There is nothing that says your book has to be x amount of words. There are good books that are short. And bad books that are long. But the real reason why word count is important is because of something else: pacing. A lot of people would say that pacing is how quickly or how fast the story goes and then would argue that has to do with writing.
Word count plays into this too though. Let me explain. Earlier last week, I read a book called News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail Dewitt. It follows three generations of women through World War Two. It’s Historical Fiction Literature.
The writing is very beautiful, and usually, when you read literary works, that is what you are focusing on more than anything. It’s not like commercial fiction where you are focusing on the drama or the characters or whatever.
That said, while the writing is beautiful one thing stuck with me: it’s too short.
I flipped through it after I finished it, trying to figure out why I felt this way. The author would briefly mention details of the character’s lives without actually, you know, going into details. There were at least fifty other stories that could have been written about in there if they had chosen to explore them a bit more. There was a scene in a nightclub with a woman who had lost her child which could have been a whole novel itself.
And I found myself annoyed that I didn’t get to know more. So, this is where word count comes into play. If you are reading something and you find yourself thinking get to the point or I don’t know the point the author was trying to make that probably means the author either spent too much time on a subject or not enough.
Think of it this way: when you are submitting your work for publishing, the opening line can make or break you. A good opening line—-the opening scene really—will catch the agent or editor’s attention. Do you want to waste words on something that doesn’t matter? Or risk not putting enough attention to detail that they know what’s going on?
Again: there are no hard and fast rules about how long a novel needs to be. But you’ve got to think of it in terms of pacing. If your story is feeling too short, why? What’s missing? Go back and reread and see if there is anything else you can add. If your story is feeling too long or meandering, see if there is anything that needs to be cut.
The right word count can make or break a story. Too short and your readers won’t know what’s going on. Too long and your readers will lose interest. Ultimately, write the story you want to tell. But don’t forget your readers. You don’t want them to walk away feeling short-changed or bored and that’s why having the right word count is important. Make sure you’ve got the right pace so that your readers don’t finish your book feeling like they’ve missed something.