Word Count: How Many Words In a Novel?

If you want to get published, you need to be aware that major New York publishers are looking for a specific word count, depending on your genre.

How many words are in a novel? Or at least one in which publishers might be interested? In this post, we’re going to explain word count and how it affects your chances of publishing success.


Why You Should Write to Word Count

Right now I’m obsessed with a novel/web serial called, WormIt’s by an author who goes by the pen name Wildbow. The novel is 1.75 million words long, the equivalent of about 7,000 pages, give or take. When I first opened it on my Kindle, it said it would take 110 hours to read.

This novel is too long to publish, at least by a traditional New York publisher.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know publishers are particular and risk averse. They want books to look a certain way, be a certain length, fit a certain market.

Does that mean you shouldn’t write your million word epic of a novel? No, you absolutely should. But only if you’re open to not getting published traditionally.

Sure, there are caveats. Sometimes, publishers are so taken with a book that they’re willing to risk a book that’s too long or too short. However, with the way the market is going right now, the number of risks they’re willing to take is shrinking more and more.

Second, there’s a reason publishers look for books of these lengths. The reason is that publishers think books of this length sell the best. They may be wrong or shortsighted, but they’ve been doing this a long time, and it’s at least a good idea to keep them in mind.

Why Count Words Not Pages?

Most people think in terms of pages, not words. Why does the publishing industry speak in word counts?

Because page length can vary widely. If the font is a bit smaller or the margins are a bit wider or the page size is a bit larger, it will result in a completely different page count.

If the publishing industry spoke about page numbers, the number would constantly change depending on the stage the book was in. Word count, on the other hand, stays pretty much the same.

How Many Words In a Novel

How Many Words in a Novel [infographic]

A novel is usually defined as anything over 40,000 words. There’s technically no max length to a novel. Although, if it’s over 110,000 words, some may call it an epic, not a novel.

Famous novels have been extremely long, like 530,000 words for Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables or 420,000 words for George R.R. Martin’s latest, A Dance With Dragons.

Novels can also be extremely short, like Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, which is just 26,000 words.

The number of words in a typical novel (i.e. publishable novel) varies depending on the genre.

General Fiction/Literary Fiction Word Count

Ideal word count: 80,000 words

Most traditionally published novels for adults are about 80,000 words. They can go as high as 110,000 words. However, longer than that is too long for most publishers, especially if you’re a first time author. 70,000 words or less are usually too short for the average publisher.

Again, this doesn’t necessarily apply if you’ve already published a bestseller. Publishers, at that point, will let you do almost whatever you want.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Word Count

Ideal word count: 110,000 words

Sci-fi/Fantasy usually run longer than general fiction. Why? Here are three (unconfirmed) theories:

  • Perhaps sci-fi/fantasy readers are more inclined to bear with a longer story.
  • Perhaps because of the amount of world building required in a good fantasy novel.
  • Or perhaps because these novels tend to be part of a series, readers are more bought in and are looking for a longer continuation of the story.

Science fiction and fantasy novels typically have a word count between 90,000 to 125,000 words. The sweet spot, according to Donald Maas, is 100,000 to 115,000 words.

Mystery Word Count

Ideal word count: 80,000 words

I found some disagreement about the ideal length of mystery novels.

Traditionally, mystery novels have tended to be on the shorter side. Agatha Christie, the bestselling mystery writer of all time, wrote novels that averaged about 40,000 to 60,000 words.

However, most agents and writers say your mystery novel should be the same word count as general fiction, 80,000 to 90,000 words. We’ll do more research on this, but if in doubt, shoot for 80,000 words.

Young Adult Word Count

Ideal word count: 60,000 words

Young adult novels have a wide variation in lengths. J.K. Rowling, for example, started with shorter novels—The Sorcerer’s Stone was 76,000 words—perhaps because her editors were restricting. As she gained their trust, her novels ballooned. The longest is The Order of the Phoenix with a word count of 257,000 words.

Most young adult novels fall between 55,000 and 70,000 words.

Memoir Word Count

Ideal word count: 80,000 words

Like a general fiction novel, a good target word count for a memoir is 80,000 words. 70,000 words is probably too short and 100,000 words or more is too long.

Do Word Counts Really Matter?

Well, as publishers matter less and less, in some respects, word counts matter less and less. Today, successful authors are publishing 30 or 50 or 80,000 word novels as part of huge serials spanning a dozen or more books.

Others, like Wildbow, who I mentioned earlier, are writing epic million or more word long books that take months to read.

Publishers are sticking with their word count lengths, but in the Wild West that is the publishing marketplace right now, the idea word count is largely up for grabs.

