Average length of novels and other books by genre and type
When I (Harry Bingham) wrote my first novel, I started to worry that I was off the mark. I was scared that agents would reject my book simply because I had got the length wrong. How many words go into an average novel?
I went to a bookstore, gathered some (big, hefty) novels in a genre like mine, and sat there on the shop floor and counted words. It turned out that, yes, I was at the very long end of things, but not impossibly long.
I sold that book for a good six-figure sum, and have never looked back since.
At least you don’t need to run down to your nearest big store, since this guide will tell you quickly the average word counts for every category of novel.
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Of course, much fiction doesn’t fit in tidy boxes. If yours doesn’t, then treat 75,000 to 120,000 words as an average wordcount.
And okay, sometimes fiction is long. If your story justifies the length, you needn’t worry if you get up to 150,000 words, or even 180,000. But that is on the very long side. 180,000 words print about 650 paperback pages. You only get away with novels of that scale if the story has an epic quality and storytelling is remorselessly excellent. (Also, don’t trust any source on the internet which tells you that such stories are unsaleable. They’re just not. My own first novel was 190,000 words long and was sold to HarperCollins for a lot of money.)
Romantic fiction usually runs from about 75,000 words up to about 120,000. Anything within those limits is fine. 70,000 words could be okay, but no shorter than that. If you’re over 120,000 words and writing a saga, that’s fine. If you’re writing an ordinary romance, you probably need to do a bit of cutting.
Crime and thriller genres
Crime novels often run a little longer than women’s fiction, so although 75,000 words is fine as a lower limit, anything up to 130,000 words is standard. Don’t go below 75,000, though.
Fantasy and sci-fi genres
Fantasy novels can be long. They can be up to 180,000 words, or even over 200,000, but the novel must be wonderful and must fully justify its word count. In other words, you must be scrupulous about editing every sentence for length.
If you’re writing for a more literary audience, then the rules above apply on upper limits. In other words, anything up to 120,000 words, no problem. Up to 150,000 is fine, but check you’re not waffling. Up to 180,000 words, you really, really need to justify that word count.
And lower limits are quite a lot lower. A good, short literary novel might be 60,000 words. A very good, very short one might be as little as 45 or 50,000. The shorter it gets, the better it needs to be. If you find your novella is as little as 30,000 words, consider merging two more linked novellas, presenting a 90,000-word package to agents and publishers.
How long is a non-fiction book?
Memoir and biography
Most memoirs need to be in the 70,000 to 100,000-word range. Only if you’re a major celebrity can you blow right through that word count and just keep going.
For the kind of book that normally sits on the front tables at Waterstones or Barnes & Noble, you’ll find that 70,000 to 120,000 words is about typical. If the topic really justifies length (and especially if your credentials are highly impressive) you can go longer, but check that you remain interesting, even at length.
For anything really niche – e.g. How to Get Started in Internet Fraud – there are no real limits. Just write a good book on the topic and let length look after itself.
How long is a children’s novel?
Young Adult fiction
YA fiction usually needs to be 50,000 to 70,000 words. You can go up to 100,000 if your material is phenomenal and justifiable, but no longer than that.
Middle Grade fiction
Children’s fiction is so varied in terms of length, type, illustration. Your best bet is to go to a good children’s bookstore and look at books like your own in terms of target audience. Multiply up by the number of pages and get to a rough word count. The younger the child, the shorter the word count.
Do you need to edit your novel?
Take a good look at the average word counts you need for a novel or non-fiction.
If your book is too long and you need to cut it, don’t fret. It’s often possible to take a good 30,000 words out of a book without really affecting the content, just by being rigorous about what works – what words, sentences, paragraphs and scenes truly earn their place.