Okay, so, we know that one of the reasons that writers get rejected is because of the word count of their piece: either it’s too long or too short for the specified range. We also know that there are plenty of books that get printed in their genre but their word count does land outside that range. For instance there are plenty of Young Adult books that exceed the usual ranges that I’ve seen vary between 40,000-60,000 and 45,000-80,000.
So should you be SO concerned with word count?
Well, yes, because ultimately it’s up to the gatekeepers (agents and editors) to determine what’s too little and what’s too much, and it is they whom you must appease if you wish to be published. Though I haven’t hit this roadblock yet, I’ve read of others who have, and honestly it’s more or less a good piece of common sense. These are people you hope to be working with professionally. You’ve got to follow their rules first, otherwise you’ll be branded as an egoist who thinks he or she can do whatever and nobody wants to collaborate with someone like that.
But don’t get ahead of yourself: on the first draft, I’d say, just concentrate on getting the words on the page. Yes, you’re going to have to kill some adored scenes and words later on, but that’s part of the process of editing with the swordstroke of the pen, and at least it’ll bring your word count down. Until you actually have a completed first draft, don’t rack it up as a prime concern. I will say try to keep it in the ballpark, but otherwise, you’ve no reason to worry about word count until you’ve actually gotten the words down.
Here’s a good guideline though that I found from a blog post on The Swivet. It’s from 2010, but it should give a good idea as far as what general expectations have been, as well as concerns for first-time novelists.