Book Length and Word Count

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I decided to revisit this old article and dress it up a bit. Take the word count example lists with a grain of salt. They are averages. Anyway, onto the meat and potatoes of this article.


The length of a book can be a vital factor in its success. It may not appear to be at first, but there is a formula followed by countless writers and publishers. Depending on the target audience, genre, and book type, the word count in a book can vary.

That said, there are always outliers—books that have done well outside of word count brackets—so these guidelines are best loosely followed.

Book Length Guidelines

Although there is no fixed word count, there are generally recognized guidelines depending on their genre and audience.

Audience

Younger audiences have smaller attention spans and therefore cater to short, fast-paced book length. Adults are more tolerable with longer manuscripts. Likewise, YA (young adult) will—usually—be less than the book length for a more mature audience.

Age group Examples:

  • Poetry: 5 to 3k
  • Picture Book: 400 to 800
  • Play: 1k to 32k
  • Middle Grade: 25k to 40k
  • Young Adult: 50k to 80k

Genres

Book genres, of course, play a considerable role in word count.  Science fiction and fantasy works tend toward a high word count since the writer develops a fictional world.

Historical fiction, Young Adult, Westerners, and Mysteries tend towards a lower end of the spectrum—of course, there are always exceptions.

Genre group examples:

  • Romance: 40,000 to 100,000 words
  • Mystery/Thriller/Horror: 70,000 to 90,000
  • Horror: 80,000 to 100,000
  • Historical: 90,000 to 100,000
  • Sci-fi/Fanasty: 90,000 to 130,000

General Book Types

Depending on the type of book you intend to write, word count plays another significant factor. Flash fiction and short stories are, of course, brief. A novella—for those who don’t know—is a short novel with a compact story; ideal for a quick read.

Book type examples:

  • Flash Fiction: 300 to 1,500 words
  • Short Story: 1,500 to 30,000
  • Novellas: 30,000 to 50,000
  • Novels: 50,000 to 100,000

The Endgame

Legacies

Ultimately, these listings are a guide, not necessarily a strict rulebook. You can have your long epic fantasy and do well with it. However, for new writers, it is best to start small and work your way up. A book length that is simple and sweet reads best.

Once one’s legacy is built, a writer can gamble a little more. Agents and publishers can reference this track record and this increases the chance the book gets published regardless of word count or even prose finesse. If you have enough avid fans who will buy the book, publishers will overlook certain shortcomings, since they know the books will rake in profits regardless.

For this reason, some authors start small in self-publishing like Michael J. Sullivan before they hit the goldmine.

Quantity Versus Quality

Another thing to remember is that quantity alone does not a good book make.  You have to earn your manuscript, one word at a time. If a document is 150,000 words long but fills its pages with redundant vocabulary, it won’t read well.

Adverbs and excessive prose often slog writing; an attempt by the writer to look professional. As a general rule of thumb, the shorter the word/phrase is, the better. The simpler a manuscript is, the more people can read it, and the more can enjoy it.

Word Impact

Each word in a manuscript should contribute to the book in at least one of the following ways:

  • Character progression
  • Plot development
  • Environmental immersion

There are exceptions, but if you find a word that doesn’t fit one of these criteria, it can usually be removed. You don’t want to be overly descriptive either.

Half of the fun comes from the reader’s imagination; give half and let the reader form the rest. This stimulates the reader’s mind, bringing with it a sense of fulfillment. Remember, a book is as much of a journey for the writer as it is for the reader.

Conclusion

Wrapup

The length of a book is up to the writer, depending on his or her goals and ambitions. Identifying core variables like the audience, genre, and book type are essential to the process.

A writer must first do the research, just as a builder must first draw out blueprints for a house—and research the terrain. Each brick of a manuscript’s foundation should be carefully placed with meaning. If you do this, your house of stories will last against the elements of agents, publishers, and readers alike.

A Final Note

Happy writing and have a great Thanksgiving! Also, one last shoutout to all you NaNoWriMo writers. Great work—keep it up! 😀

For those who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, you can check out the community page here for more information. The website also has an archive of helpful pointers for writers.

Thank you for reading. 🙂


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