Less than 60,000 words -Your book is probably unsaleably short. The only real exception would be that you’ve written a genuinely literary novel of outstanding merit. Needless to say, you probably haven’t.
60,000 – 70,000 words. This is dangerously short. A really strong literary debut could run to this length, but golly gosh, you’d need to write very well
75,000 – 120,000 words. You’re right in the average zone, which is a good thing in this context! Romantic fiction tends to be at the shorter end of this spectrum (say 70 to 90K). Most thrillers will be at the longer end (say 90 to 120K), but these are general figures. If you happen to have written (say) an 80K thriller or a 100K love story, that’s nothing at all to worry about.
120,000 to 150,000 words. OK, your book is definitely on the longer side, and that means you do need to be dealing with a bigger than usual story to justify that extra length. Before you send your book off to agents, we’d recommend pruning your word count as far as you can. We’ve often seen writers lose 20-30,000 words from their books, without losing any real content. The key there is to delete anything surplus to requirements. If you can find a 12 word sentence which would work just as well as 10 words, then make the change. If you have a para with 4 descriptive sentences, ask yourself if it wouldn’t work just as well with 2. All writers should do this, of course, but it’s extra important when you’re dealing with longer books.
150,000 to 180,000 words. OK, now this is getting very long, and needs to work hard to justify its length. You can take all the advice from the previous para, and just double it in terms of urgency.
That said, novels of this length do sell to agents and publishers, and if you see advice saying otherwise it’s simply not correct. (You want proof? OK. I sold my first novel for a strong six-figure sum, and that book was over 180,000 words when we sold it and was pretty much the same length when we published. Convinced now?)
Over 180,000 words. Your book has to be genuinely epic in scale and scope. You need to work very hard to compress anything you can. The story has to be awesome. If you don’t check those boxes, your book will basically be impossible to place with an agent.
Anything over 200,000 words. Your book is almost certainly too long. Some epic fantasy might still run to this length. Family sagas, maaaaaybe. But basically: shorten the book. it’s too long.
Of course, all the above applies to adult fiction.
Children’s novels must be shorter than this. A typical YA novel would be about 60,000 words, or even less. As age ranges get younger, the books obviously get shorter.
It would be very hard to sell a children’s novel of more than 100,000 words. A really strong YA novel could creep over this, but not by much.
Oh, and please:
Never use the Harry Potter novels as a comparison. They don’t count, unless your name is J.K. Rowling.
Because the kids / YA is so variegated, the only really safe way to get a feel for your particular market niche is to go to a bookshop, find the best comparable texts and just count words. To do that, pick 2-3 typical pages of the comparable book, count the words on each page, and take the average. Then simply multiply by the number of pages in the book to get a total figure. Sure, that figure is pretty rough and ready, but that’s all you need. Repeat the exercise for 3 books in your area, and you’ll get a good feel for where your territory lies.
How long is a non-fiction book?
If your manuscript is non-fiction, then true life memoir normally runs to 70,000 to 90,000 words. Humour and gift books are often short (70,000 words or less.) Meatier works on more serious subject can weigh in at 200,000 words or more, but in those cases, you’ll probably need a serious academic platform to persuade a publisher to commit to your cause.
In truth, the non-fiction market is so very variable that offering exact guidelines looks nice – but is really no more than a way of delivering very precise nonsense.
So again, as with kids’ books, you need to go to a bookstore, find comparable texts, and start counting words. For a very rough guide, then:
40-60,000 words – very short. May be OK if the book is a “how to” type book, or is very niche, or brands itself in some way as a very short book on the subject.
60-70,000 words. This is at the very low end of average, but you are unlikely to be rejected on the grounds of length alone, assuming that your subject matter is spot on.
79-90,000 words. This is just right for memoir, for travel, for ‘misery memoir’ or inspirational true life story. It’s actually right for a whole lot more books than that – this length delivers a substantial, value-for-money, but non-intimidating read.
90-120,000 words. This length is fine, but you need to make sure your subject matter justifies the length. You should probably be looking for ways to compress your material if possible.
