A common question that I hear when I teach novel writing or even talk with other writers is, “How long should my book be?”
My answer is usually, “What genre of book are you writing?”
There are different acceptable lengths for different genres of books. It doesn’t mean that you can’t write outside of those limits. I found one writer named Wildbow who had written a web-published book called Worm. It’s not on Amazon but you can find it online. It is made up of 31 arcs and an epilogue and each arc has about 10 sections. If it sounds long, it is. It has 1.75 million words or about 7,000 pages. Each arc I’m guessing could probably make up its own novel.
That’s an extreme example of an author writing outside of typical lengths. Some well-known novels can be outside of the typical lengths for their genres. Les Miserables runs long at 530,000 words while Old Man and the Sea is a short novel in any genre at 26,000 words.
Word count matters for publishers for a couple reasons. Longer books cost more to print, which means that they will have to charge a higher price, which could affect sales. Also, readers of certain genres expect books to be certain lengths.
Nowadays, an acceptable length for a novel depends a lot on the genre. Here’s a list I’ve compiled from different sources on the web and averaged out.
- Flash fiction: up to 1,000 words.
- Short stories: 1,000 to 10,000 words.
- Novellas: 10,000 to 50,000 words.
- Middle grade readers: 20,000 to 55,000 words. The longer books are for the older students.
- Westerns: 50,000 to 80,000 words.
- Romance: 50,000 to 100,000 words. The smaller ones are the ones that are published by companies by Harlequin while the larger are independent.
- Young adult: 55,000 to 75,000 words.
- Memoirs: 75,000 to 85,000 words.
- General fiction: 75,000 to 90,000 words.
- Mystery: 75,000 to 90,000 words.
- Horror: 75,000 to 90,000 words.
- Historical fiction: 90,000 to 105,000 words. These tend to be longer because of the need to weave in historical detail.
- Science fiction and fantasy: 90,000 to 115,000 words. These books tend to be longer because there is a lot of worldbuilding involved.
These numbers aren’t locked in stone. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, which were all in the same genre and targeting the same audience, ranged from 76,000 words to 257,ooo words. So there can always be exceptions, but generally not for first-time authors. Even Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel was pretty close to the range for a young adult novel. The numbers didn’t grow until she had proven herself as a writer and the shown the popularity of the characters.
So, the first thing to do is write the best story you can. Once you have a good solid draft, then take a look at the word count.
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