Some people believe that a book should be as long as it needs to be in order to tell a story. Others think that a book shouldn’t exceed a particular page count or word count. Some don’t care. So, who’s right?
There is no true standard for measuring the length of a middle grade novel. However, there is a general rule of thumb that you can follow:
- Upper Middle Grade: 60,000-90,000 words
- General Middle Grade: 45,000-60,000 words
- Lower Middle Grade: 20,000-45,000 words
There are several factors I consider when deciding how long my middle grade books should be, ranging from genre to my own intuition. However, at the end of the day my primary concern is that I want my books to appeal to as many consumers as possible. That means I’m targeting reluctant readers, and reluctant readers like shorter books. However, my way isn’t necessarily the right way for you. This article is intended to help you decide how long your middle grade manuscript should be.
How the Length of a Book is Measured
Though page count is a consideration for publishing companies, it’s not the standard measurement because it can be manipulated by a variety of factors. Instead, publishers measure the length of a book by its word count.
Examples of Popular Middle Grade Book Lengths
I ran calculations for ten popular middle grade books to better understand whether or not the length of a book affects its popularity.
At the same time, I wanted to show you why the page count is irrelevant when it comes to the final page count of your printed book.
This isn’t a very scientific study. After all, there is no control group and I selected books that I’m familiar with, which means there is no randomization.
Most of these books would be considered middle grade fantasy. Some are targeted at lower middle grade, others general middle grade, and then a few at upper middle grade.
Ranking Page Count (Shortest to Longest)
- 114 Pages: Spiderwicke Chronicles: The Seeing Stone by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
- 142 Pages: A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
- 208 Pages: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
- 309 Pages: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
- 320 Pages: Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- 384 Pages: Grey Griffins: Revenge of the Shadow King by Derek Benz & J.S. Lewis
- 416 Pages: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
- 512 Pages: Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
- 512 Pages: Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
- 1024 Pages: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susan Clarke
Ranking Estimated Word Count (Shortest to Longest)
- 15,504 Words: Spiderwicke Chronicles: The Seeing Stone by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
- 26,128 Words: A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
- 44,924 Words: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
- 99,840 Words: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
- 103,824 Words: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
- 109,824 Words: Grey Griffins: Revenge of the Shadow King by Derek Benz and J.S. Lewis
- 119,040 Words: Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- 153,600 Words: Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
- 159,744 Words: Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
- 348,160 Words: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susan Clarke
The results were interesting…
Design Makes a Huge Difference When It Comes to Page Count
The three books with the lowest page count also had the lowest word count. Same goes for the books with the highest page count (they had the highest word count).
However, there was a lot of fluctuation when it came to page counts matching word counts with the middle four books.
Grey Griffins: Revenge of the Shadow King by Derek Benz & J.S. Lewis had 64 more pages than Wonder by R.J. Palacio, but based on my calculation, Wonder had about 8% more words.
That means things like the body copy font, margins, and spacing that a designer selects plays an enormous role in the page count of a book.
Same Page Count, Different Word Counts
Both Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger and Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart were 512 pages. However, based on my rough calculation, Shannon’s book was about 6,000 words longer.
In a Word Document with default margins, a full double-spaced page using 12-point Times New Roman is about 250 words.
That means Shannon typed 24 more pages in her manuscript than Trenton typed, but based on the layout the two books ended up with the same number of pages.
Lower Middle Grade Book Lengths Remained True to the Norm
All three lower middle grade books (Spiderwicke Chronicles: The Seeing Stone, A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe remained fairly true to the norm.
Most lower middle grade books fall somewhere in the 20,000-45,000 word range, and the three in our list were 15,504, 26,128, 44,924 words respectively.
General Middle Grade and Upper Middle Grade Book Lengths Came in Higher Than the Norm
Seven of the ten books on the list were estimated to come in between 99,840-348,160 words.
With General Middle Grade books averaging between 45,000-60,000 words, and Upper Middle Grade books averaging between 60,000-90,000 words, they were all much higher than the norm.
Authors Don’t Make More Money for Writing Longer Books
The longest book (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel) is roughly 350,000 words with a hardcover list price of $27.95.
The shortest book (Spiderwicke Chronicles: The Seeing Stone) is only about 15,000 words and it’s listed at $12.99.
Let’s assume both books hit 100,000 in retail sales (a safe assumption), and each commission was 10% of the cover price (about the average for hardcover books sold at retail).
Susan Clarke would have made $279,500. Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi would have split $129,000. That means Susan made $150,500 more than Tony and Holly made… or did she?
According to interviews, Clarke took a decade to write Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel.
If you look at the dates of publication for the entire Spiderwicke Chronicles series on Amazon.com, Holly and Tony released all five books between May 2003-September 2004.
