENTINE would be a good example. They are driven by a character with a unique voice and an outrageous approach to life. The chapters focus on situations that sort of link together, more than on a strong action-oriented plot. It's much easier to have a book like that feel enjoyable even though it's short. The hard part about those is they're a challenge to write--it's a real skill to write in a way that less-fluent readers can handle comfortably.
    I agree with all of your posts in this thread, but I wouldn't call Clementine or books like it MG. They're chapter books, right?
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    I've been looking through the Renaissance Learning website. I narrowed my search to fantasy books that have come out in the last six months, and the results were all over the place. Some seemed more like chapter books (around 6 to 10k) but I also found a lot of fantasy adventures at around 22 to 35K. And there were a lot of longer books, especially around 50-65K. Some were even longer than that, but very few broke the 100k mark, and those seemed to be from established authors.

    I do think it's important to match reading level to length. Shorter books shouldn't be too difficult.

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    TBWH is a debut (!) and it clocks in at 60K.
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    Quote Originally Posted by timp67 View Post
    TBWH is a debut (!) and it clocks in at 60K.
    I am halfway through TBWH and i will be staying up late to finish it because I can't put it down!
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    Has semi-colon; will use it! jtrylch13's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JudScotKev View Post
    I don't think this is the best list to go by, if your focus is MG books. Most were by people who already had name-recognition, and most are YA.
    Well, only two were young adult, though I understand what you're saying. I know that most aren't debut novels, but I haven't found a comparative list of debut MG fantasy/magic novels, but I haven't look very hard. Besides, I read somewhere that as a writer, you're not competeing with the other unknown quantities out there, you're competeing with the books already on the shelves. I understand what you're saying about not comparing myself to established writers who can write whatever length they want, which is why I am working on cutting down my MS to a shorter length, but I still want to write the book I want to write. If it doesn't get published, I'd rather have stuck to my story, than change everything for the market. I'll just write something else and hope the next one, or the next one, or the next one takes. Besides, we just get better with more practice, so a few unpublished novels aren't a waste of time (as some have recently said to me) but rather training for the future. The list was more like something to look at and get an idea of what sells, what's the most popular, what's been done before. It isn't my guide for determining what I'm going to write or how long it should be. Just an idea. When I've cut what I can, my MS will be what it is and I'll go from there.

    One other thing, and sort of a different topic, but I feel like the MG category is too broad. It includes things like Magic Tree House, which are for younger readers, all the way up to Harry Potter, which starts MG then moves into YA. Sometimes I feel like there should be another category. Either at the younger end of MG, moving MG ages up, or leave MG young and give a group between MG and YA. Most of the books I read that I would like to "compare" myself to, or at least fit in their group, are at the high end of MG, have longer word counts, are more in depth and complicated. Just thinking out loud right now.
    Last edited by jtrylch13; 01-17-2011 at 10:31 PM. Reason: Typo

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    Quote Originally Posted by jtrylch13 View Post
    I'll just write something else and hope the next one, or the next one, or the next one takes. Besides, we just get better with more practice, so a few unpublushed novels aren't a waste of time (as some have recently said to me) but rather training for the future.
    I agree, jtrylch. I believe that willingness to put in the time to learn the craft is what separates prepublished authors from mere wannabees. I know not everything I write will be published, but that's okay--it's valuable writing experience.

    As for the categories, those shorter & easier books like Magic Tree House are chapter books, not middle grade.

