Writing A Book – Length And Formats

Writing a book

A common question among beginners when writing a book that I asked myself a couple of times is: ‘How long should my novel be? How do I even count? Pages? Words?’ You get the point.

According to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) these are the word categories recognized:

  1. Novel
  2. Novella
  3. Novelette
  4. Short story

But to be perfectly fair, there are some major differences in the novel category. Those vary from publisher to publisher, and from organization to organization. But what does the audience want?

Unsurprisingly, what major publishers, agents and organizations recommend is what I have found to be what readers on writing and reading forums expect as well, with some little differences.

To be even more fair, it all in the end depends on the way you develop your plot, and the quality of your ideas.

But, here are the guidelines to follow.

SFWA Categories

Novel is our major concern here, although I very much enjoy short stories and novellas. But, according to SFWA, novel length is everything above 40,000 words.

But, we know that an average novel is c. 80,000 words long! That’s right and it’s because novel length varies from genre to genre (see below).

Novella is a fine piece made of between 17,500 and 40,000 words. It has a very similar structure to a novel but with fewer conflicts. According to some organizations novella can have a minimum of 7,500 words or 20,000 words. If you’re writing a novella, it’s best to keep safe and around 20,000 words – you’ll have enough space to develop your plot and characters, and you can be considered for almost all notable awards.

Novelette is a smaller piece of fiction with less conflicts than a novella, but more than a short story, which is the same concerning word count. It’s average word count is between 7,500 and 17,500 words. Sometimes it is considered a novella with no difference recognized.

Short story is the most common piece of fiction, dating back to the oral storytelling domination age. It is a small piece of fiction with very few, sometimes no conflicts. It’s length is anywhere below 7,500 words.

Word count variations in genres

Adult Novels

Adult novels (include: literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, erotic, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror) are ranging anywhere between 70,000 and 110,000 words. That said, if you are sending the manuscript to an agent, anything below 80,000 words could be considered too short, while manuscripts that are over 100,000 words long might be too long. Still, if you’re going for self-publishing, a novel that is c. 50,000 words long is just fine as long as you don’t charge for it as much as the longer ones would be charged for. So, the safest zone is between 80,000 and 100,000 words.

Science-Fiction And Fantasy

Science-fiction and fantasy novels are an exception to the above rule and the reason for that is the fact the author has to establish a lot more than they have to in above genres. In these, the perfect zone is, given that these are for young adults and adults, anywhere between 100,000 words and 115,000 words. You’re perfectly safe when submitting these genres with these lengths to publishers or agents.

Young Adult

Young adult novels (with the exception of the above genre) is the one with a lot of flexibility but it would be the best if you kept between 50,000 and 75,000 words.

Western

Writing a book in the western genre is best kept at 65,000 words.

Picture Book

Picture books are always around 30 pages, the best case is 32 pages with no more than 600 words entirely.

Memoirs And Non-Fiction

Memoirs should be somewhere between 80,000 and 90,000 words long.

Non-fiction is best kept at 100,000 words, with many universities not allowing more than that in PhD dissertations.

Once again, if you are self-publishing, anything goes but try to keep it as close as possible to these calculations since the readers do expect what they’re used to. Of course, be careful when pricing your works in self-publishing business.

Also, an the other hand, if you’re submitting your story to a magazine or a contest or anything in between, read the guidelines carefully, the word count may differ and you’ll find what they’re looking for.

Author: Mladen Reljanović

Mladen Reljanović is the founder and lead writer at Writer to Writers. He is the author of Oaktown stories, senior student of communication and a pianist.

22 thoughts on “Writing A Book – Length And Formats

  1. Always good to see different takes on book lengths, since I always come across different information.

    Personally, I tend to keep novels at least 50,000 words, a novella around 20,000 to 30,000, and short stories 10,000 or less. But that’s just me, and I’m my own publisher.

    1. Exactly, I tried to make a list of the most common suggestions I’ve come across.
      As for you being your own publisher, congrats – I tend to become my own too 🙂

    1. Ha, that’s an interesting idea. It’s possible in self-publishing, I’ve seen a couple of novellas selling as novels. But the most common instance is if someone writes a novel on something that already exists in some other medium (movie, radio play…).

    2. I might be willing to believe that except I see it constantly, and find it hard to imagine ALL of these books are in another medium. Many of them seem to be traditionally published books, though I have not done a study to see if that is true or not. It just seems silly to me, whatever their reason.

    3. I’m not really sure either, it is possible that the gravitas when saying ‘I wrote a novel’ could be way too tempting 😀

    1. I must say, I honestly have no idea what would be the best page count, not even close. It would probably depend on the subject of your book. If you were to write about history from a satirical point of view anywhere from 130 to 230 would be optimal. But I’m really sorry for being of no use here, I couldn’t find an answer anywhere. I would only advise you to check what other authors have done in your genre. And when you do, write a post about it so anyone can find an answer 😀

What are your thoughts on this?