If we assume each of the five books in that series sold 100,000 copies, that would bring their total income to $649,500 in a much shorter time period than it took Susan to write her book.
A rough estimate is that all five Spiderwicke Chronicles books add up to 75,000 total words. Susan wrote 350,000 words for a single book.
They wrote about 275,00 less words and made 79.7% more money. Okay, it might be five books instead of one, but in truth, those five could have easily been released as a single book.
I fully understand that money isn’t the only measurement for the success of a book, but if you want to be a full-time author it’s definitely a key performance indicator.
The point of this section was to illustrate that you can make as much or more money for writing 75,000-words book in 6 months than you can with a 90,000-word book that takes you a year to write.
How to Determine the Number of Words in a Published Book
The formula I use to calculate the word count in middle grades books is a bit crude, but it gives me a general idea. And since I look at all books the same way, it ensures my comparative analysis between titles is fair.
I look at one full page and determine the average number of words in a line. I then count the number of lines on that page and multiply those two numbers.
For instance, when I looked at Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I determined that there is an average of 12 words per line and 31 lines per page (both on the upper end of the spectrum).
I multiplied those two numbers and learned that there was an average of 372 words per page. At 320 pages, that equated to 119,040 words.
The first and last page in each chapter typically isn’t a full page, so the number of total words is likely lower than my estimate, but I’m definitely in the ball park.
When I’m ready to start a new manuscript, I’ll go through that exercise for at least half a dozen bestselling books in the genre I’m targeting. It doesn’t mean that I’ll follow the trend, but if I do break away it has to be for a good reason.
Why I Count the Number of Words in Middle Grade Books
Purists might not like what I’m about to type, but before I write a book I like to study similar books that have recently been published. In the business world you’d call it a market analysis.
It’s not a terribly romantic way to look at the publishing industry, but it helps me better understand what consumers are interested in buying.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not following trends. Back when the Twilight Saga was at its peak, there were plenty of knockoffs that popped up.
In fact, there was a whole cottage industry of vampire love stories for teens. If I would have attempted to jump on that trend, my manuscript would have struggled to find a home.
I’m not passing judgement on those books, but they just aren’t for me. My wife? She read them all twice.
In the same month. She might have been able to write an amazing supernatural love triangle, but if I would have tried to write one it would have been for the money—and it would have been obvious.
So, it wouldn’t have sold. Editors can tell if an author has passion for the subject matter. We can’t hide it!
What I’m talking about is better understanding the construction of popular books that match what I already plan on writing.
Before Derek and I started writing the Grey Griffins series, we studied the first three Harry Potter books (that was all that had been released at the time).
We wanted to understand the average word count and page count, as well as things like the tone of the story and the style of the cover art.
It’s certainly not something that you have to do, but I highly recommend studying the business of publishing.
Part of that is understanding trends. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to try and sell a 200,000-word gothic horror manuscript for middle graders if the average book in that category is 50,000 words.
Then again, maybe that’s what will set you apart from the competition.
It’s really about playing the odds, and like it or not agents, editors, and book buyers at retail stores have to make quick judgements.
They are inundated with pitches, so I like to make sure that I don’t give them a reason to take my book out of consideration before it has a chance to be reviewed.
Why Shorter is Probably Better for Middle Grade Books
Most writers I’ve met love to read. In fact, they’ll share how they were the type of kid who would sneak a nightlight under their covers so they could finish a chapter or two before they dozed off without their parents knowing.
My wife was actually grounded from reading when she got in trouble.
That wasn’t me.
I know, here I am an author and I wasn’t actually a big reader. Sure, I thought Judy Blume books were mildly entertaining, but the closest thing that grabbed my interest was the Chronicles of Narnia, Choose Your Own Adventure books, and maybe Encyclopedia Brown.
The only thing I would read on my own volition was comic books.
It wasn’t until I was in seventh grade that I started reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy that I actually fell in love with books.
If the term had existed, I would have been classified as a reluctant reader. That means someone (typically a child) who doesn’t show very much interest in reading.
The stereotype for middle grade readers is that boys are reluctant readers and girls are willing to read just about anything.
I’m not going to wade into that debate, but I can tell you that teachers, librarians, and parents are always on the lookout for books that appeal to reluctant readers.
It’s why Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy kid series has sold so many books. And it’s why fantasy adventure series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson & the Olympians are both household names.
Reluctant readers definitely judge books by their covers. They also judge them by how thick they are.
One of the most common questions I get at schools is, “How thick are you books?” If the distance between my thumb and pointer finger is wider than an inch, they start to groan.
So, even though there is no standard length for a middle grade books, you may want to consider a lower word count in order to reach the widest audience.
Can a Middle Grade Book be Too Long?
