When it comes to determining the ideal word count for your novel, it's important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The length of a book can depend on a variety of factors, including the genre, the target audience, and the publishing market. However, there are some general guidelines that can help you determine the appropriate length for your novel.
For example, in the literary fiction genre, novels can range from around 80,000 to 110,000 words. In contrast, commercial fiction, such as thrillers and romances, tend to be shorter, with a word count ranging from 70,000 to 90,000 words. Young adult novels are often shorter, with a typical length of around 60,000 to 80,000 words, while middle grade novels are even shorter, with a typical length of around 30,000 to 50,000 words.
It's also important to consider the target audience when determining the appropriate word count for your novel. For example, a book intended for children will likely be shorter than a book intended for adults. Additionally, it's crucial to keep in mind the publishing market when determining the length of your novel. Many publishers have specific word count guidelines for the types of books they are looking to acquire. For example, some publishers may only accept submissions for adult literary fiction that fall within a specific word count range.
In addition, it's important to remember that a book's length should not be based solely on word count. The quality of the story and the writing are far more important than hitting a specific word count. A well-written, engaging story that is shorter or longer than the typical length for its genre can still be a success. Ultimately, the most important thing is to write the best book possible and let the word count fall where it may.
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Average Word Count in a Novel
As for the average word count in a novel, it usually falls somewhere in the region of 80,000 words. The universally agreed minimum word count for a novel is around 40,000 words. If your book is below this word count, it will be considered a novella. I would strongly suggest that if your novel is sub-40,000 word count, you seriously consider expanding.
Though novellas have their place, they are very difficult to sell to book publishers, and you will find it hard to secure agent representation with a novella. So, as a rule of thumb, the average word count in a novel is between 80,000 to 100,000 words.
Saying this, if you do want to go down the novella route, here are 33 book publishers and journals seeking novellas. Novellas can be used to start authors' careers but not so much nowadays. Caroline Smailes started her writing career with novellas and has recently seen one of her books made into a film by Youtube star Luke Cutforth. This shows that there are alternatives out there for novel success.
Please note: if you are interested in seeing word counts for shorter works of fiction, this article about writing short stories will help.
It’s not quite that simple. The average word count in a novel may only apply depending on the book genre. For instance, a science fiction novel's word count must be at least 50,000 words.
To receive the prestigious Nebula Award, the science fiction book's word count must be above 50,000. This is just one example of many factors that could influence your novel word count target.
Word Count for Book Genres
- Crime: 90,000 to 100,000.
- Thriller: 70,000 to 90,000.
- Romance: 60,000 to 90,000.
- Fantasy: 90,000 to 120,000.
- Horror: 80,000 to 100,000.
- Science Ficition: 90,000 to 125,000.
- Historical: 80,000 to 120,000.
- Young Adult: 50,000 to 80,000.
- Novella: 20,000 to 40,000.
- Short Stories: 1000 to 8000.
- Flash Fiction: 100 to 500.
Notice how the maximum word count for a fantasy novel is 40,000 more than the young adult book genre? This highlights the importance of being aware of the word count guidelines in your chosen book genre.
The science fiction novel word count is on average the largest of book genres. The science fiction genre is all about lengthy word counts. It allows authors to develop an engaging futuristic world within a novel. Historical novels also have a huge word count due to their complex nature.
However, it’s not quite that simple. There is a belief that a debut novel is slightly different. It is sometimes said that for a debut novel, you need to be aiming for a word count of around 80,000 words maximum. I am not convinced by this argument but feel it is something of which you should be aware.
Why Does Word Count Matter?
There is a lot of talk about novel word count, but does it matter?
Let’s start with very small novels. . .
The book publishing industry has a belief that when readers are deciding to buy a novel, its physical size plays a part in the buying equation. Rightly or wrongly, it is felt that very small novels (sub-40,000 words) will appear flimsy and less substantial than the competition, and therefore will, in the mind of the reader, not be worth the retail price.
Now, I understand that this may (or may not) be the case in reality, but all that matters is that this belief persists in the book publishing world. If your novel word count is below 40,000, it will be an issue. This issue could also apply to eBooks. The reader isn’t actually purchasing a physical copy of the book. In that case you need to make sure they get the content and quality in your novel that they expected when purchasing.
Now for very big novels.
The problem with large novels (we are talking above 150,000 word count) is twofold. The first reason is all to do with cost. If a novel word count is made up of hundreds of thousands of words then it will naturally need lots of pages, and pages cost money. Large novels with hundreds of pages can quickly become prohibitively expensive to print. All books are a gamble, but those by debut novelists are even more so. A publisher will be looking to print at least a three thousand books in their first print run. It is cheaper to print 60,000-word novels than it is to print 120,000-word novels.
Therefore, smaller novels = less financial gamble.
The second reason is also all to do with cost. When an agent or book publisher is assessing a potential book deal, foreign rights sales will play a part in the thinking. Foreign rights are permission for the book to be translated and sold in other countries. These rights are sold to foreign publishers — giving agents, book publishers and writers an additional cash windfall. However, very large novels present a problem. Translators charge by the word and therefore very large novel word counts bring with them very large translation costs. This means the rights will be more difficult to sell and this will be seen as a negative by agents and book publishers when initially assessing your novel.
Word Counts of Famous Novels
Despite these averages and suggestions, studying word counts of famous novels shows that not all authors follow these rules. The old saying is ‘rules are made to be broken’ which is certainly the case in the Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling. The book series' entire word count is 1,084,170. The novel word count increases throughout the collection.
Novel Word Count for Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling:
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – 76,944.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – 85,141.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – 107,253.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – 190,637.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – 257,045.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – 168,923.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – 198,227.
When it comes to novel word count for famous novels, the size varies.
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand - 561,996.
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – 561,304.
- Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – 543,709.
- A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin - 424,000.
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - 418,053.
- A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin – 300,000.
- The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – 240,000.
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville – 209,117.
- The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – 155,717.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 144,523.
- The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien – 137,115.
- Atonement by Ian McEwan – 123,378.
- Twilight by Stephenie Meyer – 118,975.
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – 112,815.
- Divergent by Veronica Roth – 105,143.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – 100,388.
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – 99,750.
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – 73,404.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – 70,570.
- The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – 67,707.
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton – 48,523.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 47,094.
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – 46,333.
- The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon – 46,573.
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – 38,421.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl – 30,644.
- Animal Farm by George Orwell – 29,966.
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