Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Fat Fantasy Wordcounts: A second look

So, fat fantasy wordcounts.

As I mentioned some time ago, Fantasy Faction checked out the wordcounts of five “fat fantasy” series. Then SarahZ pointed out that all these series are by male authors – well, five series and one single book, I suppose the first book in another series, which I had not even noticed in my quick glance at the post.

Five is not a lot, six is also not a lot, but Sarah is right that one does wonder how the writer of that post chose which series to examine. What were the criteria by which a fantasy series was identified as a “fat fantasy” series? To me, the term seems faintly derogatory, though plainly the author of the Fantasy Faction post didn’t mean it that way or he would surely not have chosen The Lord of the Rings as an illustration of fat fantasy wordcounts. So, then, why those particular series? I suspect he just picked the first several fat fantasy series he came to when he glanced over his shelves.

I don’t know, but I got curious and thought I’d take a few minutes (it was actually a pretty tedious couple of hours) to estimate the wordcounts for another handful of fat fantasy series, these by women, and compare them to:

a) the wordcounts from Fantasy Faction’s selections, and

b) the wordcounts of normal-length fantasy.

Arbitrarily defining “normal length” as “in the general neighborhood of my own typical wordcount,” I checked the wordcounts for all my books that are actually on the shelf. They range from a low of 82,000 words (The City in the Lake) to a high of 125,000 words (Land of the Burning Sands and Black Dog). The mean for all eight is 112,000 words. I hereby declare that 112k plus or minus 20k is “normal length” for fantasy. Incidentally, the wordcounts for all of my unpublished but completed novels are on the high side of this length, so those would shift the average, but whatever, I just wanted a general idea of wordcounts for non-fat fantasy.

Then I looked at a bunch of fat fantasy novels. But first I had to decide what counts as “fat fantasy.” I don’t want to use the term interchangeably with “epic fantasy,” so I arbitrarily decided that any fantasy series could be included if it met the following criteria:

a) At least five four books in the series. There was a four-book series I particularly wanted to include, so I redefined the criteria halfway through. Hey, it’s my list.

b) All or most of the books in the series seem longer than average when you look at them on the shelf.

I’m sure you already know how that page thickness, line spacing, and font size can be different for different books. Most hardcover YA books today seem to be practically double-spaced compared to older books, and with bigger fonts, too. But I bet you didn’t know how EXTREMELY variable pages per inch of thickness and the number of words per page can be. I sure didn’t, until I looked at some of the books on this list. Kushiel’s Dart looks like it takes up about the same amount of space on the shelf as Kushiel’s Chosen, but it is 225 pages longer, or about a quarter again as long.

c) The series is epic, not episodic. It’s not “another installment of the adventures of whoever.” An epic feel to a series seems to me to be implied by the term “fat fantasy.”

So, then here are the five fat fantasy series by women that I pulled off my shelves, in alphabetical order by author. For some books, I could get the actual wordcount via Amazon. For others, I had to estimate the wordcount.

It turns out that Amazon used to offer “Book Stats” as part of their “Inside the Book” feature. They no longer do. But you can get to the statistics for some books by the following means:

Go to the Amazon site. Search for a particular book. Click on that book. Now go up to the search bar. See where it says “dp/”? Delete everything after that and then type in sitb-next/ in between the dp/ and the 10-digit ISBN number.

For Kushiel’s Dart, the original search bar will read:

http://www.amazon.com/Kushiels-Dart-Legacy-Jacqueline-Carey/dp/0765379724/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1448992038&sr=8-1&keywords=kushiel%27s+dart

And after you adjust it, it will read:

http://www.amazon.com/Kushiels-Dart-Legacy-Jacqueline-Carey/dp/sitb-next/0765379724

Hit enter. Poof! You are now on the Book Stats page for Kushiel’s Dart.

Let me repeat that this does not work for all books. It seems to work mainly for older titles, and not all of those.

If I couldn’t get the wordcount via Amazon, I estimated it. I looked inside-the-book on Amazon to estimate wordcounts. For example, for Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb, which is 832 pp, I counted the number of words per line for five lines. The average was 11 words. I dropped this to 10 because not all lines are complete. I counted the number of lines per page, which was 39. This suggests that there are about 390 words per page, which is surely an overestimate because not all pages are complete, either, so I called it 380 words per page. Given the book is 832 pp long, this would be about 316,000 words, which is humongous. Even if I am still overestimating the wordcount for this book, it must be around 300,000 words.

Using this method with my own books, where I could check accuracy of estimations, I found that I was generally within 3% of the correct wordcount (but off by a lot in one case). When I was off, it could be either way — an overestimate or an underestimate. So take estimates below as plus-or-minus at least 3%.

