How Many Words Are in a Novel?

How many words in a novel?

If you have decided this is the year you’re going to write that novel you’ve always told yourself you want to write, one aspect you need to consider when putting it together is how long it should be (if you want the best chance to get the novel published). There are no hard and fast rules on how long a novel should be if you’re writing for your own pleasure. But if you’re hoping to get it into print, publishers have certain expectations. Knowing what these are will give you a goal to shoot for when you plan your chapters and begin to write. Trying to get an unusually short book or an exceptionally long one published is something you should leave until you’ve made a name for yourself.

When considering novels, it’s important to note there are a large variety of genres. As a general guideline, we’ll include romances, thrillers, detective stories and attempts to make a mark in the world of serious literature as the core adult novels. While there are certainly other types of novels (see science fiction and fantasy below), this should cover most of these. So, how many words should there be in a novel you want to get published? Novels should be between 80,000 to 90,000 words.

Publishers like to see 80,000 to just under 90,000 words for the average adult novel. 70,000 to just under 80,000 could be accepted, but might be seen as being a trifle too short. Anything less than 70,000 words is definitely too short. Novels over 100,000 words are getting to be on the long side. Anything over 110,000 words will almost certainly be considered too long by an agent or publisher.

The reason for the upper limit is that printing costs increase once you exceed that word count. That’s not to say that books as long or longer haven’t been successfully printed, but agents would regard something that ambitious as an epic or a saga, and unless you’re already well known, an overly lengthy book could hurt your chances of finding an agent and getting published.

The lower word count limit is based on reader preferences. Are you giving your reader enough ‘meat’ so they find the book satisfying? Unless you’re producing a very light read, probably not. Once again, trying to push the lower limits for a novel is best attempted once you already have a following and are making your publisher a lot of money.

Science Fiction and Fantasy novels break the above word count rules and can be longer How many words are there in a Sci-Fi or Fantasy novel? Science Fiction and Fantasy books should be 90,000 to 125,000 words.

The acceptance of a more ambitious word count in these two genres is the need to describe whole new worlds and (presumably) original concepts. The issue to remember is the caveat about printing costs. When you’re going into print for the first time, you’re generally considered a ‘bad risk’, so going over 110,000 words might cause your publisher to have second thoughts. For your first Sci-Fi or Fantasy novel, you would do yourself a favor to try and come in on the lower end of 90,000 to 100,000 words to have the best shot at finding an agent or publisher.

(Photo courtesy of Mark Morgan)

7 comments

  1. If you’re writing the novel for yourself it doesn’t matter how many words. I think everyone should write their novel as if it were just for them. Then, when finished, if it feels like one that should be published, you can edit to the word count needed. Writing for the word count at the beginning will create an inferior novel in my opinion.

    1. Most people who write novels aren’t writing them just for themselves. They are writing them in hopes that the novel will be published. And therefore knowing the acceptable word count for a novel is important. I think you are in the minority of writing just for yourself.

  2. I don’t think it should matter how many words a novel has as long as it’s good. I think the book industry does writers disservice by mandating how many words a novel can be instead of reading the writing and deciding if the novel is good or not. It’s a shame…

    1. This may be true, but the book industry knows what sells and is profitable. Sure, there may be exceptions, but it isn’t worth them taking the risk with these with the number they publish. If you don’t like the publisher’s rules, then don’t try to publish through one of them. Do it on your own.

  3. I don’t think you should get too hung up on the number of words – there are a lot of novels that drag on longer than they should.

    I’d rather have a slightly shorter book that left me wanting more.

  4. I understand why people say not to worry about the number of words in a novel, but if you ever want to get it published, you do have to know what publishers will and won’t accept. Thinking that your novel doesn’t need to abide by the rules of other novelists is a sure sign you aren’t ever going to g yours published. You may be able to get away with it if you are successful, but as a first timer, good luck with that!

    1. This. If you plan on writing a novel that you want to get published, you need to stay within the word count guidelines of your genre. If you’re going to go ahead and self-publish, go ahead and knock yourself out and write as many words as you want. But if you’re planning to take your novel to a publisher and your book is way outside the normal word count, they won’t even consider it. I know from experience.

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