Wondering About Word Count and More Thoughts on Contemporary Romance

I spend a lot of time thinking about word count.  It’s a more useful means of tracking my progress than pages.  And of course there are all these industry standards by genre of how long books usually are.  But I confess, I often wonder how long, word count wise, some of the books I read are.  Because, of course, when you buy them, they don’t list that.  They only have page count.  And these days the 250 words a page rule doesn’t necessarily hold.  But it’s just something that kind of fascinates me.  How you’ll get books that are approximately the same length and one may feel super short and the other dense and rich. Which has a lot to do with style and word choice and what not.

As I’ve been on this contemporary romance kick lately, I actually got the bright idea to convert them all to RTF with Calibre and dump them into Word where I could delete all the front and back matter and see how long the actual STORY is.  And yeah, I know I can just go google genre conventions, but this is much more interesting to me having read the stories. It’s been kind of surprising.  One that felt short came in at 95k.  The Lucky Harbor books mostly seem to be between 75-78k.  The first of Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski series hits at just under 73k.  Since I’m considering writing some CR (with those boatloads of spare time I have floating around, right?) length is something I definitely want to consider.

Possibly this is of interest to no one but me.  I’d also be curious how much story is between all the “icky love stuff” (seriously…this is what I called it as a kid–who knew I’d become a hard core romance fan as an adult?) in some of these books (i.e. if you delete all the love scenes, does it still have a solid plot?  One would hope so).  That’s actually something Susan and I’ve been discussing (as I’ve gotten HER off on a CR kick too and we’ve been reading the same stuff and discussing).  Quite a bit of CR out there seems to have a reasonably solid romantic plot, but any external plot is very thin or mostly a subplot–which has led to my general feeling after reading a lot of them that “nothing actually happened”.

Plot is supposed to be CONFLICT.  Character wants something because of some reason, but can’t have it because of some conflict.  If this is mostly the hero and heroine having misunderstandings and being stupid about each other, it doesn’t make for a satisfying story.  There ought to be some kind of external conflict.  They should be at odds somehow, in conflict with each other over something other than I don’t wanna fall in love!

Then, of course, you have chick lit as a genre, where the heroine’s journey is mostly the point of the book.  It seems over time, that there has been a narrowing of the gap or even a blurring of lines between a lot of contemporary romance and chick lit.  And with it, you have stuff with more character arc focused plots than actual plot plots.  Which is not some kind of judgment or indictment of the genre, just an observation and trying to sort out what’s considered acceptable.  As a reader I still mostly want both, which has led to my difficulties in finding what I want.  Plus that sometimes the bookstores don’t actually categorize things the way they should be categorized.  But that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

9 thoughts on “Wondering About Word Count and More Thoughts on Contemporary Romance

  1. I don’t think a WHOLE lot about word count. Except that I kind of like shorter works so I can read MORE stuff. LOL

    I think one of the reasons I like to read (and write) paranormal romance over contemporary is that there are more things to be conflicted about. For instance, in my Libby Fox series, she clearly wants and loves Adam, who is a vampire, but there are issues about that. And there’s more adventurous stuff going on besides the romance…danger and some death along the way. CR seems to be just about the romance most of the time. And there are times when maybe that’s all we want to read about for a change. But not often. I like a good mystery in the middle of the romance. 🙂

  2. This post made me think we should add “Wicked Game plot” to the Pot-Kettle glossary for books where “I don’t want to fall in love” is the alleged conflict.

  3. I’m very aware of word count as well. My publisher requires my (erotic) contemporary romances to be 80k minimum, though I always end up closer to the 90-100k mark. So when I start a new book, I usually set my little word counter for 90k. But I have also written category length before (not published) and those stories are 55-65k. That does leave very little room for subplot, so you have to make sure the main conflict is strong and isn’t just two people who could easily agree to be together.

  4. I’m writing my first single-title contemporary romance right now, so thank you for getting the actual word counts of published books. I’ve been aiming for 80k, so I was happy to see I was on the right, adequate track.

    As for the plots of CR – well CR is my favorite romance subgenre. I read romance because I love reading about people falling in love. I don’t need the plot plot like you described it. 🙂 If it’s there, that’s cool, too, but I love internal conflict the most.

    Although CR has seen a resurgence lately (yay!), your concerns are precisely why it lagged behind other subgenres like paranormal, which, probably unsurprisingly is my least favorite subgenre (although I do read and enjoy it).

  5. Possibly this is of interest to no one but me.


    One resource good for checking word counts of kid-friendly books is the Accelerated Reader website. For example, I just looked up MG fantasy author Janice Hardy, and The Shifter and Blue Fire are both listed at about 70k words, while Darkfall is closer to 77k. (That third one is the last in the trilogy.)

  6. I thought this was really interesting. I write contemporary and I usually shoot for about 90K and end up somewhere between 90-95K. I love that you took some of my favorite books and did a work count. They’re actually shorter than I expected (both Stacey’s and Shavis’s books).

    Being a writer of contemporary, I spent a lot of time thinking about the external plot and whether you need that in a contemporary. I see more and more books finding success where the plot is about these two people falling in love. The problem I see most often is that you have an external plot that’s there to push things along, but is really meaningless. I’d rather have less of that and more with the characters.

    1. Most of La Nora’s come in between 90-100k (well the category length stuff that’s been republished in pairs isn’t that long). But she’s one who almost always has a plot plot outside the love story.

    2. Regarding the meaningless external plot–I agree, I’ve seen quite a few that fit into that category. Which I classify as having no plot. If there’s no meaning, no real conflict, then there is no plot. And MOST of the time, I don’t see set ups for two people falling in love where that is the central plot as a successful read. Because plot = conflict. Without it, there’s absolutely no story. If there’s no conflict, then you’re getting brain dolls instead of story.

  7. Wow, thanks Kait (and Roni) – this is actually news to me, since I like big fat books, and didn’t realise many of these contemporaries were so short. 65-90K? I can do that! *gears up for more writing*

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.