There are many concepts to juggle when writing a novel, such as crafting a plot and wrapping it up nicely (or ambiguously, if that’s what you’re going for), and developing characters.
But there are also technical aspects to consider too, namely how many words/characters are going to be in your finished manuscript to be within the confines of the genre you’re writing and also for marketability.
It’s hard to pin down how many characters (letters, numbers, and punctuation) are in a book because, well, every book is different!
However, we do have a guideline for how many words can be in a book depending on whether the book is fiction or nonfiction, its genre, and its intended audience.
Novel Lengths According To Genre
Novels are generally considered to be 80,000 to 100,000 words long. Although anything more than 40,000 words is considered a novel, 50,000 words is often considered a short novel.
Meanwhile, anything over 110,000 words is sometimes thought of as being too long for a fictional novel. Although there are examples to this.
Famously, The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien has a staggeringly large word count, with the longest book in the series being just over 175,000 words.
Of course, this trilogy is one of the most famous and formative works of fiction of all time, but it is the exception to the rule of novel length.
Still, different genres do have their own specific word count norms.
Crafting a historical world often means historical fiction novels have a higher word count that lean towards being 100,000 words generally.
Love stories are not always epics, and nowadays tend to be fun, bubbly reads you can devour quite quickly.
In fact, some romance novels are only 50,000 words, making them ideal to take on vacation.
But some high-end romance novels can reach a word count of 100,000 words too.
Sci-fi novels and fantasy take a lot of world-building, and often have to create totally new environments, so the word count needs to reflect the space needed (pardon the pun) to do this effectively.
Therefore, sci-fi and fantasy novels tend to be 90,000 to 120,000 words long.
Thrillers are all about suspense, and to be truly suspenseful and engaging they need to keep moving. Thrillers are generally 70,000 to 90,000 words long.
Generally, a memoir should be between 45,000 to 80,000 words long and should be no more than 90,000 words. This equates to about 150 to 265 pages.
When a memoir is over 300 pages, this tends to put readers off even if they were initially interested.
A very long memoir is often compared to an autobiography, which acts as a timeline of someone’s life.
The differences between a memoir and an autobiography are hard to pin down, but memoirs are often considered to be nonfiction accounts of a life that revolve around a message or a theme.
However, there are expectations when it comes to long memoirs.
The Author Is Considerably Famous
If an author of a memoir has a huge following they can have more leeway with the length of their memoir because, well, they have fans who will read their book no matter how long it is.
In fact, they’re going to want to learn more about this person rather than less!
A Memoir Contains Many Messages/Themes
If a memoir has several parts or has a lot of messages or themes it needs to convey, it can be longer than most.
However, you may find it more advantageous to publish your memoirs in two parts rather than publishing it as one massive book.
A self-help book is generally between 30,000 to 70,000 words long, having an average of 100 to 230 pages.
Most people who buy self-help books don’t want to have to sit through a massive book.
They want a short read that allows them to put the advice in the book into action right away.
Novellas & Short Stories
Short stories generally tend to be about 5,000 to 10,000 words long, though a short story can be a little as 1,000 words.
On the other hand, flash fiction can be 500 words or under.
A novella, meanwhile, is a hybrid of a short story and a novel and can be between 10,000 to 40,000 words long.
A more specific and shorter form of novella storytelling would be the novelette, which is between 7,500 to 17,000 words long.
Children commonly read picture books up until they’re about eight years old, at which point they will start to read by themselves. Picture books tend to be about 500 to 600 words long.
Children between the ages of 7 to 8 are usually beginning to read chapter books independently.
These stories need to be simple to follow and are usually about 1,000 to 10,000 words long, the equivalent of a short story for adults.
Books for children aged 8 to 12 are normally 20,000 to 50,000 words, with the longer books in this range being targeted to older children in this group.
Young Adult (or YA) novels are targeted at teenagers, and deal with heavier subject matter and more adult topics than children’s literature.
Their word count is similar to that of adult novels, usually ranging between 40,000 to 80,000 words.
If a YA novel is also a sci-fi story, then they will tend to be on the higher end of that word count range.
Calculating Book Length
You may be wondering how you can determine how many pages your book will be based on the word count? Well, there is a way you can calculate this.
Dividing your current word count by 300 will tell you the rough number of pages your book will be.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t a totally accurate way to calculate how many pages your book will be, but it should give you a rough understanding.
Although there are no rules that are set in stone when it comes to how many words a book can have, there are guidelines that publishers like to stick to when publishing manuscripts because, well, they’re proven to work.
If you’re not self-publishing your work, you will need to be mindful of word count and its relation to genre and audience. Before we conclude this article, let’s sum up why word count is important.
Shorter novels are better for marketing: Like we’ve said, unless you’re self-publishing, a publisher or literary agent will tell you that publishing a long novel by a new writer is a risk they’re not willing to take.
Longer novels are more costly to print: Naturally, longer books mean more pages, and printing more pages means more money to be spent.
Audience expectations: Subconsciously or not, audiences have expectations when it comes to word count, so it’s better for a new author to play it safe and follow convention when it comes to word count.