The dormant math teacher in me is needing to click at a calculator for a minute. Word count. This pesky thing is really starting to irk me. Time to do a little math. I’ll do it for you, no need to bring out your calculator too.
Wherever you look, it is estimated that middle grade fiction should be between 20K and 55K words. The average number of words on a page is 250. That means book length is between 80 pages for lower middle grade and 220 pages for upper middle grade fiction.
My middle grade novel is hovering around 70,000 words or 270 pages. I would really love to get it under 250 pages. With this in mind, I decided to take a quick survey of popular middle grade fiction and its page count.
From my bookcase: Title, number of pages, year published, *denotes non-standard formatting
- Johnny Tremain, 1943, 300 pages
- The Cricket in Times Square, 1960, 151 pages
- Bridge to Terabithia, 1977, 163 pages
- Night of the Twisters, 1984, 153 pages
- Number the Stars, 1989, 137 pages
- Maniac Magee, 1990, 184 pages
- Fever, 2000, 243 pages
- A Single Shard, 2001, 148 pages
- Penny from Heaven, 2006, 256 pages
- Schooled, 2007, 208 pages
- The Fabled Fifth Graders of Aesop Elementary School, 2010, 170 pages
- I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, 2010, 176 pages
- Breaking Stalin’s Nose*, 2011, 151 pages
- Dead End in Norvelt, 2011, 341 pages
- Inside out and Back Again*, 2011, 260 pages
- The One and Only Ivan*, 2012, 300 pages
- Tua and the Elephant*, 2012, 202 pages
From this very small sample of middle grade fiction I can conclude book length is trending higher than previously. So, let’s look at what came out this year.
From the Chicago Public Library’s list of Best Older Fiction of 2014
Out of the 30 books listed
- two were written in verse
- one graphic novel was 80 pages
- of the remaining 27 books
- 1 was under 200 pages
- 10 were between 200 and 250 pages
- 7 were between 251 and 300 pages
- 4 between 301-350
- 5 had more than 350 pages
This list was determined by librarians. I figure they may have a higher tolerance for longer book length than the average consumer. This brought me to the New York Times Best Seller’s List.
From December 12, 2014’s NY Times best seller’s list for children’s middle grade
- House of Robots, James Patterson, 352 pages
- Wonder, PJ Palacio, 315 pages
- Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods, Rick Riordan, 336 pages
- Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson, 336 pages – in verse
- The Fourteenth Goldfish, Jennifer Holm, 208 pages
- The Princess in Black, Shannon Hale, 96 pages (for 5-8 year olds)
- The Care and Keeping of You 1, Valorie Schaefer, 104 pages (non-fiction)
- The Contract, Derek Jeter with Paul Mantell, 160 pages
- The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate, 300 pages
- Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, Kate DiCamillo, 96 pages (6-9 year olds)
It appears that book length doesn’t turn away the average reader either.
Ideally, it would be great to keep word count below 50,000. I know I love to zip through a book and when it’s shorter, it’s less intimidating to reluctant readers. This data, however, suggests that it is not a gatekeeper.
The bottom line is: Write well, with vivid language that creates a mental movie for the reader. Take the reader to a place they can’t go in their everyday life, help them have experiences they might not have on their own. Don’t get hung up on word count, but make every word work for its space on the page. Then, when your vivid writing with a strong voice attracts an editor, be ready to kill the darlings. Until then, write, revise, write better, pay attention to word count, but don’t get hung up on it.
A few pages on word count if you want more information.