If you are well into writing your first novel, you may begin to wonder, “How many words are in a typical novel, anyway?” While the word count of a novel is somewhat flexible, it is good to be aware of industry norms for word count ranges in your particular genre. Right from the outset, having an idea of how many words are in a typical novel — by genre — can help guide the entire writing process.

Question of the Day: How Long Should My Novel Be?

A debut author really does want to nail their first novel and impress literary agents. Keeping in mind a multitude of important industry guidelines when tackling your book project, you also want your book to be just the right length, not too long and not too short.

So, what is “just right?” when it comes to an average book’s word count? Although the answer to that question largely depends on which genre you are writing in, you will find that there is quite a range that is considered acceptable. Most types of novels, however, do fall in the 70,000-100,000 word range.

Book Average Word Count By Genre

  • Romance. Most romance novels tend to average 60,000-90,000 words.
  • Children’s Books. Sparsely populated with words, a children’s picture book might average 600 words, whereas a grammar school chapter book should not exceed 15,000 words.
  • Mystery/Thriller/Crime. These genres have word counts in the 80,000-100,000 range.
  • Young Adult. The young adult genre averages 40,000-80,000 word counts.
  • Fantasy Books. This genre tends to have a higher word count, averaging 100,000-120,000 words.
  • Historical Fiction. This genre typically runs longer at around 80,000-110,000 words.

Chapter Length: Long vs. Short

Deciding on the chapter length for your book adds yet another quandary for the aspiring author. How many words are supposed to be in the chapter of a novel? While true that most chapters run about 10 pages, or 3,000 words, the length of a chapter is more about the author’s pacing and driving of the story arc than abiding by any particular standard. It’s true that a good literary agent will pay closer attention to the storyline than the page length.

Chapter length may be used as a strategic literary device. A bestselling author understands that long chapters provide ample space to develop scenes, dialogue, and characters, while short, tightly written chapters keep the reader turning the pages at a lively clip. Each of these strategies serves a specific purpose, depending on the genre and author’s writing style.

Consider the pros and cons of long vs. short chapters:

Benefits of a Lengthy Chapter

A longer chapter allows the author to paint a more detailed picture of the action and setting. Using the more leisurely pace of longer chapters, provides the reader with an uninterrupted journey they can truly become immersed in. The deeper dive of a long chapter allows the reader to become more emotionally connected to the characters and to care about what happens to them.

One of the risks of long chapter lengths is possibly losing the reader’s interest. This is why writing skills and diligent editing are so critical.

Benefits of a Shorter Chapter

Short, concise chapters serve a significant purpose in certain genres. Thrillers and suspense genres benefit from quickly-paced short chapters where clues are introduced, and riveting plot twists keep the reader captivated. In young adult and children’s books, short chapters are appropriate for the attention span of these age groups.

While short chapters may be efficient in driving the story, the author runs the risk of creating an unpleasant, erratic reading experience if, in their brevity, the chapters come across as choppy.

The Personal Preference in Novel Length

If you are already well into the manuscript and wondering, “How long should my novel be?” you may want to get a ballpark estimate of where your page count is. A good rule of thumb is to simply check the total word count of the document and divide by 300 to arrive at a very realistic page count.

For example, if you have already written 60,000 words, divide 60,000 by 300 for an approximate page count of 200 pages. Depending on where you are in the storytelling, you can determine if you need to broaden the scope of your story or start reining it in a bit.

What is particularly freeing about writing a novel versus a self-help book or memoir, for example, is the freedom you have to go a bit longer if the story is compelling and calls for it. Also, keep in mind that the literary fiction genre lends itself nicely to an average book series. If you anticipate ending up with a lengthy manuscript, you might consider a series instead of a cumbersome one-and-done novel.

There are also some practical matters involved in deciding how long your novel should be. The costs involved in printing the book can be a good motivator to give yourself some boundaries on target word count. A traditional publisher may balk at a lengthy novel from first-time authors. Print costs can also impact your bottom line by forcing you to set your retail price higher than competitors, which could deter sales.

Consult With the Experts at Gatekeeper Press

So, how many words are in a novel? Why risk missing the mark on finding that perfect sweet spot for your book’s word count? Partner with the self-publishing experts at Gatekeeper Press for all your editing and book design needs. Contact us today!

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