Writing 101: How Much Does Word Count Matter?

I've always known exactly how long my books are. I know how long they are while I'm writing them and frankly, I'm always far too concerned about it. Once upon a time, books were supposed to fit into certain industry boxes. But now everyone's reading electronically, everyone else is self-publishing and books as we known them are metamorphosing into something that no industry can hope to corral. So how much does word count matter to you, the indie author? And...does it matter at all?

Counting the Words

In the world of books, length has traditionally played a role. For example, if your story is less than 20,000 words it's not a novel -- it's a novella. And if your story is less than 80,000 words it's a little too thin to be labeled an adult book. Could it be YA, perhaps? They're shorter by about 20,000 words.

It's a lot of numbers, and lots of authors (like me) aren't good with numbers. But if you were trying to go the traditional publishing route with your books, I would advise you to pay attention to those numbers. Maybe not as much attention as I pay to it, because that's not good for you, but some attention surely. 

But if you're reading my blog, you're probably not going a traditional route. You're probably going the indie route. And in that case, forget about what I said. It's a whole different animal when it's indie books. It's okay to be offbeat, to do your own thing, to forget about all those rules and restraints that big publishing would like to put on books. It's just these qualities that make indie books compelling for so many readers, so embrace it. Write your story. If it's 40,000 words, so be it. If it's 90,000, then that's what you wrote. 

Once you start getting into 150,000-word territory and beyond, however, you might want to step back and take a second look at word count. Because I do have an answer to the question: hell yes word count matters, but maybe not in the way you think. Because if there's one thing that indie books cannot be, it's too long.

Short is okay. Some indie authors are making quite the lucrative living by churning out short books that can be quickly digested (and quickly turned out by the writer). But a long book on an ereader is depressing, daunting and a damn nuisance. There are too many shorter books that actually give you a sense of accomplishment as you cruise through them on your ereader (ten percent already and I just started! I'm amazing at reading!). 

Self-publishing may not be the best arena for you to be publishing that epic novel that fills up 300+ pages of normal typewritten text. Thick, ponderous books are lovely in their way, but readers can't always see how epic your book is when they go to download it. When a really long book comes as a complete surprise to the reader, you're getting off to a bad start with that reader right away. Give them shorter books instead. Break that epic story into a series, perhaps, or maybe edit yourself down. Too long is still too long, no matter which publishing path you wish to pursue.

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