I hope this helps you be more informed about word count in the publishing industry, but the rule is:

First, write a great story. Worry about your word count on the second draft.

What about you? Do you think about the word count as you write? Let me know in the comments.


Choose three novels you enjoy and count the words. Here’s how: first, count how many words are on an average page (you can count the average words in a line, then multiply by the number of lines), then multiply that number by the number of pages. This will give you a rough estimate of the word count.

What do you think? Do these word counts surprise you?

Post your word count results in the comments section so we can learn from your research!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • Stiennon

    I track word count closely for my non-fiction books. I shoot for 75,000. I use the project tracking tool in Scrivener to give me a real time progress bar as I write. You can set the project total and a session total that resets every night at midnight.
    On one project I set the session tracker to 5,000 words a day. After a 5-day sprint I am 1/3 done!

    • Project tracker! I need to try that. I’m new to Scrivener and am completely in love with it.

      • Stiennon

        Changed my life! I had set aside a week to write UP and to the RIGHT. My wife and I traveled to Tennessee where there was a great B&B on a hill top that looked good for writing. The night before checking in we spent with friends. I was describing my ideal word processing program when I realized maybe I should google “word count tracking.” Found Srivener, watched a Youtube video, installed it, and wrote 25K words in five days.

        Go to: Project > Show Project Targets

        You can also track targets per chapter in a different screen.

    • I love that session tracker on Scrivener! BTW for those that don’t know how to get that setup on Scrivener, here’s a quick tutorial: https://thewritepractice.com/count-words/

      Thanks Stiennon!

  • Mary Faith Suarez

    There are numerous times a reader will be disappointed by too short a book, whether a novel or an autobiography. One of my father’s religious best sellers was his autobiography, Wide Was His Parish. Tindale wanted to break it into two books but my father died. I prepared it and was one of the editors of that book and can tell you the book that was published was flat compared to the original.

    • Fascinating Mary. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Pingback: Does Size Matter? | Mary Blowers, Author()

  • Claudia

    Interesting. The word count of the three novels I chose – Red Wolf by Liza Marklund, The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – had a much higher word count than anything noted above (unless my math is off and that’s always a possibility). Red Wolf was 175,630 words long, The Shipping News was 186,160 words. And the late Stieg Larsson’s book, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, was 199,485 words long.

  • LilianGardner

    Thanks so much Joe, for this detailed post on word count. I was hoping I’d get to know ideal word counts for novels, and now I have it all clearly explained by you.
    I prefer shorter novels, of any genre, and check for a book of under 70 pages, as the word count is not indicated for e-books. Since I aim to finish reading a book in two sittings, a book over 70+ pages would be too long for me. With this in mind, I’m aiming to make my novel between 60,000 to 80,000 words.
    ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ is a good length book.
    I feel you’re brave to tackle a book of 7000 pages. How long will it take you?
    Happy reading!

    • Thank you for commenting Lilian. The Old Man and the Sea is actually quite short, about 26,000 words. It’s actually considered a novella, not a novel. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write something that length. Just know that publishers generally think that’s too short. Hemingway had the advantage of being a bestselling author for 30 years by the time he wrote Old Man and the Sea. He could do whatever he wanted. So can you, just know that a publisher won’t necessarily support your efforts to do whatever you want.

  • Word count matters to me, but only as a means of measuring progress and setting up chapters. My first drafts routinely run 100,000 words or more. Since most of them are mysteries, that means a significant amount of editing.

    I just read Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit. According to your formula, it’s just over 92,000 words. If that count is correct, I am surprised but only because you said her novels were usually between 40,000 and 60,000 words. One caveat. I’m reading large print and the final page in each chapter is usually less than a full page of text. Taking those into account, word count would be closer to your figures.

    I also enjoy Jan Karon’s Mitford series. The next book on my reading list is A New Song. It calculates out to almost 231,000 words. I am not surprised about that. it takes days to read one of her books, even at my usual rate of consumption.

    Finally, a book club romance calculated at almost 80,000 words. I’m a little surprised. That seems a bit high.

    • I think The Man in the Brown Suit is closer to your number, Carrie. She tended to write shorter, but clearly she could write long as well. She’s the bestselling mystery writer of all time, though, so I’m not going to argue with her!

      I totally agree that word count is important for measuring your progress and calculating chapters. Thanks for sharing that!

