Great Novels and Word Count

It’s hard for me not to worry about word count as I’m making my way through my first novel. I’ve seen this ‘80,000 words’ cut-off many places now as I look for writing resources. As a new writer, it’s hard not to worry about word count and at the same time try to stay true to my own style. Some of my all-time favorite authors are on this list – and they are all hitting the ranks with the shortest books.

What’s a budding author to do when (s)he falls into the school that believes concise is poetic? As someone who grew up tearing through 20th century American novels from Faulkner, Vonnegut, and Bradbury, word counts over 120,000 are just eye-roll inducing for me. I’ve never been one to like a book more or take it more seriously just because it’s long or convoluted.

Am I the only one who gets a headache from magic numbers?

(special thanks to indefeasible for compiling the ultra-informative lists below!)



Word count is one of those things new writers worry about but deny worrying about because we’re not supposed to be worrying about it. According to Wikipedia’s entry on word count, the typical word count of a novel is at least 80,000 words. I’ve heard through the publishing world grapevine than most agents and editors will generally take a query for a first novel more seriously if the word count is between 80,000 and 100,000.

Instead of sleeping, I compiled in an Excel sheet novels I read growing up. They’re mostly classics because those are the only ones where word count is easily obtained. More contemporary fiction would require more digging. I wouldn’t say I personally love every one of these books, but I would regard them as classics, as great novels in themselves, even if the particular author wasn’t that impressive of a writer.

Author — Book Title…

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