Middle Grade Fantasy Word Counts – Part 1
If you’re an over-writer like me, you probably agonize over word counts. If you’re an under-writer, you probably also agonize over word counts. Basically, if you’re a writer, you agonize over word counts.
In middle grade lit, search up word counts and you usually get advice like the following, from Penguin Random House UK:
Middle grade books suit readers from ages 8 to 12 and are between 25,000 and 50,000 words. https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/company-article/how-to-write-a-children-s-middle-grade-book, 2021
Or, here’s Writer’s Digest:
Middle grade is from 20,000-55,000, depending on the subject matter and age range, and the word count of these books has been trending up in recent years. When writing a longer book that is aimed at 12-year-olds (and could maybe be considered “tween”), using the term “upper middle grade” is advisable. With upper middle grade, you can aim for 40,000-55,000 words. https://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/word-count-for-novels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post, 2021
However, these guidelines usually come with the disclaimer: “… or longer for fantasy.”
Not THAT long.
So, what does that actually mean for middle grade fantasy writers? I turned to my own bookshelf to find out! The table below is by no means a comprehensive or definitive analysis, but it was sure fun! I pulled 25 middle grade fantasies from my shelf to get a sense of their length.
BUT FIRST… How do you actually figure out the word count of a published book!?!
MS Word, Scrivener, and Google Docs all have word count tools. Great! BUT those don’t help us when we’re looking at a published, hard copy novel.
The industry standard is 250 words a page, but that can vary a lot based on:
Typesetting: size of words and line spacing
Physical dimensions of the book
Page numbering (i.e. does the page numbering begin with Chapter 1 or with the start of the physical book including cover pages, copyright page, etc.)
Number of Chapters (since opening and closing pages of chapters typically have fewer words than those within a chapter)
Presence or lack of illustrations
I used to estimate word counts by literally flipping to a few sample pages of a book, counting the number of words on the page, getting an average words-per-page figure and multiplying it by the number of pages. (I promise I really do have an interesting life!)
This method wasn’t perfect and it was VERY time consuming but I think it was considerably more accurate than multiplying the page count by 250.
Then, one day, my life changed forever.
It really was a whole new world.
I discovered Accelerated Reader Bookfinder. They don’t always list brand new releases, but the word counts on their site are pretty close to those I calculated manually. Plus, they’re only a quick google away, so now they’re my source for the table below. (I emailed them to ask how they determine their word counts but never heard back… I swear what I said before about having an interesting life is true!)
Rules of the Chart
All the titles were published in the last decade
All are standalones or first books in a series (so no Harry Potter-esque word count inflation)
All are fantasy or science fiction
Some are secondary world fantasies, some are portal fantasies, and some are set in our world with fantastical elements
All word counts are rounded to the nearest thousand
Otherwise, the books were pretty much randomly selected from my shelf.
Behold, the chart!
And if that image doesn’t load well, here it is in good ol’ black and white:TitleAuthorWord CountYear of Publication50-60K (5 books)The Oddmire: ChangelingBenjamin Ritter50K2019Long LostJacqueline West53K2021The Wizards of OnceCressida Cowell54K2017WindsweptMargi Preus55K2022Seventh Grade Vs. The GalaxyJoshua S. Levy59K201960-70K (4 books)The Serpent’s SecretSayantani Dsagupta64K2018The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful EscapesWade Albert White65K2016SweepJonathan Auxier68K2018The Dark Lord ClementineSarah Jean-Horowitz68K201970-80K (6 books)Endling: The LastKatherine Applegate71K2018Story ThievesJames Riley71K2015The Secret of ZooneLee Edward Fodi71K2019The Last CuentistaDonna Barba Higuera73K2021Magic Marks the SpotCaroline Carlson75K2013The Verdigris PawnAlysa Wishingrad77K202180-90K (4 books)The Girl Who Drank the MoonKelly Barnhill82K2016A Darkening of DragonsS.A. Patrick83K2018Aru Shah and the End of TimeRoshani Chokshi83K2018Dragon PearlYoon Ha Lee84K201990-100K (4 books)Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan CrowJessica Townsend90K2017Amari and the NIght BrothersB.B. Alston93K2021Skandar and the Unicorn ThiefA.F. Steadman96K2022The Flight of SwansSarah McGuire97K2018100K+ (2 books)Tristan Strong Punches A Hole In The SkyKwame Mbalia100K2019The School for Good and EvilSoman Chainani105K2013
Takeaways from the chart
If the conventional upper limit for middle grade is around 50K, nearly ALL fantasy goes over. (That doesn’t mean you can’t tell a good fantasy in fewer than 50K. THE GIVER clocks in at just 44K.)
There’s not much over 100K. That definitely seems to be pushing it.
There is surprisingly even distribution between 50-100K, but…
Most books were between 70-80K
Mean = 75K
Median = 73K
Mode = 71K
Play the Oldies…
Just take those old NOVELS off the shelf!
I limited my chart to the last decade to try and ensure the information is still relevant. Sure, THE GOLDEN COMPASS is 113K and I love it, but it was also published in 1995, before the current differentiation of middle grade and young adult categories even really existed. In truth, the ten year span my chart uses could be stretching back a little too long…
HOWEVER, I did want to highlight two novels older than ten years:
WARRIORS: INTO THE WILD (2003) = 63K
WINGS OF FIRE: THE DRAGONET PROPHECY (2012) = 70K
These are the two novels (well, series) mentioned most by the dozens of middle grade readers I’ve tutored over the past six years. Probably even more than Percy Jackson and Harry Potter.
65K-75K seems like a sweet spot. However, there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule regarding middle grade fantasy word counts. On the one hand, the lack of a hard and fast rule means writers will continue to agonize. On the other hand, the variety and range means we probably don’t need to agonize quite as much as we do.
Next post, I’m going to do another chart with Goodreads Choice Award winners. We’ll see if the stats line up with my shelf! And fellow authors and readers, your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to make a chart based on your own shelf! I’d be fascinated to learn what you find out!
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