  • manilamac

    Although word count beats in me like a second pulse & I *never* (wholly) discount publisher-preference (& I agree that you’ve got the numbers right), but neither can I discount my own preferences. To me, a book of under 70,000 words is what I consider a novella. (I have one w/ beta readers at the moment @ 65,000.) But I suppose that’s just my personal approach to “truth in advertising.” My memoir, presently being published by a university press, is 120,000 words…but all of that is a result of what I read. I leave a lot of under-400ppg books on the bookstore shelves. At the same time, I *do* keep myself word-count-aware on both a day-to-day and length-of-the-work basis. I love writing as I wish…but I also like getting published.

    • It sounds like you’ve got a great approach. I don’t agree though that a novella is any book under 70,000 words. It’s traditionally defined as under 40,000 words. Still I get your point. 🙂

      Very exciting about your memoir! University presses can afford to be much more “experimental,” but they also rarely sell many copies, unfortunately. Hopefully yours will be the exception!

  • I’ve been looking for this information for awhile, so thank you for giving it to me!
    My main problem is words in a scene. For some reason I am incapable of dividing it into chapters before it’s done (which it’s not), and I can’t get any real answers of how many words in a scene! My novel is adult romance, and those tend to be a little longer (at least the ones I’ve read)
    I’m self publishing, though, so does word count matter as much? I only ask because I’m long-winded, and I’m afraid of what the final word count will be!
    Thanks for the post,
    “Whatsoever ye do, do unto the glory of God”

    • Reagan, analyze the books you like to read and follow that. I believe it is a good practice to make the chapters about the same length with the ones at the penultimate points of the book being a bit longer.

    • A good rule of thumb for words in a scene is 750, Reagan, the length of an average feature article in a newspaper. However, that’s just a starting point. Scenes vary widely in fiction. WIDELY. You can experiment with 750 words though and then see whether you feel like it fits your style and story.

      Word count does and doesn’t matter if you’re self-publishing. It’s all up to your ability to entertain your readers. If you can do that over 200,000 words, without losing them even on a single chapter, that’s great! Keep in mind that publishers choose these guideliens because they see it working for them over many years. However, the industry and the market are rapidly changing. What worked in the past may not work now or for you.

      • Thanks, Joe! I have scenes that are 650 words long, and some that are over 1100. It just depends on how deep and meaningful the scenes are. I hope it’s good enough to keep my readers hooked, (When I get readers, that is 🙂 I’m glad they very widely, because so do I.

  • Jackie Murphey

    Gee, I wish that I had seen this 3 years ago. I had better than 145.000 words and cut it to 135,000. When I did the calculation, that would take about 14+ hours. I had already cut out some very neat “short stories”, and then cut it to 122,000+ words and sent it in. My producer who read them told me that I should not have taken them out because they were not only interesting, historical for the era, but educational. Well, it was too late. They could not be added now. So, after reading a “Trilogy”, I wished that I had done that in the beginning. It would have very good reading. NOW I KNOW AND MUST WRITE AGAIN. Thanks, Joe

  • Robert McManus

    I have stopped reading authors because not only were the word counts too long, but they actually repeated information more than once, and seemed to serve no purpose but padding. I think that we really have to balance the count with the necessity of word choice.

    • Yeah, no one likes repetition!

      • Andrew Nielsen

        Dude, there’s reading and reading. People who say they read a book a day really just skim, IMHO. If a book is light for content, start skimming.

  • Jackie Murphey

    I have said that when given the chance, I would go back and eliminate numerous commas. Now, I am concerned about Mignon Fogarty who says that only one space should be given after a sentence. Gee, Microsoft Word would go crazy! Right Joe?

  • Viv Sang

    Thanks for that, Joe. It is most helpful. I personally prefer a longer book and agree with manilamac that under 70,000 words is a novella.
    Personally I use word count mainly to make sure I have done enough work for the day. I try to set myself a target number of words to write. I often fail to reach it though!

    • Well, a novella is almost always defined as under 40,000. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novella#Word_counts). 70,000 words is generally considered a novel.

      I think it’s great to use word counts as a goal. Many many great writers have used them (including Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, and such).

  • Daria Tarrant

    My problem isn’t word count its I write short stories and I have them at about 10,000 words most times its just finding the right market.

    • 10,000! is there a market? I think the sweet spot is 4,000 to 5,000 words. I also write short stories. I have my under 2,000 words stories and my other short stories. I think my longest short tops out around 6,000 words. My most successful shorts, though, are my 50-word stories.

  • dduggerbiocepts


    Good article and valuable info that writers want/need should know if they don’t. I also liked your article “news editor” format – finding it easy to excise the most applicable parts for my needs in order to add them to my writing notes/refs. Thank you.

    The only part I might disagree with would be – “First, write a great story. Worry about your word count on the second draft.”

