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Word Count: How Long Should Your Book Be?



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Why Does Word Count Matter?


When I started writing, words were something I had in abundance, something to spend at my leisure willy-nilly. 10 000 words from the count by words end I founded I needed those words bad. Now I needed them back. I lived in a pleasant denial for a few days, and then I had to face the truth: my plot exceeded my allotted word count. No matter how much fluff and stuffing I deleted, I could never finish my book in my internet research alotted 75 000 words. My protagonist was still stuck in another world. She wasn't closing in on the middle, let alone the end. And that's why word count is so important. Among other reasons...


Publishers. That's why book length and word count matters. And readers, but publishers follow where readers lead.

If you are planning to self-publish, you can pretty much do whatever you want, but if you are a publishing house hopeful, then you will need to toe the industry line. With the level of competition, there is out there, you don't want to give publishers a reason to bin your manuscript.

If you are going to self-publish… you might still want to pay attention to the word count guidelines. Traditionally publishers don't make up these guidelines. They follow them because they work.


Why Word Count Instead Of Number Of Pages?


Your everyday reader doesn't work in word count; they work in pages. Writers use word count because it's easier. It's more specific and reliable, providing us with a clearer idea of where we are in our plot. Publishers also (mostly) expect to be supplied with a word count instead of a page count. Although they might ask for both.


Now that my book is finished, the 80% mark is the same whether I look at word count or page count, but that wasn't always the case, particularly in the earlier days. Sometimes I would change fonts or put a whole section in bold because it needed to be revisited. Occasionally I would change my page settings to A5 just to make it feel more like a book. Some writers are more descriptive, making each page more word-heavy. Others prefer dialogue, making the word count per page shorter.


Page counts are easily manipulated, whether by accident or on purpose.


Elements That Can Effect Page Count But Not Word Count:

  • Size of your margins

  • Page size (A5, A4 etc)

  • Font type (Arial, Times New Roman, etc.)

  • Font size (11, 12, 36)

  • Font style (italics, bold, etc.)

  • Formatting—dialogue is likely to take up less space than exposition or descriptive writing, while indents take up more


How Many Words Equal How Many Pages

A general rule of thumb:

  • Double-spaced A4 manuscript page: 250-300 words

  • Single spaced a4 manuscript page: +- 500 words


Can A Book Be Too Long?


Personally, the longer the book, the happier I am. I avoid short stories because while many are good, they aren't something I can get stuck into. But not everyone feels the same way as me.


  • A book that is too long may be indicative of fluff or filler content. Boring content that nobody wants to read and doesn't contribute to the overall story.

  • Read expectation: Readers expect genres to adhere to specific lengths. Nobody wants a fluffy romance to go on and on and on. They don't want a fantasy epic without any meat on its bones.

  • Longer books mean more pages, and more pages mean higher printing costs.

  • The visual of it all: if you are planning on printing your book, you have to think of the length in terms of readability. A tomb of a book will be challenging to cart on holiday or read with one hand over the breakfast bowl.


Can A Book Be Too Short?

Yes. They all are.


  • Reader expectation: If you publish a short book, it is extremely important that you market it as such. Some authors will even include 'novella' or 'short story' in brackets next to their ebook title. Nothing is more dire than disappointing an audience who bought your book expecting a good long read-only to be hit with a short read. It's setting them up for disappointment. Bookstores don't have to contend with this issue in the same way. There is a physical book for the buyer to see before the purchase.

  • Ebook sample sizes are a pet peeve of mine. Kindle sample sizes default to 10%. If your book is 3000 words, that leaves me with a lowly 300 words. Weak. Weak sauce. A 40 000 word book would give me 4000, even if that is only 13 pages. Including table content, the inevitable dedication, and all the copyright and publisher legwork, I won't have much to work with.

  • It's not official, but anything less than 50 000 words is generally termed a short story or a novella. Even if your story is wonderfully written with a satisfying plot and all those good things, calling it a book might be misleading and will likely annoy your readers.

