Word Count and Middle Grade Novels


I know I’ve written before about young adult books and word count already, but recently a friend asked me my opinion on the ideal length of a debut middle grade novels. It seems to me like there is the most variation in this type of book, because they are generally written for children between the ages of eight and twelve. There is a lot of changes in both reading ability and subjects of interest during that time. I’ve read online that MG novels should be between 20,000 and 45,000 words. Here are examples of how many words are in between the covers of some of the most popular MG novels. 

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney: 19,784 words
  • The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate: 26,263 words
  • Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt: 27,848 words
  • Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, by Judy Blume: 30,340 words
  • Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson: 32,888 words
  • Matilda, by Roald Dahl: 40,009 words
  • The Giver, by Lois Lowry: 43,617 words
  • Holes, by Louis Sachar: 47,079 words
  • Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine: 52,994 words
  • Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech: 59,400 words
  • Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale: 63,201 words
  • Wonder, by R.J. Palacio: 73,053 words
  • The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan: 87,223

As you can see, there is a huge range. However I think sticking under 40,000 words probably makes sense for a debut middle grade novelist. Anyone else have any thoughts or opinions?

6 thoughts on “Word Count and Middle Grade Novels

  1. It’s about telling a story–the book will tell you how long it wants to be.

    I, personally, tend to write shorter books, and people keep telling me that I need to add more to it. But I was an English teacher for ten years. And there are a lot of kids who will pick out a book based on its size–the shorter the book, they less it intimidates them. I guess it depends on your target audience. I specifically want to attract the “reluctant readers” so I keep my books short (around 30,00 words.)

  2. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at this topic on many google results, so I am happy to share my experience. I am fortunate to be in the midst of a middle grade contract with HarperCollins. The wording on the deal, which is two books with an option for a third, is that they be approximately 35k words in length. The first, due out any day, began in the upper 20s and ended right at 35k with the story edit, as my editor wanted more of a few themes. The second, which we are editing now for a release in 12 months, will be around 45k. They have an option for a third, and hopefully the book I am finishing, which will be around 43k, will be to their liking. I feel like the problem with below 35k is that it’s harder to make a hardcover book out of them. “Ivan” has a lot of empty space on every page. My debut is petite enough that it’s leaner than most when standing spine-to-the-buyer on the shelf. A story should always be as long as it needs to be to tell the story as beautifully as it can be told, but there are other considerations in play in making it a beautiful physical specimen. Happily publishers seek to have plenty of tricks to bring small ones to market looking nice physically.

  3. I’ve been working on my MG for over 2 years, and have been aiming for 55,000 – a high limit set on other literary sites by many professionals – but read Harper (from just one year ago) prefers almost half that length. I prefer to think what the previous poster said is correct – because I’ve read this same advice many times – that the length is whatever the story makes it to be. In my case, it would require so much cutting, to lose a lot of the story. I do understand kids prefer thinner books, and it makes sense – very few kids prefer a thick book – but, my story will be more for girls than boys, and it’s a fact that girls (probably because they are smarter) tend to read books with higher word counts. So, I will struggle with the high end and hope once my editor (who is waiting for me to finish) does her work, it will be down to a length even the large houses would consider acceptable. As my MC might say, I just wish the rules wouldn’t be so Gumby : )

    1. My MG contracts with Harper have, called for 35k word books but they have been purchased at 27k and subsequently grown through story edit (mine always grow), and then 45k and 51k. I’ve joked that the drag of writing more words is that my advance gets smaller per word. Of course it should be as long as necessary, but I think they’ll buy a book in the 20s and they’ll buy a book in the 50’s, as long as all the words are necessary, and if it needs more words to tell the story optimally, they’ll ask for them.

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