    Trying to go back in future drafts to perform excision surgery, or grafting extra appendages on a story is certainly possible, but I find it painful, time consuming and expensive. Great stories require balanced flow and rhythm in their plot structure. This is usually accomplished in one of four ways:

    1. Natural talent – exceptionally rare and even more rarely consistent,
    2. Good luck – always assumed to be “Natural Talent,” but if not – it only gets the writer by the first time,
    3. Editing and adjusting – re-drafting flow and rhythm is very time consuming, inefficient and costly.
    4. Spending some time thinking and planning the novel in advance with regard to its flow and rhythm within the plots structure increases efficiency and provides a sense of direction and place as the author writes.

    Failing to have flow and rhythm within the novels structure can cause a reader to put the book down, and or worse – not ever picking-up the book or its author again. I’ve started reading new authors and found a few like that recently and put them down. The first half of these books had little to no plot development with only character introductions and location descriptions. From an avid reader’s perspective, the current global writing industry provides far more good authors and books – than time to read them.

    The word counter is like using an automobile odometer in a well-planned journey. It doesn’t tell you when to stop or where to go, but it gives you a good idea of where you are within your journey at any given point in time. It allows the writer to adjust his speed (flow) so passengers (readers) arrive at each point of interest about the time and place (rhythm) that the author had planned, or tells the author when they haven’t. It also allows some planned destinations to be canceled, because earlier points of interest turned out to play a much more important role in the trip than anticipated in the initial plan. Excessive destinations and or side trips may delay the final arrival too much – losing the traveler’s interest and participation in the writer’s journey. Lastly, and perhaps also important for many of us, the odometer (word counter) tells us when our vehicle isn’t moving forward at all and it time for us to get a move on.

    • I have always found it easier to cut then to add. I love revising. I hate writing first drafts. Give me a Chapter to make sing and I am in heaven.

    • Lots of great points here. Thank you for sharing all this great info with us!

  • Well that’s helpful to know.

    I counted Cinder, the first book in the Lunar Chronicles (a series which I am quite taken with at the moment). The count is about 102,290 and it’s a sci-fi, fantasy, YA novel. So that’s about right. Thing is, the book was a bestseller when it came out, and as the series goes on each book gets thicker and thicker with Cress being very long. This was probably because the plot got thicker and needed more words as she introduced more characters, but maybe her publisher was a little more lenient because of her good track record? I don’t know.

    Bottom line, if anyone has not read this series I highly recommend it. It may be targeted toward teens but I’ve no doubt that an adult would appreciate it just as much. You can check out the sight here: http://thelunarchronicles.com

    • I think the reason for this is that the kids grow as readers as they read the books. I have always thought that’s why the Harry Potter books got longer. Each year the fans are older, more sophisticated readers. If you look at the language in the Harry Potter books, it gets more sophisticated as the series goes on. I think it is one proof of the genius of J.K. Rowling.

      • It’s a good theory. I think that’s true for the Harry Potter books because you can see the characters growing older as you read and what starts out as a fairly innocent series matures into something, well, more mature. Reading the Lunar Chronicles, though, I wouldn’t say it’s the same case. Rather then following the characters over a matter of years we follow them over a matter of months, so there is not the same amount of growth. That’s not to say they don’t grow (because there is great character development) but the maturity level of the writing it’s self stays relatively the same. At least, that’s my opinion.

        Definitely pick it up and start reading as soon as possible and you’ll get to see if you think the same thing. It’s my favorite series at the moment. Hope you enjoy it!

        • I’m currently listening to “Death Comes to Pemberley,” and reading “A Wrinkle in Time.” I’ll start it as soon as I finish one . I’ll have to see if it’s available on Audible. I wanted to listen to The Red Queen, but it isn’t available.

          • Hum, haven’t read Death Comes to Pemberley, but I do own all the Wrinkle in Time books. Not my favorites, but good none the less. I, unfortunately, can’t say the same for Red Queen. It was a big disappointment for me and I could go into a big rant/review about it, but I’ll spare you. 🙂
            But who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy it. It certainly has a few hard core fans out there.

          • Cinder is available on Audible!

          • I’m half-way through Cinder. What a great book. I’m going to start a discussion on it. Anyone is welcome to join in.

          • I’m sure going to join. Looove talking about my favorite books. So glad you’re enjoying it!.

      • I think that’s definitely half of it. But I also think she was fairly heavily edited early on, and then was slowly given more free reign as her novels became mega-bestsellers.

        • Christine

          Love the typo (?): more free reign. That hits it on the head. 🙂

    • Cinder is on my reading list!

    • Interesting, Katherine. Thank you for counting!

