You might be wondering how many words in a novel is right for your genre
There is no hard an fast rule. In some ways, it is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. In today’s publishing world, does word count matter anymore?
If you are pitching a new novel to a literary agent or publishing houses, yes it probably still does. You should always note your word count in your query letter.
But if you are self-publishing, you have much more latitude with your word and page count.
Is there a guide to how many words long a novel should be? No, but you can look at commonly accepted standards for popular book genres.
Word count averages
As a general rule of thumb, a novel falls somewhere between 40,000 words and 100,000 words. Some genres like science fiction can be much longer and spend 1,000s of words on world-building.
If there is an average, 60,000 words to 80,000 words are probably the sweet spot.
It is interesting to note that the first book by JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, is 76,944 words long.
If a story is in the range of 20,000 to 30,000 words, it is most often classified and a novella.
Below this range, you are probably looking at a short story.
Story length by specific genres
Romantic fiction can be anywhere from 55,000 words up to 120,000 words. If you are trying to find a traditional publisher for your book, then around 110,000 words would be about right.
Some sub-genres of romance sometimes tend to be little shorter than mainstream romance.
Nora Roberts is a good example of continuity in story length for romance novels. Almost all of her books are about 460 printed pages, which is around 127,000 words.
For print books, this uniformity is a vital factor in how a book looks on a bookstore shelf. Especially for a series of books by the same author.
It is a very broad category, but these novels are usually quite long.
As a guide, they are most often between 120,000 to 150,00 words.
Crime, thriller and suspense
These novels are almost always in the range of 90,000 words to 130,000 words or even more.
As an example, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is 170,000 words long.
The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy is 162,690 words.
However, In a House of Lies by Ian Ranking is much shorter at 101,355 words.
Fantasy and science fiction
In these two genres, word count can extend up to and beyond 200,00 words. There seems to be no limit to how many words you can write in a novel.
I am sure you have read many of the classics that can take an awfully long time to read.
Memoirs and biographies
These books are generally limited from 70,000 to 100,000 words.
Higher word counts might be acceptable if you are an ex-president or a famous, or infamous, celebrity.
Middle grade fiction
As a rule, 20,000 to 40,000 words is the ideal range. But there is no hard an fast rule.
Young adult fiction
Young adult stories often range from 40,00 to 80,000 words. But rarely anywhere over 100,000 words.
There are many sub-genres to this category. However, an acceptable length is generally within the range of 75,000 to 110,000 words.
Self-help and personal development
There are no strict guidelines for this genre. Say what you have to say in as many or few words as it takes to cover your topic.
For a picture book, 200 to 300 words are about the limit.
If you are writing for early readers, then up to 3,000 words is the top of the range.
Chapter books, or Chapbooks, often stop well before 10,000 words.
Related reading: The Best Free Book Writing Programs And Software
Does the rulebook apply to ebooks?
Publishing today is tipping all the rules upside down and then giving them a shake for good measure.
The guidelines for the length of a novel are all based on the traditional publishing model.
In many ways, it is about fulfilling a market expectation by readers and book buyers who browse for a new book in a brick and mortar bookstore.
Word count dictates the number of pages in a print book, and this defines the spine thickness.
Because the spine is so important in how a novel presents on a bookstore shelf, thick is good. The thicker the better, because there is more room for the title and author name.
But how thick is an ebook? And where is the spine?
Amazon self-publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has changed everything. Even more challenging for authors, is adapting to ebook subscriber reading with Kindle Unlimited (KU).
If you have enrolled your ebooks into KDP Select, you know that you earn your royalties by page reads and not by the number of ebooks you sell.
You are selling 187 words per page with KU, and you hope that KDP gets the calculation right. It is still arguable that Amazon can’t count by the number of words read in an ebook.
But in the end, the more words in your ebook, the more you should earn from KU page reads.
However, subscriber readers don’t necessarily read a whole book. They can flit from one book to another reading a few pages here and a few pages there. If you check your KDP sales dashboard, you will know about this reading trend.
Word count for ebooks
Ebook reading creates many challenges and questions about how many words you should write in a novel.
Should you opt-out of subscriber reading and focus on real ebook unit sales?
If you write a classic crime thriller of say 120,000 words, your list price for your ebook will struggle to sell at a price above $4.99.
But if you divide up your story into a three ebook series of 40,000 words each, you have a good chance of selling at $2.99 or even $3.99.
For a return on your word count, the lower price should return more for you. But only if you hook a new reader with your first book in the series.
There is no easy answer. But there has been a noticeable trend towards ebook readers preferring shorter reads.
Maybe it has something to do with attention span, or when and how an ebook reader reads. It could also be because screen reading is not as comfortable as reading a print book.
There is no right or wrong length for an ebook. Sure, you can use the generally accepted count for specific genres. But I would say that you have much more flexibility when it comes to your ebooks.
It’s a tough market. Balancing your ebook price or subscription return against the number of words in your book is a calculation only you can make.
The decision you make about how many words you should use in your novel is not an easy one.
If you are taking the traditional publishing route, then yes. You should take a guide from the generally accepted word count totals for your particular genre.
But if you are self-publishing ebooks, then you can forget the rules and make your own. Experiment, try and see what works and what doesn’t.
But I have an inkling that shorter is better when it comes to ebooks.
Related reading: What is your book genre?