Let’s say I want to write a creature feature novel, because who doesn’t?:-) I dig up a few contemporary comp titles. Reddit is good for stuff like that, but also Goodreads, BookRiot, book blogs, and your own reading. I came up with the following creature features:
- The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn
- Overlord by Alan Baxter and David Wood
- Dinosaur Lake III by Kathryn Meyer Griffith
- The Fisherman by John Langan
- The Silence by Tim Lebbon
- Bird Box by Josh Malerman
- The Dunfield Terror by William Meikle
- Thrall by Mary SanGiovanni
By checking Amazon or Barnes & Noble, I can easily look up the number of pages in each book, but that doesn’t tell me the word count. To get an estimate, I can go old-school and multiply the number of pages by 250 words. With that method, The Fisherman is about 70,500 words.
You see the problem in using the number of pages to come up with a word count. Maybe one book is full of white space and terse dialogue while another book with the same page count is full of dense paragraph narration. Or perhaps an author uses a lot of extended verbiage (“big words”).
Enter Kobo. If I go to the Kobo website and look up a book, then scroll down to “About this book,” I can see the word count. For The Fisherman, the word count is listed at 105,000. That’s a lot different than the estimate of 70,500! (Kobo says the page count is 385 . . . no doubt a different edition than the one with 282 pages.)
As an interesting comparison, here are the same eight books listed in order by number of pages and by word count:
God bless Kobo because I haven’t found any other website that has word counts. (Kobo isn’t perfect. Not every author is on there, and Kobo’s audio books don’t have word counts at all.) When I started my writing journey, I didn’t think about word counts, but I’ve since learned that knowing the number of words is valuable to authors for two reasons:
1) When querying a book, if you use a comp title like Dinosaur Lake III with 103,000 words, but your manuscript is only 51k, the agent might turn you down in favor of someone who knows the comp books better.
2) When marketing a book, if you say you write dual-timeline creature books like The Dunfield Terror, but your manuscript is 120k, readers might be turned off because they expected a quick read.
It looks like for my creature book-to-be, I’d be safe aiming for 80-90k. Since I also found a lot of monster/critter/beast stories in novella form at 39-48k, it’d probably be okay to aim as low as 60k . . . 50k maybe . . . Nanowrimo length!
The fat book in the feature image is Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind at 425,000 words. (I admit it, the beast of a book intimidates me!) The smaller book is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness at 39,000 words.