  • George McNeese

    I don’t think about word count as much when I’m writing short stories, though I generally know the word count for them.

    I know novels require a pretty hefty word count. I think having that knowledge can be daunting for someone new to novel writing, like myself. So much emphasis may be placed on the quantity of words rather than the quality and effectiveness. But I think if we take it a day at a time, setting reasonable word count goals, it does not seem impossible.

    • Totally George. Van Gogh said, “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” One day at a time, one batch of 500 or 1,000 words at a time, slowly these things can become something more.

      • Roy Turner

        Thanks for this comment, Joe. When I first began writing in earnest I baulked at the idea of having to sit and write thousands of words at one session. I found it overwhelming advice. I am so glad you say the above. This is exactly how I work and find that the stories do come together, slowly but surely.
        I think many new writers are discouraged when told to write huge chunks daily, may work for some people, but for others a less stringent approach can be the way forward.

  • Another great post. I love how you started with a million word epic, I didn’t know there were such things. I didn’t used to care about word counts until I started participating in NaNo and learned I did better with word count goals than hour or page goals. (2,500 words is my daily average). I found this odd because for most of my writing life I have been a script writer where pages are king. This is very helpful since I am planing to traditionally publish my YA novel. Looks like 80,000 is the general sweet spot for most novels. I can do that in my sleep. j/k

    On a technical note, how did you do that tweet this thing? That is awesome!

    • That’s a good point, Cynthia. Screenplays have much more firm rules on formatting and structure, so pages make a lot more sense, especially since the “finished” product won’t be read but watched.

      For YA, keep in mind the sweet spot is lower, 65,000 words would be a better target than 80,000 which most editors seem to feel is a bit too long.

  • Christine

    One day I picked up Alice Kuiper’s book, Life on the Refrigerator Door* and was really impressed by the skill and planning that went into this book. It was a quick read, being only a few sentences per page. It’s a very poignant story told as a series of notes written between a mother and her fifteen-year old daughter.
    (* © 2007 by Alice Kuipers [text] and Kath Walker [illustrations])

    Since then I have become a fan of novellas and shorter word-counts. One survey done in Canada three decades ago found that one quarter of our population is “functionally illiterate.” Back then it was just a statistic to me, but it’s become a reality as I have been helping a relative to cope with life when she can barely read and write. Bank statements, bills — even phone books — are overwhelming for her. She would like to read interesting stories, but her skill level is still Dick & Jane.

    There’s a place for everything. For those of us who are avid readers, a longer word count is great. But with peoples’ reading skills declining and attention spans getting shorter, I feel writers are wise to consider cutting back on word count as much as possible — especially when self-publishing. If we write for traditional publishers, it is necessary to meet their word count guidelines, as Joe says.

    I also agree with Robert McManus that in so many books info is repeated too often. I’ve also read some books where the writer wants to show as well as tell us. Where were their editors!? In the case of some books, I’d love to take a red pen to the mss and cross out all those superfluous details. But to spot them and work them out of my own writing is another story.

    • Yes, non-fiction books often have to add a lot of filler to meet their word count. If only we could all use a red pen on those books!

      • Christine

        I’ve seen some show AND tell in fiction books as well. One book I read was replete with show & tell lines like this:

        Jeremy growled his last words into the phone, then punched the END button. He threw the cell phone down on the table, but it skidded off and clattered to the floor.

        “That dumb travel agent! He messed up big time,” Jeremy said to his brother.

        Jeremy was very disgusted with the travel agent.

        Well, yeah. We gathered that. Body language, you know.

        • Ah I see what you mean. Show AND tell, as in repeating the show with telling. Yeah, that’s not great.

    • Stiennon

      My latest non-fiction book had a single message. I started with my 14,000 word “dissertation” (as they call a thesis in the UK) and expanded it to 40,000 words. Then I ran out of things to say. After agonizing over it, trying to think of “filler” as Joe Bunting calls it below, I just decided to spare my readers and published it. A lot of reviews treat the shortness as a plus!

    • Claudia

      Literacy is a fundamental human right. As a consumer, I am less concerned about word counts than I am about content. As a writer, I know I have to write tight. Every word has to count. That’s the way it is. I was saddened to read about your relative who can barely read and write. The unfortunate reality in Canada is that adult illiteracy remains largely a hidden problem. For an advanced country, Canada is not doing enough to remove the barriers to literacy.

  • JujuBee

    Just a short comment, as one who is writing a book, I had wondered about word count. My book is not a novel but a sort of Memoir with a little fiction to fill in the memory gaps. When I look at all I had listed to put in my book, I cringe. At the very least, this word count will help me be sensible in the inclusions of my sections.
    I can’t thank you enough for all the helpful pieces you post. So many of my questions have been answered and the encouragement really helps a lot.. After this contest is over, I plan on submitting a section a week to keep on schedule. Do you read all that is submitted? If so, it must be a big job.

