Q: My manuscript is now 150 pages. How long is the average book? Is it long enough?
A: That depends. Is your story done?
Short answers aside, there are some important issues an agent, editor or publisher will consider when evaluating your submission. First, most of us prefer to know the WORD count, not the page count. Author A’s page may be doubled spaced with wide margins and 12 point type while Author B is conserving paper, using single spaced 10 point type in a condensed font. A’s 300 pages may be 50,000 words while B’s 175 page manuscript may total 75,000 words. Most submission guidelines call for 12 point Times Roman with one inch margins all around, but as the recipient of thousands of manuscripts, I know that a good half don’t adhere to this “rule”.
Word count is a much more accurate guide. We have formulas using word counts, page trim size, ratio of images to text, and front/back matter estimates that enable a fairly accurate projection of the final page count. Word count will determine the ultimate print manufacturing costs and impact the editing and design expenses.
Fortunately, tracking your word count is easy. In Word, just go to Tools>Word Count. You can also turn on the Word Count toolbar so you can check continuously. Many authors check their word count at the end of each writing session, to keep track of their progress. Others establish goals such as 2,500 words a week. Regardless, PLEASE put the final word count on the front page of your manuscript.
Industry norms and buyer expectations will also be on the minds of agents and editors reviewing a manuscript. Publishers will need the book to retail for a specific amount in order to recover costs, pay the author’s royalties and make a reasonable profit. The reading public already has certain expectations about how long books should be and what they’re willing to pay. If the word count is too short, the lesser page count may not support the needed retail price. If the word count is too long, the increased production costs may require a retail price higher than the public will pay. Harry Potter being a phenomenal exception, here are some typical word counts:
Adult Fiction — 60,000 to 120,000 words
Novellas — 20,000 to 40,000 words
Young Adult Fiction — 30,000 to 50,000 words
Children’s Picture Books — 500 to 1,500 words