WORD COUNTS: HOW LONG SHOULD A YA FANTASY NOVEL BE?
I must admit that when I first started writing young adult fiction, I didn’t research word counts. I’m not sure why. It may have been because I was too busy wanting to finish my story without being restricted by a number of words, or perhaps it was because I’d subconsciously seen such a variance in book lengths in the stores and decided it wasn’t an issue.
Whatever the reason (that I can’t really remember!), I noticed in the ensuing years that there was a rough guide to how long YA books should be:
YA Contemporary: 50,000 - 80,000k
YA Speculative: 80,000 - 100,000k
However there were definitely exceptions to this—and wiggle room on both the lower and upper end of the scale! Especially on the upper end for YA fantasy books. Most of my favorite YA fantasy books were over the 100k mark. Some even reached 130k+.
Here are some popular YA fantasy novels and their final word counts:
Graceling: 115,109 words
Six of Crows: 135,275 words
Red Queen: 111,948 words
An Ember in the Ashes: 124,337 words
The Cruel Prince: 107,319 words
Ash Princess: 119,529 words
Caraval: 88,345 words
The Star-Touched Queen: 81,869 words
Throne of Glass: 113,655 words
The Queen’s Rising: 108,049 words
Truthwitch: 113,330 words
A Shifting of Stars: 113,954 words
As a reader, I prefer my YA fantasy novels on the longer side. I enjoy being able to settle into the world for a good while. I like being able to get to know the characters. As a result, the 100k books tend to make the story feel less rushed while still having fast-paced storylines. Then again, that’s my opinion. I’m sure there are readers who much prefer YA fantasy under 100,000 words.
In my mind, the central takeaway from all this is not to stress out too much about reaching the perfect word count in the beginning stages. It’s more important to write and complete your story first. Don’t worry about restricting yourself or trying to pad out the skeleton of your novel in order to hit a goal. Only after the draft is done and dusted should you start considering the length of your story. Then if you find that your YA fantasy book ends up being over 150k, it might be prudent to pare it down. Or if you find that your YA fantasy book ends up being under 80k, it might be a good idea to add more scenes and more detail.
That said, if you are planning to self-publish your YA book, you have a lot more control over the final word count. In other words, you get to choose what is acceptable or not! Just remember that you need to take into consideration the trim size of your book. You may not want a small book that is very thick. Alternatively, you may not want a large book that is very thin.
The first draft of A SHIFTING OF STARS was about 110,000 words. After many rounds of revisions, it shrunk and then it grew. After copyediting, it grew again. When proofreading was complete, it arrived at almost 114,000 words! I did not have a target amount of words in mind from the start, except that I wanted the book to be above 90,000 words. And my only hope now is that the story doesn’t feel too rushed, and it doesn’t feel too drawn out. Time will tell, I suppose!