Don’t be ashamed if you are new to the writing world and haven’t the foggiest what a word count is. Part of the life of a writer is encountering a host of terms you aren’t familiar with and there is nothing wrong with asking good ol’ Google for the answer.
To keep this simple, a word count is exactly what it says. It’s a count of how many words are in your manuscript. The definition itself is not the tricky part when it comes to writing. The fun part of word counts is the minimum word requirement each genre has.
For example, the general minimum requirement for a Science Fiction manuscript is about 100,000 words. This is more than 400 pages of double spaced writing. DAW, Penguin’s Sci-fi and Fantasy publisher, requests a minimum of 80,000 words (http://www.penguin.com/publishers/daw/). This is still more than 300 pages and is their minimum requirement. SF word counts are so high because readers of the genre prefer to read novels of that length. You might find, however, that other genres vary in word count requirements.
Each genre has a set of rules or guidelines that must be followed to the letter. What if you go over by one word? What if you fall a few words shy? What if your book is awesome and everyone loves it but it’s around 60,000 words?
If you go over by one word, it’s recommended you remove one word. Agents and Publishers get hundreds, if not thousands, of manuscripts per year and they will weed out those who don’t follow the basic requirements. If you are under the word count, go back and see if there are scenes in your book you can add to. If you’re only a few words shy, I’m sure there’s an easy way to slip in those extra words to reach the requirement.
Aside from a genre having a general word count length applied to it, publishers and agents might have separate word count expectations. A genre might state 60,000 words but an agent could say they don’t want anything less than 75,000 words and potential publishers could have other expectations as well.
See how tricky it can be?
So, as a writer, being vigilant of your word count is somewhat important when the time for querying comes around. For now, if you are still in the process of your first draft, keep it as a note in the back of your mind and enjoy the writing process in the present.
Chin up, dear writer. Keep putting one word after another and you’ll be okay.