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Writing

Word Count Guide: How Long Is a Book, Short Story, or Novella?

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 26, 2019 • 4 min read

There are a lot of elements that go into writing a story, like fleshing out characters, piecing together the plot, and crafting the perfect ending. On the technical side of things, authors need to consider the number of words that will be in their completed manuscript. There is a sweet spot when it comes to word count, and it’s based on a book’s genre and target audience. Follow this rough word count guide as you embark on your literary journey.

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3 Reasons Word Count Is Important in Writing

While there are no hard and fast rules on the amount of words a book needs, there are highly-suggested guidelines in the traditional publishing industry, especially for first time authors. Let’s face it, we can’t all be J.K. Rowling right out of the gate with a bestseller as our first book. Unless you’re self-publishing, you’ll need to pay attention to how many words you use to compose your first draft. Here are three reasons why word count is important:

  1. Shorter novels are more marketable. A literary agent and traditional publisher are less likely to take a chance on long novels when they come from a new writer. An adult fiction book is most marketable in the suggested word count.
  2. Longer novels are more expensive to print. Longer books increase the number of pages that need to be printed. That makes them more expensive to print and a bigger investment.
  3. Audiences expect a certain word count. Audiences are used to a certain story length and page count, so an unknown author can attract more readers by staying in the expected range.

How Long Should a Novel Be?

If you’re writing your first novel, the general rule of thumb for novel writing is a word count in the 80,000 to 100,000 range. While anything over 40,000 words can fall into the novel category, 50,000 is considered the minimum novel length. Anything over 110,000 words is considered too long for a fiction novel.

Each book in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy has an enormous word count, with the longest clocking in at over 175,000 words. Despite their ongoing success, those epic sagas are the rare exception to general word count rules. Typically, you’ll want your novel to be much shorter.

Within the world of literary fiction, different genres follow more specific word count targets:

  • Thriller: A good suspense story has to keep the plot moving to keep the reader engaged. The ideal count for a mystery is a 70,000 and 90,000 word novel.
  • Science fiction and fantasy: Sci-fi novels are an art in world-building. The need to invent a completely new environment makes this genre longer than others. A fantasy novel will usually have 90,000 to 120,000 words.
  • Romance novels: Not every love story is an epic like Wuthering Heights. Romantic plots now tend to be fun, fast reads. Some are as short as 50,000 words—the perfect book for a beach vacation. The high-end romance novel word count is 100,000.
  • Historical fiction: Fleshing out an imagined historical world lends itself to a higher word count, so historical fiction tends to be closer to 100,000 words.
  • Non-fiction: There is no definitive word count guide for non-fiction books due to the many subgenres. If you’re writing a non-fiction book, be sure to look up that category to find the length of similar books. For example, memoirs are generally 80,000 to 90,00 words.
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How Long Should a Novella Be?

A novella is a fictional piece between a short story and a novel with anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 words. There’s an even narrower story option—the novelette—that has a word count between 7,500 and 17,000 words.

How Long Should a Short Story Be?

The average short story should run anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 words, but they can be anything above 1,000 words. Flash fiction is a short story that is 500 words or less.

How Long Should a Young Adult Novel Be?

Geared towards teenagers, young adult (YA) books address heavier topics and have more adult themes than children’s literature, and their word count is closer to that of adult novels, too. YA novels should be anywhere from 40,000 to 80,000 words. A sci-fi YA book will be at the higher end of this range.

How Long Should a Middle Grade Book Be?

For kids eight to 12 years old in the middle grades, books should have between 20,000 and 50,000 words. This range is relative to age. In other words, books on the shorter end are better for the younger middle grades, while higher word counts are better suited for kids closer to 12.

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How Long Should a Children’s Book Be?

In the seven to eight-year-old age group, children begin to read chapter books on their own. The stories should be easy to follow and have an average word count of 1,000 to 10,000 words, a range similar to an adult short story.

How Long Should a Picture Book Be?

Between the ages of four and eight, children have picture books read to them and also begin to read themselves. At this age, picture books tend to have around 500 to 600 words.

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