    • I’m so glad it was helpful, JujuBee! Yes, while you have to be careful about writing for word counts, personally it helps me figure out how to structure and fill in the gaps of my story.

      I don’t get to read everything, unfortunately, but we have a great team of judges and moderators. I know you’ll have a good experience (and if you don’t, let me know!).

  • Sarah Beckman

    What about non-fiction?

    • Sweet spot is 55K for most non-fiction, but some genres business/religious, tolerate much shorter word counts. I know several bestselling 32K word or less non-fiction books.

  • EnterpriseS5_PaulineM

    I have been searching for information like this for a long time. Thank you, Joe, for providing. I write scifi/drama, well, trying to, but to see that word count is a little overwhelming considering I’m currently at around 47k. However, knowing what to aim for does help in the planning.

    • Keep in mind these are guidelines publishers tend to use. One thing I see many very successful indie authors doing, especially in sci-fi and other genre fiction, is writing long series in 15K word installments. If you want your sci-fi to be commercially successful, definitely be thinking about a multi-book serial, whether the books are 15K words or 100K words each.

  • Anna Teodoro-Suanco

    All these time, I’ve been wondering about why we should bother about word counts. I know it varies among different genre, but why? This post definitely made it clear for me. Thanks, Joe!

  • Angus McLean

    Interesting article, thanks Joe. Publisher’s requirements aside, I truly think the story will dictate the length. I write a mix of novellas and novels-my Chase Investigations private eye series are novellas, 15-25,000 words. My action/spy series The Division are 50-60,000.
    Personally, I would rather read a shorter book that held me at every page, than drift through parts of a longer book. I find even some big name quality authors ave tended to fill out some of their bestsellers, which would have been fantastic shorter works.

    • Good points, Angus. Are these books traditionally published or self/indie?

      • Angus McLean

        Hi Joe, indie published e-books, so I guess I can’t speak for traditional publishers on their preferred lengths.

    • Mary Faith Suarez

      Indeed, the story should dictate the length!

  • I’m curious about how people are counting words.

    As I understand it, the traditional way was actually a page count * 250, but with pages required to be in 12 point Courier double-spaced, with 1″ margins. This came from the days of typewriters, of course, and became the standard manuscript format. Depending on the average paragraph length, this greatly overestimated the actual number of words. But for print publishers, it worked well, because vertical column inches was more important than the actual number of words.

    With electronic formats, document size is more important than vertical length, and the count produced by word processors may make more sense. But I don’t see much discussion of this, and I’m wondering which figure people are using. It can make a huge difference. For example, my contest short story comes to 2,000 by one count (8 pages), but only 1,400 by the other, due to it being heavy in short dialogue paragraphs. I went with the 1,400 based on Ruthanne’s answer to this question in the Cafe.

    • Good question, RE. As you say, 250 words/page is an unreliable guide, since paragraph lengths vary and few people use monospace typefaces like Courier. The good news is that nearly all word processors allow you to count your words. Here’s a quick tutorial for that: https://thewritepractice.com/count-words/

      • The one I use, LibreOffice (free, in both senses of the word, and compatible with Word), provides a running count at the bottom of the window, without me having to do anything. My question is really about publishers’ expectations, since they’re rarely stated.

        • Ah I get what you’re saying. The guidelines above are true for most of the big, commercial publishing houses. But smaller presses may have their own preferences, and the best bet there is to look at five or ten of their most recent titles.

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  • Amyah Labrèche-Docq

    I don’t understand the point of writing such long books. Why not write a saga or a series? It would be way more interesting for the readers as well as for the writer. I prefer to have several volumes on the shelf than a big fat one that frightened readers. Don’t you think?

    • That’s certainly true for print books. Interestingly, Les Miserables was originally published as 10 “books” and all of Dicken’s tomes were serialized in magazines. It was only later that they were brought into one book. Those authors fit with your view. But in the age of eBooks, the “shelf” less relevant. Honestly, I’m LOVING reading one long, 7,000 page book, without artificial cliffhangers and arbitrary endings between “books” so they can fit with the established form for serials. As C.S. Lewis said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

      • Mary Faith Suarez

        God bless C.S. Lewis!