Over 120,000 words. Very long works of non-fiction are perfectly possible. Let’s say, for example, you want to write a massive 800 page history of Abraham Lincoln – one that will be a quarter of a million words or more. Well, you need to check that your subject is a big enough historical figure to justify the treatment. You need to be sure that your academic credentials are up to scratch. You need to write well enough that your narrative is gripping, even over this massive length. But if they are – well, go write the book. Ronald C. White did just that with this monster, and it’s still selling well almost ten years on. As a rough guide, once the length of the book passes over 120,000 words, your academic qualifications and the scale of your subject matter need to rise with every 10K words. If in doubt – choose a different subject. Or write a shorter book.
How long is a chapter in a novel or book?
A typical chapter for a typical novel might be around 3,000 words, but the figure is highly variable. Some average chapter lengths can be often more like 1500 words, as per Harry Bingham’s novels. We also know writers who prefer chapters of 10 or even 15,000 words.
And, of course, you mightn’t need chapters at all.
In short, don’t stress about this – just do whatever feels right for your book.
How long is a novel synopsis?
Again, this is variable, and a few agents do advise quirky lengths. You can’t really go wrong if you aim for 500-800 words and, for sure, keep the thing to less than 1,000 words.
Agents asking for a 1-page synopsis are being unrealistic. Anyone who wants more than 1,000 words doesn’t know what a synopsis is.
How long is a non-fiction book proposal?
Again, it depends on the project.
In pretty much all cases, you will need to provide about 2,000 to 5,000 words of introductory material that would include:
A kind of sales plan for the book (including why your book is needed, why the current market doesn’t satisfy that need, and what the key comparison texts are, plus any relevant demographic and online activity and other sales data);
A description of your expertise (or authority);
A description of social, online, or real-world platform;
A manifesto for the book, quite likely the introduction as it would appear in the final book;
A detailed outline of what you intend to write about.
In most cases, you will also need to provide about 10,000 words of sample text, to prove (essentially) that you can write accessibly, intelligently and well.
Where text is narrow and subject-specific (‘How to Groom your Poodle‘), you probably don’t need to provide all 10,000 words, if your authority is obvious.
What are my chances of success?
A leading agent will probably receive 2,000 manuscripts a year, and take on a maximum of 2 new authors a year, giving new authors a success rate of rather less than 0.1%.
The good news is this: leading agents generally expect to be successful in selling the work of new clients. In other words, the toughest hurdle is getting an agent. If you clear that obstacle, you have an excellent chance of finding a publisher.
Less well-known agents will take on more clients than this – but they are also liable to be less successful in securing a publishing deal. In this game, there are no easy options.
One thing for sure, you do need to make sure you send your work to enough agents. Don’t send it to one or two, send it to ten or twelve. For more tips on finding agents, read our advice on how to find an agent.
Also, bear in mind that focusing on the odds is somewhat misleading. Manuscripts aren’t rejected because their winning number doesn’t come up in a lottery. They are rejected because agents judge them not strong enough to sell in a competitive market. Make your manuscript good enough (perhaps with help from us), and you won’t face that problem.
How many days should I wait?
It’s more like weeks, and it’s hard to say.
Some books are taken on by an agent very quickly indeed (perhaps a fortnight). Other times, the search can easily take a year. Writing an excellent, well-presented manuscript and making multiple submissions is the best way to avoid this taking forever.
Once you have an agent, getting a publisher can be very fast – perhaps in a month – but can be much slower, too (say a year). The better and more commercial the book, the faster the sales process is likely to be.
Finally, once you have a book deal, then expect between a year to eighteen months for the book to be on the shelves. It sounds ludicrously long, but it’s true. Some books might get onto the shelves in just six months, but that would be very fast, and nothing we’ve ever come across ourselves.
How much do authors earn?
Very little. Data suggests most writers earn far below a meaningful living wage. That’s been declining since 2000 and there are no signs of a turnaround just yet.
If that’s depressing, remember that some writers have done quite well for themselves. More to the point, perhaps, writing is (or should be) fabulously enjoyable. It’s not work, it’s a game, and we get paid to play it.
Again, your manuscript must seem a sellable option to agents, to publishers, to readers – and we offer feedback to help writers with this but if nothing else, check your word count, and how long a novel needs to be, before you send a manuscript.
Best of luck!
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