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How Many Words in a Novel

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Are you wondering how many words are in a novel? The reality of writing is that there are no “set” words that must be present in a finished novel. You’ll find that some books only have around 20,000 words to them and readers have found them to be a profound piece of literature.

On the other hand, there are several books that have more than 1 million words to them. Although many of these lengthy masterpieces are several decades, if not centuries, in age, author L. Ron Hubbard created Mission Earth and it is nearly 4,000 pages long and consists of 1.2 million words.

So length is generally subjective. A novel must be long enough for it to create a fulfilling story, but shouldn’t be so long that the narrative becomes repetitive, static, or boring. As a general rule, especially for new writers, the goal is to create a novel that is between 50,000 – 70,000 words in length. First-time writers are encouraged to keep their first novels to 120,000 words at maximum.

There Are Some More General Guidelines Worth Considering

When you see the average paperback book, it will usually be somewhere between 300-400 pages in length. That means it will be 100,000 words or less unless the font in that book is extra super tiny – and that can happen.

Yet there are still some common guideline variations that you’ll find in literature based on the type of book that is being written. For example: many literary novels are usually complete in the 60,000-word range. Anything above 80,000 words would be considered by most in the industry to be too long.

Here are some more guideline variations to think about, depending on the style and genre of your writing.

  • Crime, Science Fiction, and Historical Fiction. There are no real length guidelines for these genres. The plot must be complete, the characters relatable, and the reading experience logical and satisfying. For this reason, you’ll often find that these three genres tend to be the longest books that are published today.
  • Young Adult Fiction. The length expectations for YA fiction depends on the targeted age group of the author. For children in the 5- to 8-year-old range, the longest novel should be about 20,000 words. Teens will usually expect novels that are the same length as regular adult books.
  • Children’s Books. Parents purchase children’s books more for the artwork than the actual word count. Illustrated books for older kids are generally 1,500-5,000 words in length. For the 0-3 age group, you’ll find published novels that are as short as 100 words in length.

Why Are These Guidelines in Place for Publishing a Novel?

If you’ve written the best thing ever, then the writer’s perspective is that a publisher should accept the novel’s word count as it stands. After all – the novel is amazing, right? Except that publishers are driven by more than just pure creativity. They have to balance commercial needs with their creative impulses.

So that means if their market research shows that readers prefer to have books that are in the 80,000-word range, then those are the types of novels that will be accepted for publication. Your masterpiece might be admired and even accepted for publishing, but you may be asked to trim the length to meet the demands of the market.

Even if you’re extra-long masterpiece is fully accepted at an extended length, this is more of an exception than the rule in modern publishing. After all, research has found that the average person has an attention span of 8 seconds. Keeping a reader engaged for 500,000 words or more with that kind of struggle isn’t always worth the effort in the eyes of a publisher.

So What Can I Do to Create a Novel of the Right Length?

If you’re struggling to meet the average accepted word count for a novel in your preferred genre, then maybe it’s time to explore how your story could work in a different format. Maybe your shorter crime novel could make for an interesting piece of teen fiction. If you try to extend the length of a novel in a way that is unnatural, then it will almost certainly fail to find a publisher.

On the other hand, if your novel is too long for current expectations, then maybe you have the opportunity to break up that story into multiple parts. Instead of having one long 200,000-word novel, you could turn it into two 100,000-word novels?

At the end of the day, word count is less important that the actual story. Focus on telling your tale first, then worry about the length, and that will give you the best opportunity to be published.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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