Novel Length

Measuring tape with the words: How long should a novel be

There’s a good chance that if you are a first time novelist you wrote the book and didn’t pay much attention to the word count. The exception being first time novelists who participated in National Novel Writing Month. In which case you paid very close attention to word count but maybe didn’t fully understand how that word count translates.

So how long should a novel be? The obvious answer is that a novel should be as long as it needs to be to tell the story. If that’s what you thought, you’re not wrong, but there is more to it.

When we speak about novel length, we always use word count as the marker. This may seem odd because as readers we always speak in terms of pages. But the key difference is that readers have a complete and formatted copy of the novel. The format of the manuscript and the format of the final novel may result in vastly different page counts. This could be due to a number of things including the font used, the size of the font used, the line spacing, and the size of the pages to name a few.

Your word count can tell editors (and agents) a few very important things:

  1. whether the novel is too short and therefore still in need of a lot of work to tell the full story
  2. whether the novel is too long and likely stuffed with filler words and unnecessary scenes and therefore in need of trimming
  3. if the word count is far outside the standard range for a genre, it may be an indication that the author doesn’t understand or adhere to genre conventions

Now that we’ve covered why word count is so important here is a quick (and fairly loose) summary of ideal word counts for various genres:

  • Fantasy: 90,000 – 120,000 words
  • Science Fiction: 90,000 – 120,000 words
  • Horror: 75,000 – 90,000 words
  • Young Adult: 50,000 – 80,000 words
  • Literary Fiction: 70,000 – 100,000 words
  • Mystery: 75,000 – 90,000 words
  • Romance: 55,000 – 95,000 words

If you want to read up further on the topic of novel length here are a few helpful links:

If you have any questions about novel length, drop them in the comments.

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