A common question among beginner writers that I asked myself a couple of times is: ‘How long should my novel be? How do I even count? Pages? Words?’ You get the point.
According to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) these are the word categories recognized:
- Short story
But to be perfectly fair, there are some major differences in the novel category. Those vary from publisher to publisher, and from organization to organization. But what does the audience want?
Unsurprisingly, what major publishers, agents and organizations recommend is what I have found to be what readers on writing and reading forums expect as well, with some little differences.
But, here are the guidelines to follow.
Novel is our major concern here, although I very much enjoy short stories and novellas. But, according to SFWA, novel length is everything above 40,000 words.
But, we know that an average novel is c. 80,000 words long! That’s right and it’s because novel length varies from genre to genre (see below).
Novella is a fine piece made of between 17,500 and 40,000 words. It has a very similar structure to a novel but with fewer conflicts. According to some organizations novella can have a minimum of 7,500 words or 20,000 words. If you’re writing a novella, it’s best to keep safe and around 20,000 words – you’ll have enough space to develop your plot and characters, and you can be considered for almost all notable awards.
Novelette is a smaller piece of fiction with less conflicts than a novella, but more than a short story, which is the same concerning word count. It’s average word count is between 7,500 and 17,500 words. Sometimes it is considered a novella with no difference recognized.
Short story is the most common piece of fiction, dating back to the oral storytelling domination age. It is a small piece of fiction with very few, sometimes no conflicts. It’s length is anywhere below 7,500 words.
Word count variations in genres
Adult novels (include: literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, erotic, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror) are ranging anywhere between 70,000 and 110,000 words. That said, if you are sending the manuscript to an agent, anything below 80,000 words could be considered too short, while manuscripts that are over 100,000 words long might be too long. Still, if you’re going for self-publishing, a novel that is c. 50,000 words long is just fine as long as you don’t charge for it as much as the longer ones would be charged for. So, the safest zone is between 80,000 and 100,000 words.
Science-fiction and fantasy novels are an exception to the above rule and the reason for that is the fact the author has to establish a lot more than they have to in above genres. In these, the perfect zone is, given that these are for young adults and adults, anywhere between 100,000 words and 115,000 words. You’re perfectly safe when submitting these genres with these lengths to publishers or agents.
Young adult novels (with the exception of the above genre) is the one with a lot of flexibility but it would be the best if you kept between 50,000 and 75,000 words.
Western genre is the best at 65,000 words.
Picture books are always around 30 pages, the best case is 32 pages with no more than 600 words entirely.
Memoirs should be somewhere between 80,000 and 90,000 words long.
Except memoirs, non-fiction is best kept at 100,000 words, with many universities not allowing more than that in PhD dissertations.
Once again, if you are self-publishing, anything goes but try to keep it as close as possible to these calculations since the readers do expect what they’re used to. Of course, be careful when pricing your works in self-publishing business.
Also, an the other hand, if you’re submitting your story to a magazine or a contest or anything in between, read the guidelines carefully, the word count may differ and you’ll find what they’re looking for.