  • Skinny books might not do as well on bookshelves: Obviously, thin books are literally harder to spot on bookshelves, a potential buyer might skim over your hard work alltogether.

  • Value for money: People like the feeling that they are getting value for money. A book, whether it is short or long, needs a cover design, which can be expensive. That along with barcodes and all the other extras don't get cheaper because the book is skinny. A short book might also need higher quality paper or a hardcover to prevent them from bending in on themselves. The cover design price won't be impacted by fewer pages slapped in the middle, keeping the base price pretty high even if you have fewer words on paper to pay for.


Book Word Counts By Genre


I found a lot of contradicting advice regarding word counts. In the end I decided to average out the information provided by blogs such as: Weekend Publisher, Author Learning Center, Self Publishing School, Master Class, Reader’s Digest, ProWritingAid, and Reedsy.


What’s The General Word Count For A Book?


Average Word Count For Books: 70 000 - 100 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Short Stories?


Short Stories Average Word Count: 2000 - 9200 words*


*This one was a bit weird because of the 'under 7 500 words' from Reedsy. Does that make a word count of zero a short story? Who knows.



What’s The Word Count For Novelleta’s?


Novelletas Average Word Count: 7 500 - 18 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Novellas?


Novellas Average Word Count: 19 000 - 43 000



What’s The Word Count For Romance?


Romance Average Word Count: 67 000 - 97 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense?


Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense Average Word Count: 65 000 - 98 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Action and Adventure?


Action and Adventure Average Word Count: 96 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Science Fiction?


Science Fiction Average Word Count: 74 000 - 106 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Horror?


Horror Average Word Count: 71 000 - 91 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Fantasy?


Fantasy Average Word Count: 90 000 - 122 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Historical Fiction?


Historical Fiction Average Word Count: 90 000 - 100 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Contemporary Fiction?


Contemporary Fiction Average Word Count: 60 000 - 90 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Dystopian?


Dystopian Average Word Count: 60 000 - 120 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Literary and Commercial Fiction?


Literary and Commercial Fiction Average Word Count: 80 000 - 110 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Standard Nonfiction?


Standard Nonfiction Average Word Count: 65 000 - 85 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Self-help/How-to?


Self-help/ How-to Average Word Count: 37 000 – 57 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Memoirs?


Memoir Average Book Word Count: 73 000 – 81 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Young Adult?


YA Average Book Word Count: 51 000 - 80 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Middle Grade?


Middle Grade Average Word Count: 21 000 - 51 000 words



What’s The Word Count For Early Readers?


Early Readers Average Word Count: 200 - 3500 words



What’s The Word Count For Picture Books?


Picture Books Average Word Count: 500 - 600 words



What’s The Word Count For Children’s Books?


Children's Books Average Word Count: 1000 – 10 000 words



Summary Of Word Counts Per Genre


General Average: 70 000 - 100 000 words

Short Stories:* 2000 - 9200 words* Novelleta’s: 7 500 - 18 000 words

Novella's: 19 000 - 43 000

Romance: 67 000 - 97 000 words

Mystery, Thriller, Suspense: 65 000 - 98 000 words

Action, Adventure: 96 000 words

Science Fiction: 74 000 - 106 000 words

Horror: 71 000 - 91 000 words

Fantasy: 90 000 - 122 000 words

Historical Fiction: 90 000 - 100 000 words

Contemporary Fiction: 60 000 - 90 000 words

Dystopian: 60 000 - 120 000 words

Literary and Commercial Fiction: 80 000 - 110 000 words

Standard Nonfiction: 65 000 - 85 000 words

Self-help/How-to: 37 000 – 57 000 words

Memoirs: 73 000 – 81 000 words

Young Adult: 51 000 - 80 000 words

Middle Grade: 21 000 - 51 000 words

Early Reader’s: 200 - 3500 words

Picture Books: 500 - 600 words

Children’s Books: 1000 – 10 000 words


*Short Stories was a bit weird because of the 'under 7 500 words' from Reedsy. It made averaging difficult. I used a 0 to 7500 word count, which doesn’t make much sense.

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