1. Jacqueline Carey
— Kushiel’s Dart . . . 276,706 words. That sucker is 912 pages. Talk about fat fantasy! Incidentally, that means there are about 300 words per page.
— Kushiel’s Chosen . . . 241,878 words, even though it is a mere 687 pages. That’s 350 words per page. If you think that’s quite a difference from the first book, just wait!
— Kushiel’s Avatar . . . 263,039 words, clocking in at 750 pages, 350 words per page.
— Kushiel’s Scion . . . 260,216 words, 976 pages, 270 words per page.
— Kushiel’s Justice . . . 244,310 words, 912 pages, 270 words per page.
— Kushiel’s Mercy . . . not listed, but one can guess based on the others: it’s 672 pages, which probably means 350 words per page, which would put it at about 235,000 words.

That is 1M 500k words for the six books in this pair of tightly linked series.

And then there’s the connected Naamah series and perhaps others that are also linked.

Look how the number of words per page ranges from about 270 to about 350! Did any of you realize how much the wordcount per page could vary? I really did not, even though I knew line spacing and font size differs quite a bit from book to book. If you look at wordcounts per page in other series, you will find that the range actually is from a low of around 270 to a high of about 470. In the densest books, there are more than 40% more words per page! Can you believe that?

Okay, moving on:

2. Robin Hobb
— Ship of Magic . . . The wordcount is not available, but the book is 832 pages. Estimating as given above, we see that the wordcount may be around 315,000.
— Mad Ship . . . 864 pages, something in the neighborhood of 320,000 words.
— Ship of Destiny . . . 800 pages, or roughly 300,000 words
— Dragon Keeper . . . a sharp decline to 493 pages and perhaps 186,000 words. Does that still count as fat? Well, it’s still longer than most of the books I’ve written.
— Dragon Haven . . . 544 pages, or about 206,000 words.
— City of Dragons . . . 334 pages, or a mere 125,000 words, and now I think we are out of the region of fat fantasy.
— Blood of Dragons . . . 448 pages, or something like 170,000.

That is 1M 340k words for the seven books belonging to this pair of loosely linked series.

3. Juliet Marillier
— Daughter of the Forest 206,732 words, 560 pages, 370 words per page
— Son of the Shadows 200,653 words, 464 pages, 433 words per page
— Child of the Prophecy 214,481 words, 608 pages, 350 words per page
— Heir to Sevenwaters . . . not listed, 416 pages. Splitting the difference for her earlier books and assuming 370 words per page, that would be 154,000 words
— Seer of Sevenwaters . . . not listed, 448 pages, or perhaps around 166,000 words
— Flame of Sevenwaters . . . not listed, 448 pages, or again 166,000 words

That would be 1M 107k words for these six books.

4. Elizabeth Moon
— Deed of Paksennarion, Divided Allegiance, Oath of Gold . . . 509,577 for the entire trilogy, 1040 pages, so if you divide the wordcount up evenly, that’s only 170,000 words per book, and about 350 pages per book. On the other hand, there seem to be a whopping 490 words per page. Wow.

— Surrender None, Liar’s Oath . . . 377,223 words put together, 864 pages. That’s about 188,000 words apiece, still a high 430 words per page, about 432 pages each, so the books are getting longer.

— Oath of Fealty . . . the wordcount is not listed, but the book is 585 pages. I estimated about 400 words per page, which seems to be conservative given the per-page wordcounts for the omnibus versions. We are definitely in fat fantasy territory here, with the book coming in at roughly 230,000 words.

— Kings of the North . . . 512 pages, or close to 200,000 words
— Echoes of Betrayal . . . 496 pages, or close to 200,000 words
— Limits of Power . . . 512 pages, or close to 200,000 words
— Crown of Renewal . . . 512 pages, or once more close to 200,000 words

That is 1M 900k words for these ten books.

5. Sherwood Smith
— Inda . . . 624 pages, an estimated 380 words per page, which would make it about 230,000 words
— The Fox . . . 784 pages, around 275,000 words
— The King’s Shield . . . 704 pages, something like 244,000 words
— Treason’s Shore . . . 784 pages, around 271,000 words

That is 1M 20k for these four books.

6. Michelle West
— The Hidden City . . . 768 pages, about 450 words per page, an estimated 350,000 words.
— City of Night . . . 560 pages, about 250,000 words.
— House Name . . . 736 pages, about 331,000 words.
— Skirmish . . . 672 pages, about 302,000 words
— Battle . . . 785 pages about 353,000 words
— Oracle . . . 688 pages, about 309,000 words

1M 895k in six books.

Now, let’s compare that to the Fat Fantasy series wordcounts provided by Fantasy Faction. That will give us six epics by male authors and six by female authors. Let me summarize all the series here:

Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien: 473k in three books, or an average of 157,000 per book.

Wheel of Time – Robert Jordan: 3M 304k in eleven books, or an average of 300,000 per book.

Stormlight Archives – Brandon Sanderson: 387k in just one book.

A Song of Ice And Fire – George R. R. Martin: 1M 314k in four books, or an average of 328,000 per book.

Malazan Book of the Fallen – Steven Erikson: 3M 325k in ten books, or an average of 332,500 per book.

