When it comes to getting a novel published, many new writers are unaware of just how important the word count of their manuscript is to publishing houses (not to mention their potential readers).
There are several important reasons for this, so it’s worth being mindful of the standard word counts for books that publishers like to conform to. This insight will set you on the right path from the very beginning and help you to structure your story in a way that will maximize a publisher’s interest in your work.
To start with, there are two questions that you need to ask yourself:
1) What type of story are you writing?
2) How long is the average novel in that genre?
How Long Is the Average Novel?
You might think that all books are kind of the same when it comes to their length. After all, they usually look quite similar in size, with around 250 to 350 pages for most novels. But the truth is, a book’s word count needs to balance a number of factors.
New writers are often a bit too enthusiastic when it comes to the length of their story, and they end up writing an epic 280,000-word romance novel. This might seem like a great idea to the author, but unfortunately, they’re actually making it that much harder to get themselves published. Here are the two big reasons why: publishing costs and reader expectations. Let’s take a look at both of these factors.
Publishing a book is expensive. After all, the manuscript needs to be professionally edited, proofread, typeset, and printed. All of these factors are affected by the word count. So even if you’re convinced that your 280,000-word romance novel is a guaranteed bestseller, the vast majority of publishers would look at their budget for an 85,000-word love story and automatically pass on your epic.
For a writer to deviate from the standard word count for a genre, they typically need to already have an established readership. This way, the publisher will feel more confident about their financial investment in the book and will be more willing to accommodate an unusual word count.
The Harry Potter series is a good example of this. Its phenomenal success allowed the length of the later Harry Potter books to increase far beyond what is normal practice for a children’s book. For example, the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, has around 80,000 words, while the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, contains about 266,000 words (which is what a reader might rather expect from a sprawling epic fantasy novel for mature readers).
This brings us to the second reason: reader expectations.
When readers pick up a book in their favorite genre, they do so with a number of expectations. In addition to what they expect from the content—such as whether the story will feature a meaningful romance or fantasy elements—they will also anticipate the book being a certain length.
Fans of mature fantasy, who are used to word counts that often exceed 120,000 words, will likely feel shortchanged by a novel that is under 80,000 words. Yet at the same time, many readers of general romance will grow weary of a love story that overstays its welcome and will usually prefer the characters to reach some sort of happily ever after in around 70,000 to 80,000 words.
When you’re writing for a particular genre, this is something that you need to keep in mind. What might satisfy readers of one genre will often disappoint or frustrate those of another. Be aware of how long your target readers expect a satisfying novel to be, and then structure your story accordingly.
The Average Length of a Novel
Just how long is the average novel? And how does the word count vary from one genre to another? Now that you know why a book’s word count is important, let’s take a look at the actual numbers you need to know.
To help you plan your novel, here is a breakdown of the publishing standards for each genre, in terms of both their word counts and page numbers.
When writing a book, pay closer attention to your word count than your page count, since your word count is the one that really matters to publishers, editors, and proofreaders. However, you can estimate the page count of your manuscript by assuming that a single double-spaced page will have 250 words.
Take a look at the table below to see how the word count for books changes according to genre expectations:
Word Counts by Genre
|Picture books||500–700 words||32 pages|
|Early readers||1,500–4,000 words||30–60 pages|
|Chapter books||5,000–15,000 words||40–60 pages|
|Middle readers||20,000–35,000 words||80–140 pages|
|Adult literary||65,000–120,000 words||260–480 pages|
|Contemporary/Chick lit||65,000–90,000 words||260–360 pages|
|Fantasy||80,000–120,000 words||320–480 pages|
|Historical||100,000–120,000 words||400–480 pages|
|Horror||70,000–90,000 words||280–360 pages|
|Mainstream||80,000–110,000 words||320–440 pages|
|Mystery||65,000–90,000 words||260–360 pages|
|Nonfiction||70,000–120,000 words||280–480 pages|
|Novella||18,000–40,000 words||72–160 pages|
|Paranormal romance||65,000–90,000 words||260–360 words|
|Regency romance||70,000–80,000 words||280–320 pages|
|Romance||60,000–85,000 words||240–340 pages|
|Science fiction||70,000–90,000 words||280–360 pages|
|Thrillers||80,000–100,000 words||320–400 pages|
|Urban fantasy||65,000–90,000 words||260–360 pages|
|Young adult||45,000–70,000 words||180–280 pages|
Resources for Writers
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17 thoughts on “How Long Is the Average Novel?”
If I’m submitting to a publisher for the first time, should I aim for the lower or upper end of these word counts for my manuscript?
Thanks for the advice 🙂
Publishers usually like new writers to be conservative with their word counts, so it’s safer to aim for the lower end of the range.
This is really good to know. Thanks for the breakdown of word counts by genre. I’ve often wondered about how these decisions are made.
How much do you think self-publishing is affecting how readers and traditional publishers see word counts?
For both readers and publishers, the main consideration is still primarily financial. Most readers will be disappointed by paying full price for a book if the word count is too small (or be frustrated if it’s too large), while the issue remains the same for publishers, especially since a lot of the people who work on books often get paid by the word.
Thanks for the feedback. That helps a lot!
What would be a good way to plan the text for a picture book (if around 500 words gets stretched across about 32 pages)?
In general, you can aim for having one or two simple sentences per page. The best advice we can give is to go to a bookshop or library and spend some time browsing at other picture books to get an accurate idea of the popular layout conventions.
Thanks. I took your advice and it was really helpful. I’ve got a lot of ideas to play with now regarding a realistic structure.
I never really thought about word counts being so important to getting published. This is really good to know – thanks
I’ve started paying a lot more attention to word counts and book lengths in the last few years. Self-publishing authors are definitely more prone to releasing books that are too short or far too long for the story being told. I suppose it’s because most of them are released without being edited.
It’s really frustrating how short a lot of self-published books are (even when they’re priced low, they’re usually still marketed as full-length novels).
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