How many words are in a novel?

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If you plan to publish and sell your own novel, knowing how many words in a novel you need to use is very important. Word count guidelines exist because of certain reasons, such as marketing and sale, as well as to help the writers in creating stories that don’t have pacing or plot issues that may exhaust readers.

How many words in a novel should you use?

Preferably, it is better for a writer to use around 80-90k in their novel. The word count of shorter novels such as The Great Gatsby, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Fahrenheit 451 are between 40-50k words. As for longer novels, their word count is 100k.

That said, usually, this figure depends on a specific book as well as organization. For example, according to NaNoWriMo, the manuscripts have to be over 50,000 words to qualify. On the other hand, The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America classifies the submissions into four categories, which are:

  • Novelette: between 7.5k and 17.5k words
  • Novella: between 17.5k and 40k words
  • Novel: over 40k words
  • Short story: under 7.5k words

Are 40k words sufficient for a novel?

Generally, a story that is over 40k words is considered a novel, but it’ll be on the much shorter side since the average length of the novel is around 50k-70k words.

But there is also another important thing to consider; whether the word count is sufficient for the novel depends on its genre.

The standard word count for the most popular genres

1. A fantasy and science fiction: Such novels tend to be lengthier compared to other ones. Especially fantasy, since some fantasy novels even exceed 140k words. As for the average word count, it generally ranges from 100k to 115k words.

2. A fiction novel: In general, literary and commercial novels are 80k to 110k words.

3. A romance novel: Such novels are usually shorter and lie between 80k and 100k words. However, considering the fact that romance has a lot of sub-genres, this figure can vary. For example, regency romances, as well as paranormal romances, have to be above 40k words. So before you start writing a romance book, you should research the niche and specific imprints. 

4. A middle-grade novel: Generally, the word count of middle-grade novels ranges from 20k to 55k words. Chapter books usually come in a relatively lower end of a spectrum. On the other hand, middle-grade books that are meant for older readers can slightly exceed 55k words. 

The standard word count for other popular genres

1. Young adult: 55k-70k words

2. Mystery: 75k-100k words

3. Thriller: 90k-100k words

4. Memoir: 80k-90k words

5. Western: 45k-75k words

The importance of word count

At first glance, it may seem as though the word count stifles a writer’s artistic flow, however, it is nonetheless necessary. For example, if you want to land the book deal with the traditional publisher, you must not give the editor a reason that would make them turn your book away. And that’s exactly why following the rules of word count is highly important. 

Similarly, in case your book gets published and eventually lands in the bookstore, too large or a bizarrely small book spine may turn away the prospective readers. In short, word count can give a person the clue about the kind of books they are dealing with.

Unless you are already a famous published author, even if you write a masterpiece-like novel that breaks all the rules, it may be turned away. Why is that? Because for print publishing, the cost associated with producing a book is considered an issue, and a market generally knows what it likes. Also, as mentioned before, sticking to the word count guidelines ensures that your novel won’t have any pacing or plot issues. Plus, you’ll be able to meet the expectations of readers.

Make sure that you stick to the word count guidelines

Usually, when you are writing the first draft, you don’t have to worry or feel stressed about word count and the same holds true for the outlining phase. However, if after finishing your first draft you discover that the amount of words you used exceeds the standard word count, make sure to cut it down as best as possible.


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