How Long Should a Book Be?

by Erica Surace

Amongst all the questions that are being asked about writing, how long should a book be? Is right up at the top. It comes up so often. In an actual sense, your book should be as long or short as it needs to enable you to tell your story. It is that easy if you are self-publishing

But suppose you plan on trying to be traditionally published. In that case, some guidelines are important to note and understand as agents and publishers use your book's length as a criterion to decide whether or not to pursue your project.

Word count cannot be overlooked. Some literary genres have expected word lengths, driven by audiences – in terms of their expectations of that genre, as well as our experts' expectations of them (for instance: children's books should not be as long as science-fiction for adults, simply because children attention span is shorter than that of adults.

Writing, according to the expected word count, demonstrates that you have an understanding of your audience. It also shows that you can make every word count (that you are disciplined at self-editing).

Here are the available figures to have in mind:


· Below 500 words can be seen as Flash Fiction

· Short story should have between 1000 and 8000 words

· A long short story should have Between 5000 and 10,000 words

  •   NOVELLA: A story should have between 10,000 and 40,000 words to be considered a novella
  •   NOVEL: A manuscript with more than 40,000 words is considered novel. A single novel can more words, but once the length exceeds 110,000 words, publishers may look at reducing it, unless it is a particular kind of book – books with over 110,000 words are always considered as epics. Here are some more details of some genres:

·        Adult fiction: often falls between 80,000-100,000 words. Dropping below this figure is allowed, however, not by too much. 

·        Science and fantasy fiction: are exempted from the 'word-limit' rule, but even at that, they don't always exceed 150,000 words (and usually fall within the 90,000-120,000 words range). Publishers and agents are aware of this, and as a result, they are more lenient when it comes to word limits.

·        Romance novels: falls between 50,000-100,000…thanks to all the sub-genres that can be found in this category (be it Regency, contemporary, historical, paranormal, erotic…even chick lit). Consider your reader when writing: where and how they are reading your book. What are they in search of? – do they want a quick, light-hearted read or an epic love story? These questions will have an impact on your word count and can also be applied to all genres.

·        Historical fiction: Like science and fantasy fiction, you are creating a world for your modern-day audience – they need to feel your book is real and believable, not dull and lifeless. Aim for the 100,000-word mark to offer up something rich in detail but not too long to read.

·        Crime/Mysteries/Thrillers/Horror fiction: One major thing all these categories have in common is suspense. All books that fall into this category need to encourage the reader to turn to the next page. Your audience might feel you missed something when your words are too few, and you risk losing them with too many words. To avoid these, follow the guidelines of word length for this category. In general terms, a 70,000-90,000-word count is an agreeable scale.

  • NON-FICTION: includes memoir, history, photography, reference, design, novelty… and so on. for this reason, it is almost difficult to place a word restriction on non-fiction titles. If you have a non-fiction book written and want to know if you are hitting the word count. I advise you read widely in your genre to see what others writers are doing – this will give you clarity of what publishers and readers want
  • YOUNG ADULT FICTION:  The 'expected' word count for this category should be around 50,000-80,000…; due to the sub-genres found in YA, there is a little flexibility. But in general terms, YA titles should always keep in mind their targeted audience's age and realistically consider their attention span.

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