Book Length, Word Count, and Readability in Writing

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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, readability, and book type, the word count in a book can vary substantially.

That said, there are always outliers—books that have done well outside of word count brackets. If you’re a writer with questions about how long your writing should be, this article is for you.

—Book Length Guidelines—

Although there is no fixed word count, there are generally recognized guidelines depending on 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. For example, YA (young adult) will—usually—be less than the book-length for a more mature audience.

Age group word count examples:

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

Genre

Book genres, of course, play an essential role in the word count of a novel.  Science fiction and fantasy works tend toward a high word count since the writer develops a fictional world from the ground up. This takes time to describe all the new rules and phenomena associated with such a fictional universe.

Historical fiction, Young Adult, Westerners, and Mysteries prefer a lower word count—of course, there are always exceptions.

Genre group examples:

  • Romance & Erotica: 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 140,000

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, but powerful tales. A novella—for those who don’t know—is a compact novel, longer than flash fiction and short stories, with a fleshed out story and characters; 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

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—The Endgame—

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.

Legacies

Once authors have a handful of books under their belt—and a fanbase—they 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 have started small in self-publishing like Michael J. Sullivan before they hit the goldmine.

Quantity Versus Quality

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 probably won’t read well to the eye of an agent or a casual reader.

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.

Reading Level

The average reading level for America is around the 8th-grade mark. If the author wants a book to read smoothly among a wider audience, then a book should read close to this level. By using simpler and shorter phrases, the readability of the prose goes up.

Higher reading associates with scholarly articles and doctoral theses; that’s the point of them, to demonstrate a graduate’s intelligence. Informational articles like this one can calibrate higher; their purpose is to inform and advise. Fictional novels, especially YA and children books, are for people to enjoy and immerse themselves in an easy-to-read environment.

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
  • Reader enjoyment

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 as that slogs the pacing and reduces readability.

Chapter Impact

Chapter length can also have an impact on readability and word count. Short chapters organize a book better, improve readability, and leave readers with a sense of satisfaction when they count how many sections of the book they have finished. Shorter chapters also make for good stopping points when a reader needs to put the novel down.

Longer chapters are tedious, but sometimes necessary when a section of a book demands enough information or plot progress to benefit the story and characters. In this case, scene breaks are good for breaking down long chapters.

Reader & Writer Relationship

Half of telling a story 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.

A book is as much of a journey for the writer as it is for the reader. If you can provide that opportunity—for a reader to have fun and explore—they will flip pages nonstop and won’t care about book length.

—Conclusion—

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, book type, readability, and the author’s legacy are essential to the process. Authors who have built up an impressive resume of stories can skirt the rules.

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 critics alike.

Here’s a free online program called WordCounter that not only checks the word count in a written document but also checks the reading level, reading or speaking time, and word frequency. Just paste your work into the program, and it will analyze everything for you automatically.

Thank you for reading and good luck in your writing endeavors.


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Why Do Writers Write?

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“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success…Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”

—Nikola Tesla

Each author has his or her own means to spur the imagination, the motivation to sit down and write. The source of an author’s motivation is vital to the writing process—and understanding it will enhance the quality of any written piece.

In this blog post, I’ll explore some of the reasons why writers write and then I will discuss my own experiences.  If you’re an aspiring author seeking direction, then this article will provide some useful guidance. Maybe you can relate to your own experiences—I’d love to hear them in the comments below. 🙂

—Why Do Writers Write—

To Express Creativity

“The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak; when you’re present in the current moment; when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing; when you are fully alive.”

Sir Ken Robinson

There’s nothing like an adrenaline rush at the onset of a brilliant story. Writing brings us into a world of creativity, full of whimsy imagination that expresses our intellect in profound ways.

One of the main reasons why writers write is because they need to release this beautiful energy. Bottling it up is like putting a stopper on a volcano.

To Gain Recognition

The ego is a strong motivator, especially for writers; many authors want to be inspired by their success and the praise they get from the world. Not everyone wants to be the next Stephen King or George Orwell, but many do.

 

To Influence the World

You may have heard the classic phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”. Well, it’s true; a written piece can alter history and modify how the world sees itself—especially with religious prose.

Others, like news companies, can control how the public is informed on local, national, and world issues. When you think about it from that perspective, that pen is sounding quite powerful.

To Explore Life Itself

Since time immemorial, storytellers and philosophers have addressed the meaning of life and what gives humanity purpose. Writing is a therapeutic exercise that allows the mind to explore reality around us.

Writers attempt to tackle many of life’s questions, hoping to inspire others in the process. In this way, writing is more of an altruistic ritual for empowering humanity. See this recent article on the Hero’s Journey for more information.

To Make Money

There’s nothing wrong with writing to put food on the table. Many people use writing as a second job to supplement their main income. Writing can be a fun and immersive hobby, and making some money while doing it is certainly appealing.

That said, writing isn’t very rewarding. Most writers get paid little each month for their publications. There are those that defy the odds and become rich, but that isn’t the typical scenario.

—Why I Write—

How did I start as a writer? What interests me and motivates my writing sessions? In this section, I’ll elaborate on these questions. The answers should give you a different perspective to reflect on—and some of them might surprise you!

How I started as a Writer

I never planned on being a writer, the art gradually crept up on me in my adult years. During my childhood, I was into roleplays, which were short stories co-authored with friends.

My dad owned a small library of science fantasy books, which I consumed voraciously. Science fiction and fantasy were my favorite genres, but I also enjoyed romance, horror, and spirituality.

From the roleplaying forums that I had joined, I gradually developed a cast of original characters, plot themes, and mythical creatures. It went further and  I designed a magical system, technology, names for races, continents, and planets.

The project snowballed when I was unemployed, bored, and depressed. I chose something that I could actively do myself, rather than relying on an email response from an IT company for a job while I sat at home.

My old roleplaying friends had also moved away from the forums, and I was left to my creative devices. Little did I know what the result would be…

Startling Revelations

Several months later after starting on my little project, I sat up from my computer chair, staring at a 300,000-word rough manuscript.

I couldn’t believe it, and I remember pounding the computer desk in disbelief.

I’d written something so extensive to be worthy of a trilogy, and I didn’t have any English college credentials! Talk about a wild trip into my imagination!

Since finishing the rough draft, I’ve reviewed my manuscript and discovered the horrors of rereading, rewriting, and editing out the myriad mistakes we humans continuously make in our work. Thankfully, the manuscript for book 1 has progressed significantly over the many grueling—yet fun—hours I’ve put into it.

My motivation

I write to fulfill myself-—to release the creative demons that lurk within my heart. Every day they beg release. There is a warm satisfaction in finishing an article or writing/editing an original chapter of my novel. I cherish my characters and readers, considering them good friends.

Looking Back

I understand that writing is difficult, but so are many things in life worth doing. Writing, especially with my original series, fills me with a warm fulfillment that other pastimes do not. When I look back at my life, I’ll have no regrets working on Ethereal Seals, my blog, or any of my future projects.

Despite the struggles—as shared by many authors—, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it as an amateur writer and blogger, pioneering into my own creative world.


What is your spark? Are you also seduced by the rewards that creativity brings? Leave it in the comment below if you feel inclined. Thanks for reading everyone!