We’ve discussed the elements of fiction writing, but one thing we didn’t touch upon is the novel length. How important is the word count for your writing projects? Should you keep track of your word count? There are many more reasons why it’s important than you think.
Why Word Counts Are Important To Know
When most people think of word counts, they think of keeping track of how much they write in one writing session. Of course, that’s a great time to keep track of your words to help you progress. However, there’s more to knowing the novel length than simply keeping you on track with your project.
Shorter Novels Are Easier To Sell
If you plan on getting an agent to be traditionally published, then shorter novels work best. The shorter content also helps if you’re a new writer trying to sell your debut book. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. You can write your book as long or as short as it needs. Then, if it’s excellent and you find the right agent, you can sell your novel. Generally, shorter novels are more eye-catching if it’s your first book.
Longer Novels Are Expensive To Print
On the other hand, longer novels are more expensive. Whether you go through a traditional publisher or self-publish, print books cost money to print. More words mean more pages, which means more printing. There are workarounds to this rule as well. For example, if you self-publish, you can release the title only as an ebook. However, if you decide to go to print, you’ll need to cover the costs yourself.
Readers Expect Certain Novel Lengths For Specific Genres
Would you read a cozy mystery that’s 500 pages long? Well, maybe, if the length gets you curious as to why it’s that long. Generally, each genre has its own word count rule regarding length. However, many readers stick within their genre, and most won’t want to read an epic or a romance story.
Sticking within the targeted word count (especially as a new writer) will help you keep track of your progress and pitch your work professionally to others.
What’s The Sweet Spot For Novel Length?
A book is considered a novel between 80,000 and 100,000 words long. However, 50,000 words are the minimum. So, anything between 50,000 and 80,000 is also considered a novel. Of course, the genre may also dictate these word counts, which we’ll go more in-depth about in a minute.
But what if you’re not aiming for a novel-length? What about a novella or short story?
First, let’s look at the general lengths of different stories.
- Novella: 10,000 to 40,000 words
- Novelette: 7,500 to 17,000 words
- Short Story: 5,000 to 7,500 words (can also be anywhere between 1,000 and 10,000 words)
- Flash Fiction: 500 words and under
What about your audience? The age range also matters when it comes to word count. Every person reads differently and at their own pace. However, you wouldn’t want a picture book to be 5,000 words.
For example, young adult (YA) books can range between 40,000 and 80,000 words. However, they may vary in word count depending on the genre.
Middle grade books, targeted to kids ages eight to 12, should have a word count range of about 20,000 to 50,000. The longer works of fiction are generally geared toward the older age range.
On the other hand, an early reader book may be the length of an adult short story. It’ll range between 1,000 and 10,000 words. Finally, picture books should only contain about 500 to 600 words.
Novel Length By Genre
Various genres are where the different word counts begin to shine. As mentioned, you most likely won’t read a cozy mystery over 100,000 words. However, you might be eager to read a fantasy novel of that length.
First, literary fiction, which doesn’t fit within any specific genre, can be between 50,000 and 150,000 words. It’ll depend on the topic of the story.
Other fictional genres may have the following word counts:
- Crime: 80,000 to 150,000 words
- Fantasy: 90,000 to 120,000 words
- Historical Fiction: 90,000 to 120,000 words
- Horror: 80,000 to 100,000 words
- Romance: 70,000 to 100,000 words
- Science Fiction: 90,000 to 120,000 words
- Thriller: 70,000 to 90,000 words
What About Nonfiction Books?
We’ve discussed fiction vs nonfiction books before. Word count is another area where they differ from one another. For example, some general word counts for nonfiction categories are the following:
- Biography: 80,000 to 200,000 words
- Business: 70,000 to 80,000 words
- Memoir: 45,000 to 800,000 words
- Self-help: 40,000 to 70,000 words
- Textbook: 30,000 to 200,000 words (depending on the subject and age group)
- Travel: 70,000 to 100,000 words
How Can You Stick To Your Target Novel Length?
One of the best ways to stick to your target word count is to keep writing during the first draft. It sounds backward, yes. However, actual writing typically begins during the revision and editing stages in the creative writing process.
Having a targeted word count during the first draft is a great idea. For example, aim for 60,000 words, depending on your novel’s genre. But then, don’t worry if you go over that. The first draft is you telling yourself the story. So, if there’s a lot of filler and word vomit, that’s alright. You’ll be able to cut it out during editing.
The point is if you aim for a novel that’s 60,000 words long and the first draft ends up being 100,000 words, and you’ll know you need to cut around 40,000 words throughout your various editing sessions.
How do you know which words to cut? First, ask yourself, “Does the reader need to know this?” If a sentence doesn’t add to the plot, character development, or set the scene, chances are you don’t need that sentence.
Are There Exceptions To Novel Length?
As always, you should do what’s best for your writing projects. There have been many books that are exceptions to the rules (such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings). If your story needs a few extra words, then absolutely do that. However, be sure you do it in a way that readers will want more.
Rachel Poli is an indie author, podcaster, and content writer working on her debut cozy mystery novel.
Although she favors mystery, Rachel is a multi-genre author with too many ideas and characters in her head, often experimenting with short stories and flash fiction.
When she’s not writing, she’s reading, organizing something, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.