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart is 512 pages, and by rough calculation it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 words.
If you’ve ever seen it on a shelf, it has to be at least two inches thick and yet it’s a popular book with strong sales.
Look at the Harry Potter series. The first book (The Sorcerer’s Stone) was 309 pages, but the seventh book (The Deathly Hallows) was 784 pages.
Sure, some might argue that the last few books in the Harry Potter series are YA and not middle grade, but even if that were true most YA books aren’t close to that long, either.
If your book has strong pacing, high stakes, and lots of tension, then it could be a thousand pages and readers—even middle grade readers—will be hooked.
There’s just one problem… you have to get a reluctant reader to crack open a long book first, and that’s no easy task.
The Mysterious Benedict Society is inarguably an outlier, and Harry Potter is a cultural phenomenon like we may never see again.
Regardless, stick to your convictions. If you feel your story is best served with a higher word count than the norm and it’s engaging, it just might work.
How Publishers Manipulate Page Counts
Publishers can control the length of a book based on several factors. That means they can manipulate a 60,000-word book and a 90,000-word book to have the exact same page count. Here’s what they can change:
Font: There is no standard size for a font. In fact, there are font sets that have variations in weights and widths for a single font.
That means you could have thin, light, regular, bold, and heavy, as well as narrow or even wide. A narrow font allows you to fit more words on a line, but at the same time it can be harder to read. The same goes for a thin or a light font.
Chunkier fonts and fonts with options like bold or heavy can be difficult to read as well. Typically, the paper that books are printed on is a bit cheaper, and the ink looks muddy but it saturates into the page instead.
Instead, most designers look for a base font that is a bit wider or narrower based on their needs to fit a particular page count.
Font Size: Most manuscripts submitted to agents and editors are written in a 12-point Times New Roman font that is double spaced.
Back when edits were primarily done by hand, it was a large enough version of the font to ensure that it was legible. At the same time, the double spacing gave editors plenty of room to make notes between the lines.
The final version of most books are not printed in 12-point Times New Roman, though. Designer will typically use a serif font (meaning it has those rounded lines on the ends) like Times New Roman, but they’ll find one that they think will match the tone of the story.
Then, to help control the page count, they will select the appropriate font size.
A 10-point font is typically a standard starting point, but some fonts can go as low as 8-points and still be legible, while others will go as high as 12-points without being too large.
To give a book a longer page count, they’ll increase the size of the font. To decrease page count, they’ll lower the font size.
Leading: Leading is the distance between two lines. If you would like to try and fit more lines on a page to decrease the total page count, you would decrease the leading. If you are trying to make a book seem longer, you can increase the leading and have less lines per page.
Kerning: Kernig is how you measure the distance between two letters. When you increase the kerning, you increase the space, which will help add to the overall page count if that is the designer’s goal. One way to decrease the page count is to tighten the kerning between each letter.
Page Margin: When I was in college, not everyone had access to a computer. Professors were still getting used to reviewing papers in printed format instead of research papers that were written by hand.
It was almost comical to see fat margins and enormous fonts from students who tried to stretch 250 words into three pages.
Eventually, professors got wise and they added margin and font size requirements to papers because they knew that wide margins are one way to increase an overall page count.
At the same time, shrinking page margins can tighten a page count.
Page Size: You can manipulate the number of pages in a book by the size of paper the book is printed. Books from the Spiderwicke Chronicles series are only 4.5 inches wide by 6.8 inches high, which don’t allow for many words per page.
My first Grey Griffins trilogy was trimmed to 5.8 inches wide by 8.8 inches high, which allows for more flexibility.
A designer can widen margins and shrink the font to make a 100,000-word book at that size much shorter than if it were printed on a smaller page like the Spiderwicke Chronicles.
How to Track the Word Count of Your Book
If you use a word processing program like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, it’s easy to track the word count of your manuscript.
In Microsoft Word, it automatically displays on the bottom left of the program’s display window next to the page count.
However, you can also find it under “Tools > Word Count” where once selected it will automatically calculate the total word count of your document.
To calculate a specific section of your document, just highlight the words you want to count first.
In Google Docs, you also select “Tools > Word Count.” If you would like to calculate the word count for a particular section of your document, you would highlight that section before selecting “Word Count.”
How long is a middle grade book chapter? There is no standard length for a middle grade book chapter. James Patterson is famous for writing chapters that are only 1-3 pages long. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote chapters that are more than 40 pages. However, to keep the interest of younger readers it is recommended that authors write shorter chapters.
How long are young adult books? The length of a young adult or YA book is measured in word count instead of page count. Though there is no standard rule for YA books, the average is between 75,000-90,000 words. However, there are many YA bestseller with more than 100,000 words.