    You could call yours "upper middle grade".
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    I've had a hard time visualizing how thick my book will be. And I just can't believe it. Mine's almost exactly as long as a Wrinkle In Time! Wheee! Thank you so much jtrylych for posting that. I think I'm Upper Middle Grade too as it happens. Fine by me. Whatever gets me published!
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    Quote Originally Posted by jtrylch13 View Post
    One other thing, and sort of a different topic, but I feel like the MG category is too broad. It includes things like Magic Tree House, which are for younger readers, all the way up to Harry Potter, which starts MG then moves into YA. Sometimes I feel like there should be another category. Either at the younger end of MG, moving MG ages up, or leave MG young and give a group between MG and YA. Most of the books I read that I would like to "compare" myself to, or at least fit in their group, are at the high end of MG, have longer word counts, are more in depth and complicated. Just thinking out loud right now.
    I agree. It would be great if "tween" was a viable category because there is definitely a corresponding age group of 7th and 8th graders that don't readily fit in to the MG or YA categories. Also, (but this is just a personal thing) as a middle school teacher I was thrown off to find out that "middle grades" doesn't correspond with "middle school."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ann Braden View Post
    I agree. It would be great if "tween" was a viable category because there is definitely a corresponding age group of 7th and 8th graders that don't readily fit in to the MG or YA categories. Also, (but this is just a personal thing) as a middle school teacher I was thrown off to find out that "middle grades" doesn't correspond with "middle school."
    "Tween" is definitely becoming a category. Most seem to be calling it upper-MG these days, but it definitely overlaps with lower-YA. So, lots of agents and editors are starting to call it tween.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LearningTwoWrite View Post
    I have read many different word counts for middle grade and young adult. They are all over the place.

    Today I got an email from amazon with middle grade books. They were award winners and debut novels. At renlearn I found the word counts:

    74k
    51k
    81k

    Anecdotal I know but do you think that middle grade novel word counts is going up? I believe the first Harry Potter was MG and 77k. so I am confused.

    Okay, the truth is that I'm afraid my MG WIP is too short. I think it will come in between 40 - 50k. and am worried it's not enough. I am obsessed with word count. Help me. Thank you.

    You're fine with 40-50 K. Like others have said, middle grade is all over the place. I queried my first book when it was about 40 K. Working with an editor brought it up to about 45K. My contract for my second book was for 50 K and it came in at just about exactly that.

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    carpe libri Amarie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jtrylch13 View Post
    I compiled a list of books in the Magic & Fantasy genre as a reference for myself. My MS is 130,000 words at this point and too long, I think. Still, I don't want to cut back too much and ruin the story. I'm not sure this will help you any, because you are wondering if a shorter story is okay. I think what others have said about length being determined by need (your book should be what it needs to be) is true. If you fel the story is complete at your word count, than it is. Don't try to make it longer just to make it longer. Make it longer if you feel there is more to your book and you held yourself back from writing it all. Here is the list:

    .
    Jtrylch, I hope you do manage to cut it way back or break it into 2 books, because you are really going to scare off MG/YA agents with anything over 100,000. If it were me querying an upper MG/YA, I wouldn't go over maybe 90K. It's a tricky call.

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    practical experience, FTW CheG's Avatar
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    I wonder at the 100,000+ books and if kids are actually reading them or if adults are looking for the next HP to read... I checked Magyck out from the library and I don't think I made it through 4-5 chapter before it went back.

    Sometimes length doesn't equal depth, it just equals long winded. A story can be great and have impact at every length. The statistics will only give you an average anyway. Aim for the proper word count but my guess is that if it's a stellar book a few 1000 words on or off won't kill it. Agents and editors will either have you cut it or expand it to get ti to what they feel is marketable.

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    Rewriting My Destiny Cyia's Avatar
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    FWIW -- 130,000 is longer than the first Twilight novel, which is definite YA. You're into "danger" territory for MG with that length. The cost of publishing a book of that length from a 1st time writer with no following and no known branding is likely going to be prohibitive.

    If you want to go by Harry Potter, which was MG when it started, the 1st 3, which were the ones before it became a hit, clocked in at:

    Book1 -- 77,000
    Book2 -- 85,000
    Book3 -- 107,000

    By book 3, they were growing exponentially popular, and by book 4 (190,000 words) they into phenomenon territory. Plus, by book 4, they were straddling the MG / YA line.
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  25. #25
    practical experience, FTW MsJudy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CheG View Post
    I wonder at the 100,000+ books and if kids are actually reading them
    For the most part, no. Only a tiny minority of kids are fluent enough at reading and dedicated enough to tackle a book that long.

    Example: in my son's 6th-grade class, he and one other boy have already read 1 million words. The other 28 kids are mostly under a quarter-million. There's a HUGE difference between the 2 uber-geeks and everybody else.
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