  • James Ory Theall

    Joe, commenting on Word Count.
    I am blind and use a screen reader. I previously commented, but it may not have “taken”.
    There was one comment that re-writing and editing etc., were too time consuming, costly, and non-productive. I disagree with that point of view!
    I am an octuagenarian, and I had a teacher way back when, that refused to give you an English Composition grade until the tenth re-write! By today’s standards, this probably is excessive, but I think speaks to the importance of editing and re-writing.
    I am a member of the Longmont (Colorado) Writers Club, and each month we are tasked with writing a 500 words or less piece on a given prompt, to be critiqued by other members. My first rendition of these assignments are usually about 750 to 1000 words, but after editing down to the required 500 words or less, my work receives fair reviews from other members.
    Best selling authors such as C.J. Box will tell you, as he has told me, that they use several “beta readers” (readers of pre-published manuscripts who give feedback to author) and usually do some re-writing after receiving feedback.
    I have published four novels and I am about to launch my fifth. I have sold several short stories to regional periodicals. (http://www.jamesorytheall.com). I think all of this depends on why we write, so a writer should probably ask, “Why do I write?”, before deciding to proceed. I write for self-satisfaction and therapy – not for profit; however, I do want to be proud of my work, and I love getting good reviews, so I try to follow the guidelines the big boys and girls use!
    My wife, Lorraine, an award-winning author, pointed me to your blog, and I find myself enjoying it very much. Lots of good stuff here, and we should never stop learning! Keep ’em coming.

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  • Kenneth M. Harris

    I read one book that, not only was a difficult, but it was about 1070 pages. ATLAS SHRUGG by Ayn Rand. The only that I read in a week more than twenty years ago was The Stand, Stephen king. This book was close to 2000 pages. I don’t quite remember, but I found that book to be excellent and I could not put it down. I do believe that the publishing companies will take into consideration the author. In some ways, i do agree with you Robert because Atlas Shrugg constantly repeated information, but The stand, I never got that impression. I remember reading Gone With the Wind and never felt that it dragged. Editing is so important and I am editing my own short stories as well. Thanks and I apologize for being late with my comments on word counts. KEN

    • Mary Faith Suarez

      You must be a man after my own heart. I have read Atlas Shrugged 11 times. Why? It gives me hope. I can envision John Galt. As my friend and mentor. I have not seen the movies because I know the book and each character therein so well that I am certain that I will be heartily disappointed with the movie. I read The Stand several times (my favorite Steven King). I did, however, see the movie. It justified my belief that I should not see the movie of a book from which I received such fulfillment. As to the size? In both cases I read each through non-stop because I simply was unable to put it down.

      • Kenneth M. Harris

        Mary, please for give for getting back to you so late. Yes, I did read Atlas Shrugg and had a difficult time getting through. I was determined to finish it. What I remember most is that name John Galt.
        The Character, I can’t remember her name, reminded me of Scarlett O’Hara. Yes, before say it, I read Gone With The Wind when I was younger and LOVED it” As far as the Stand, That is, next Salems Lot, Stephen King best book. I read that more than about 15 or 20 years ago in one weekend. If you ever get a chance to see the movie Atlas Shrugg. They filmed it in parts. The only good thing is the actress that played female lead. She was Great. Ayn other THE FOUNTAIN, I loved that one as well. KEN

  • Michael Berg

    Gee….I am not sure with that. Dianna Gabaldon is very popular and her novels can go over 1000 pages. My most recent novel (currently being edited) is 151000 words. Why? Because the story takes this amount of words to be told. It may reduce to 150000 but I am sticking with it, otherwise the story has less merit and feeling. If one is to be restricted by word counts based on commercial applications, then one may have to seek self publishing because strict word counts are money decisions, not artisitic as applied to the text. I ensure there is no padding in any of the three novels I have written…none. They flow beautifully where you could start them and then suddenly realise you have read 60 pages. I think strict word counts are inappropriate because if my own work can read so well, then the amount of words is irrelevent. Some readers become disappointed when the words run out….wishing the story could continue. Why would I write to meet these strict guidelines when it would compromise quality? I am a writer since always…have never wanted to be one because I have always been one since I recall wanting to write novels as an eleven year old. So be it….maybe their formula is what they want….well then, they might miss some truly artistic and well worth reading pieces.

    • Matt

      “My most recent novel (currently being edited) is 151000 words. Why? Because the story takes this amount of words to be told.”

      thank you. I wish everyone held that same philosophy. Hence why i’m going to be self publishing.

  • Alex

    I think long books are fine as long as they are long for a reason.
    An example that springs to mind is Donna Tartt%s Goldfinch. Good book but long. And not in a good way, but in a repetitive, waffly way. In that case, an editor or publisher intervening may have been good but I suspect that as she is such an acclaimed author noone stood up and told her to cut it back.
    On the other hand, I’m writing a historical fiction which at current draft is 100k and the feedback from my readers has been we want more detail. I think a genre like that or as you mentioned fantasy just requires more words to build the world.

