Monday, 16 February 2015

The joys of word count - how long should a novel be?

I've seen a couple of people talking about the word counts of their work recently and it got me thinking about the subject. It's one of those subjective topics and it depends on what genre you're talking about as to what constitutes a novel.

According to the Nebula Awards the lengths of the various categories of fiction is as follows:
  • Short story < 7,500 words
  • Novelette 7,500 - 17,499 words
  • Novella 17,500 - 39,999 words
  • Novel > 40,000 words
This is the standard we use on the Wittegen Press website to sort our books so that customers can see books by length. We chose it because Sci-Fi and Fantasy are some of our favourite genres and we needed some sort of guide and this was one. However, if you investigate a little further there is quite a lot of debate about word lengths.

Some people say a novel is anything over 50K words (NaNoWriMo for a start), not 40K words. Others aren't interested in anything less than 75K or 90K.

Some of it is very dependent on genre as well.

When researching this post I found a very interesting article by about what agents are looking for depending on genre. If you would like to see their whole post it is here: Word Count @

I find it very interesting that they list Romance as being anything from 40K to 100K, where are Sci-Fi and Fantasy don't even start until 90K even though the Nebula awards defines novels at much lower lengths. I can only assume this is to do with the difference between established writers and new writers. It is easier to sell novels of a certain length so agents looks for those word counts; once you have a fan base varying lengths are an option.

What do you consider novel length? Do you expect different lengths from different genres? Do you even care?

Do you prefer a book description to tell you how long the book is?

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  1. I like reading long books. My fantasy novels have all been between 80K and 120K and my romances have ranged from 78K to 100K. I think the numbers are less restrictive because of the rise of ebooks.

    1. Yes, I definitely think the game has changed with eBooks, but from the looks of things the trad pub route still has some fixed ideas.

  2. Word count/novel length is also something I've looked into. It's pretty crazy how much the numbers can vary, depending on genre and depending on who you ask. I agree with the Nebula guidelines, they seem reasonable and it's helped me decide my novella is, actually, a novella (at just under 19K words--I've seen some claims that anything under 20K is a short story...).

    I do expect different lengths for different genres, to an extent. But sometimes I feel like the leeway given to fantasy novels (that they generally will have a higher wordcount than other genres) is sometimes taken too far. But then, I like concise novels, so it's really just a preference thing. Ultimately, I don't really care. If the story is good, the story is good, and it will need as many words as it needs to tell it properly.

    1. 20K a short story??!! What world are they living in? ;) There is nothing short about 20K.

      I'm the same, as long as it grabs me I don't care about length. I think sometimes too much leeway is given to some established authors though and you end up with bloated books. Not many, but it does happen.


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