Recommended book length? Word count?

I’ve read some postings on the forum about word count and such but I’m still wondering is there a standard number of words we should shot for?

This is what Wikipedia says on that topic:

Flash Fiction… 1,000 to 3,000
Short… 3,000 to 15,000
Novelette… 7,500 to 17,500
Novella… 17,500 to 40,000
Novel… 40,000 to 75,000
Epic… 75,000+

But some people have said that submission requirements can be quite picky and most longer stuff (100,000+) stands a good chance of being passed over just due to the size of the manuscript.

48,000-50,000 was suggested by one person (not here) as the ‘rule of thumb’ for more successful submissions.

I don’t want to worry about word count at the moment, but I also don’t want to limit myself submission-wise with word counts or have to go back and completely rewrite stuff because it’s too long to submit.



I think the only possible answer is, it depends.

50,000 sounds too low for most novels though. I think the “normal” range is 60,000-100,000. Much longer than that, and you would need a good reason… but many great books have been written at much longer than that length.

I think the best advice is to write it how you want it. Maybe apply Stephen King’s chop 10% on second draft rule.

For such an easily answered question, this one comes up with astonishing frequency.

Go to your bookshelf, pickup a novel that you like–bonus points if it’s the one consciously or unconsciously influencing you in your own first novel, and still more bonus points if it’s someone else’s first novel–and then do just what every acquisitions editor since Wynken de Worde does when confronted with a new manuscript: count the words in five representative lines, average them, then multiply by the number of lines on a page, and multiply that by the number of pages. There’s your word count. In publishing terms, a cast-off.

There is no magic word-count number for a first novel. 100,000 seems about average, but there are endless exceptions to the rule. Cold Mountain, for example, comes in at around 177,000 words, and it was a first novel. And quite a successful one, if memory serves.

Wikipedia, in slotting a novel between 40,000 and 75,000 words, is perhaps thinking of something other than a hardcover trade novel published by a big house in New York or London. I can’t think of any novels under 75,000 words, at least not one that sparked my interest enough to read it. Perhaps they mean novels that pub first as mass-market paperbacks, the literary equivalent of a movie going straight to DVD. Or perhaps its genre fiction or YA–Wikipedia is sometimes more notable for what it gets wrong than for what it gets right.

I don’t know what flash fiction is and don’t think I care to, but when I moved from books to a magazine about a dozen years ago, I find the short fiction I’m buying running from around 2,000 through 12,000 words, though I have published a 40,000-word novella spread over two issues. It was just too good not to publish, format be damned.

So the easy answer is, your novel should be as long as it needs to be to tell the story you want to tell. Just bearing in mind that, the longer you make it, the better it’ll need to be to make it out of the slush pile and into an Ed Board meeting.

I’m a newbie, too, and I am working on a ya/genre story, so my initial goal was 40,000 words. I have never written anything that long. As it turns out, the novel is going to be longer than that; possibly over 50,000. I won’t know till I get there.

But, Ahab, if you are open to kid’s fiction, I would recommend two novels that blow me away every time I open them as fine examples of shorter books. They are Sally Prue’s Cold Tom and L.M. Boston’s classic, The Children of Green Knowe. Prue’s book, in particular, is quite short, and quite profound. She doesn’t waste a single word. I’d recommend it to everyone who has any taste at all for speculative fiction.

Just my two cents!

(Mary, who is at 22,000 words and still plugging away. I think I’m a bit less than halfway there. :slight_smile: )

A long while back, we had quite a discussion about manuscript format. First-time writers feared that their book would be rejected because it was in the wrong font, or the margins were too wide, or the spacing was, etc. etc.

No manuscript gets rejected because of format or length. What’s important is story, characters, style. Editors only want to know if it’s readable, interesting, and marketable.

After that, the format issues arise. They buy your book, ask for the electronic file, and format it any way they please.

A friend sent me recently a memo about the kind of mail that agents receive from would-be writers. It’s hilarious; I will try to find it and reproduce here soon.

Ahab: great response, but did you, um, say you buy fiction? I have a great little tale about blue werewolves that invade a space station, see, and … :wink:

Here’s the memo, in which several agents and editors share the worst query lines from their slush piles. The intention wasn’t to mock writers, but to educate them. All of these query failures came from people who did not follow submission guidelines.

Failure to follow directions is an automatic rejection:

I know you don’t represent children’s literature, but I hope you’ll make an exception in my case.

I know that I have attached a file, but please have a read even though it’s against your policy.

I hope you don’t mind that I found your personal email address…

I don’t think you’re the right agent for me, but could you pass my query along to some of your colleagues?

Before you respond to my query, please send a test email for my spam filter.


What else gets you rejected? I sorted through 130+ QueryFail examples to find common failures.