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  • Charlotte van Ewyk

    Thanks for writing this! I’ve found this really useful recently for helping me classify what I’ve actually started writing. Having just come out of writing short fictions that were designed to add up to a larger story which, in terms of fictional “articles”, tends to need such a specific structure and word count to seem as real as possible. It’s great to see what direction a new format and word count is adding up to in relation to the publishing world. What I’m currently writing I originally thought was going to be a novella. It now looks like it’s definitely going to need a novel to work itself out. 🙂

  • Aaron Parker

    I’m actually a first time aspiring writer. I’m fresh into it, but the process is consuming my personal free time. Between working two jobs, attending to my daily fitness, and balancing a part time college life I don’t do much else besides sleeping. I heard about a writer’s conference recently in my home state of Alabama. I went, didn’t get in the door seeing as I live in perpetual poverty, but I did get some useful pieces of information. One specific point of discussion was the acceptable word count of a work of fantasy, my genre. 100,000 words. What I do want to ask anyone who might see this post at some point is this. How do I get any kind of feedback on my work? I’ve read thousands of fantasy novels, but I can’t get anyone to take a look at anything I’ve written. And lord, I can’t even approach a literary agent, publisher, or any kind of associated party without a completed manuscript. My own mother won’t even look at what I’ve got. She only reads the bible and watches black and white 1940’s-1960’s films. And British films… Bleh. Feedback anyone?

    • Matt

      just saw your comment and I’ve got some hope and advice for you. I’m a soon to be first time writer who is trying to figure the whole writing scene out. I’m doing lots of research to figure out how to go about advertising and everything, including a recent suggestion of breaking my first book into two parts (which i don’t want to do). It’s a lot of work, but afterwards, I’ll know everything I need to to confidently publish and make money. My genre is sci fi/fantasy. the supposed word count is roughly 115k. My shortest manuscript is 118k, minus one that was intended to be short and holding around 23k. The way I’ve gotten feedback, other than family members reading it, is to see what other books are doing well out there and try to get a sense of what they are about, compared to my own. You mentioned a publisher; don’t fret, you don’t need one. I’ve looked into it and they cost money. If you go self publish, you can easily publish and make money without spending a dime. My recommendation is to write up the manuscript in microsoft word, use it to convert it to a PDF and edit the PDF with annotations. Go back and make the changes and wait a week or two and you’ll find new issues all over again. Trust me on this one. I’ve gone over the same manuscript that I wrote for a book twice now and found 1000 new issues. the only perfect manuscript is in your mind.

      The main thing is to have patience and look into this when you can. it seems daunting, but little by little, you’ll conquer this behemoth.

    • Caleigh Hernandez

      Aaron, I suggest using social media to put yourself out there. Create an author Page for yourself and then find book bloggers that like to read your genre. As a book blogger and self-published author, I can tell you this will be the best way.

      Side note: I’m sorry you’re having a challenge with friends and family not wanting to read. I didn’t ask family because I write erotic romance, but I did ask the best friends. One skipped the “sexy parts” and the other loved it (she’d never read an erotic romance before).

      Now, if you’re looking for beta readers, those that will help you with plot, story and even character development, reaching out to book reviewers/bloggers might not be the first people to reach out to. Find book clubs and book groups through Facebook. Many have experienced beta readers in them that will give you feedback that tells you how your word choices made them feel or made them think or what they’re expecting to come next (because most authors give them chunks of the story at a time). The more experienced beta readers will be able to tell you when your characters are inconsistent, i.e. when a strong female character’s dialog comes off as weak and basically uncharacteristic. An experienced beta reader will help with continuity for your characters, their relationships and the story as a whole. I’ve beta read for several authors and did so FREELY because I knew one day I’d publish and I figured the good karma couldn’t help. From my experience, you don’t have to pay a beta reader. They are usually avid readers and love a good story. They want to help you put out the best story possible. This is all part of the writing/editing process, so be prepared to receive the feedback and go thru and make the necessary changes. Sometimes, they’ll suggest something that doesn’t work for you and that’s okay. Other times, you’ll wonder how you didn’t catch it. The problem of being too close to the story is we sometimes miss the obvious. I misspelled my antagonist’s name several times in my current work in progress.

      Good luck! —Caleigh

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  • Daniel Lang

    I have completed the first 15,000 of my first novel (the first draft) and am aiming for a total of 80,000 words. I like the ideas expressed on this thread and agree with them.

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