How many words in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged? 561,996.
Wow. I recently heard Penelope Lively, one of my favorite authors, talk about book length. She noted that a disproportionate number of her favorite novels were short and mentioned William Golding in particular whose Lord of the Flies comes in at 59,900 words.
When I write, I have the opposite problem. My first draft typically comes in around 50,000 words and then I have to figure out how to lengthen it. One reason for the short length is that I don’t do outlines. In my hurry to find out what happens next to my characters, I sometimes write too cryptically in draft #1. I know what’s happening in my head but do not put enough on the page for a reader to follow. Filling in the necessary details is a chore for the next draft. Writer Catriona McPherson says, "The second draft is like cleaning up after a great party."
If I’m a little sensitive about word count right now – well, as Steven Martin would say, “Excuse me.” Microsoft Word counts 61,865 words in my latest, A Fine and Dangerous Season. The good news is that Fine and Dangerous is published only as an ebook. A Nook or Kindle carrying my book weighs the same as one that’s just downloaded a 500-page sprawling multi-generational saga. If only ebooks had been available 50 years ago, Mr. Golding would have suffered no embarrassment at the slenderness of his classic and the backs of thousands of undergraduates would have not ached from hauling around Ms. Rand’s masterwork.