1. Don’t include anything in your query other than what is requested. (Typically a one-page letter and first page(s) writing sample.)

Did I mention how creepy I find it when authors include gifts? Especially food. I worry I rejected them before and it is poisoned.

It is not necessary to include a glossy 8×10 headshot. No, really.

Physical props are a bad idea. Candy corn and whiskey in one submission package. With cammo fanny pack. [Wock, was that YOU??]

Dear Agent, here are 25 books I’ve written, do you want any of them?

I have attached two photos of the book to this email.

2. An agent makes a living by selling books. If you don’t have a book available to sell, you shouldn’t be querying.

The book isn’t written yet, and I can’t write it.

I don’t have any new material to share so I’m attaching an already contracted novella.

In lieu of a writing sample, I’ve enclosed articles about [topic writer wishes to write about].

My proposal is a work in progress.

I’ve got a great idea for a book. You write it and we’ll split the profits!

I am writing a book. What is the going rate for literary agents?

3. Only include relevant, professional publishing credentials in your query.

My credentials for writing this book include: A divine mandate to speak the word of God.

The best credentials I can share are the comments from my family and friends after they read my book.

Please Google my name for more information.

This isn’t my first published work, I have published 2 articles in G4S Pipeline Trade Publication.

I have been writing since I could hold a crayon, and before that I used finger paints.

I know 10 people who would buy this book right now!

This is not representative of my best work.

This is my first attempt at writing a fictional novel.

I read this to the high school English class that I teach and they all agreed it was wonderful.

I’m a real estate developer and you contacted me once in the past about a building or a home I had for sale at that time.

Four paragraphs about your former career as a technical writer. Not one sentence about plot of book.

The entire manuscript has been reviewed by both my writing mentor and a copyeditor and is ready for wide distribution.

The manuscript is complete. It is 320 pages in Font 10 with 178,313 words. It has 36 chapters. I am not a professional writer.

In a nutshell, I have no credentials.

4. I don’t know how else to put this: don’t sound crazy.

[Book of] quotes and more, all written by (?) and in the author’s own flavor of grammar.

My book is about a friendship based upon mutual vomiting practices in high school.

Tragically initiated into a secret panther-worshipping society…

It’s about unicorns. They’re the protagonists.

My name is Maya and I’m an elf.

Like my protagonist, I definitely could be described as overachiever, and I naturally have hair like Lady Godiva.

…contains a grand surprise near the end that the reader cannot grasp unless paying attention to the made-up language…

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be pulled up a waterfall or to be flushed down a toilet?

My book is differentiated from Twilight because the vampires have wings, and are half-breed angels.

Forty-three years of toiling within my own mind have come to an end with this manuscript!

My inner voices told me to send this to you. I channeled the whole thing from an angel named Thomas.

I witnessed a lot of things that happened before I was born. How? Alien abduction.

5. And don’t toot your own horn.

Easily the boldest novel so far written in this fresh century of ours.

Three paragraphs, no plot, no hook, and lots of “me, me, me, look how wonderful I am!”

This is groundbreaking work that will change the way we view everything!

If your guidelines are that unforgiving, then stop here and pass on something that could be special.

I’ve been rejected by three other publishers who said my work was interesting.

I’ve queried more than 50 agents and have gotten nowhere and now I’m querying you.

In a week, I read works by Philip Roth, Junot Diaz, & Paul Beatty, and this is what I concluded: It’s my turn!

Hi. Are you a visionary agent who wants to take the stagnant fiction literary marketplace to new heights?

It will be a huge mistake if you do not publish this book.

After all those fails you may be wondering, what is a Query Win?

First sentence hook
One- or two-paragraph blurb
Relevant writing credits/background
Polite closing
Solid writing sample

You know my tastes: Only if the blue werewolf is carrying a split-cane fly rod in one hand and a bespoke London double in the other, and the space station has a grouse moor and three leased pools on the Tay. Although if it’s really good I can go with a Shakespeare Wonderod and a Remington 870, with a vacant lot in Kansas and an irrigation ditch full of bluegills.


The perfect word count is the one in which the story is told with nothing missing and nothing extraneous.

That said, I’m not sure where wikipedia got it’s novel = 40-75k words. NaNoWriMo has as its target 50,000 words, because that is, as they put it, as short as you can get and still reasonably call it a novel. In paperback format, 50k words runs about 175 pages.

I do have non-YA novels about that size, but they are all 60 to 100 years old. (The stories, not the books themselves. Mostly.) Double that and you approach the short end of what is considered “normal” for a novel these days.

Drat! I didn’t know it had been done! :cry:

Shiny! Thanks for everyone’s input. I’m going to do a little more research into the whole affair. Maybe give S.K.'s ‘On Writing’ another read as well.