The Dark Tower – Stephen King: 1M 295k in seven books, or an average of 185,000 per book

Kushiel series – Jacqueline Carey: 1M 500k words in six books, or an average of 250,000 per book.

Liveship/Dragon series – Robin Hobb: 1M 340k words in seven books, or an average of 191,000 per book.

Sevenwaters series – Juliet Marillier: 1M 107k words in six book, or an average of 184,500 per book.

Paksennarion series – Elizabeth Moon: 1M 900k words in ten books, or an average of 190,000 per book.

Inda series – Sherwood Smith: 1M 20k in four books, or an average of 255,000 per book.

Housewars series – Michelle West: 1M 895k in six books, or an average of 315,800 per book.

Observations:

If anyone doesn’t belong in this list, it’s Tolkien. His books are decidedly the shortest, though it seems a bit strange to refer to an average length of 157k as “short.”

Authors who break 200k per book include four of the guys and three of the women, so no real difference there.

Authors who break 300k per book include the same four of the guys and just one of the women. Of course it’s impossible to say whether there is actually a tendency for fat fantasy by men to be longer than fat fantasy by women, because this is a small sample of authors, not to mention selected practically at random. I got all but one of these series by female authors by going downstairs and looking around for fat fantasies with female authors, except for Michelle West’s series, which I selected because commenters mentioned her in the context of fat fantasy. Female authors predominate in my personal library, so it wasn’t hard to find some appropriate series. Even though Smith’s Inda series only includes four books, I particularly wanted to include it because I knew the books were quite long

Still, given this particular set of authors, the average length for the male authors is 280,500 words per book. The average length for the female authors is 224,600 words per book, or about 56,000 words less. Even if this difference is real and not merely a statistical artifact, which is far from clear, it’s hard to say what it might mean.

Let me just add one thing: authors are told all the time that you shouldn’t plan to go much above 100,000 words, maybe up to 150,000 words for fantasy. Obviously a whole lot of epic fantasy authors are going way, way, above that. Some are managing to do that with their debut novels. But . . . even so. I strongly suspect that your chances of breaking into traditional publishing are much better if you aim for something in the close neighborhood of 100,000 words. Check out this post. Particularly note the information about Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas. I found this particularly interesting given Aimee’s comment about Throne of Glass in yesterday’s post.

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7 Comments Fat Fantasy Wordcounts: A second look

  1. David H.

    Any idea about Janny Wurts’ Wars of Light and Shadow series? They’re very thick books as well, and she’s just finished writing book 10 of a planned 11-book series.

  2. Rachel

    Wow, an 11-book series. Of very thick books. I’m trying to imagine writing something like that and all I can say is, not likely!

    The sitb-next thing works with the first book in that series, Curse of the Mistwraith, which I see is 227,912 words. What definitely Fat, this seems to put her in what we might call the realm of normal fatness for Fat Fantasy. Well, until you consider that she’s doing that eleven times for this series. I’d think that should certainly put her in the top tier of Fat Fantasy.

  3. Elaine T

    The book stats trick didn’t work for Wurts’ CURSE (#1 in the series) but someone else on the web estimates it as 226K with a total for the series so far as 2M6K. he used ebooks, converted to plain text and the unix wc (word count) command. His estimates for various books: http://loopingworld.com/2009/03/06/wordcount/ He did Dunnett, Gene Wolfe and broke out Sanderson’s WOT from Jordan’s, if anyone is interested

    I find myself wondering what Tad Williams’ wc for TO GREEN ANGEL TOWER is, as that has small print in the hardcover as well as being rather large. … pokes around … might be 520K, but again the bookstats trick didn’t work, darn it.

  4. Rachel

    Oddly, the book stats thing did work for the Wurts book for me. I was checking the wordcount in the trade paperback version. I wonder if the sitb-next thing works only for some editions and not others?

    Thanks for the loopingworld link!

  5. SarahZ

    Thanks for putting this together! That trick with the Amazon urls is interesting – I’ll have to play around with that later.
    It’s sort of funny that Tolkein’s books are almost honorary members on the list (they’re also a bit dodgy on number of books, unless you count the Simarillion stuff).

  6. Rachel

    I have to admit, if I were making a list of Most Important Fat Fantasy, I’d feel compelled to leave TLotR off the list. Yep, too short a series as well as each book not long enough.

    After looking at those numbers, I’m inclined to declare that you haven’t got a fat fantasy unless every volume in the series is pushing 200k, and you have at least four books. I mean, evidently there’s no shortage of fantasy that meets both length criteria.

  7. Craig

    I imagine fat fantasy wants to draft Tolkien for the reflected glory; after all, pretty much the whole fantasy genre got started on the basis of providing Books Like The Lord of the Rings.

    No doubt LoTR also feels longer than it is because we all read it back when we were a lot younger. (“We” meaning all the fantasy fans of my generation; I wouldn’t care to guess about kids today.)

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