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How Many Words Are in a Novel?

Words in a Novel

27 May 2023

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Novels come in all shapes and sizes.

If you’re an avid reader, you’ve probably come across books that are hundreds of pages long and others that are significantly shorter. And if you’re an aspiring author, it’s important to know the average length of a novel, so you can meet reader expectations and market your book much more easily.

The length of a novel can be a deciding factor for some readers (and agents, too). So, what’s the word count for the average novel?

In this guide, we’ll explore the different factors that affect the length of a book, and provide some general guidelines on average novel word counts.

Jump to:

  • What affects your novel’s word count?
  • Word length guidelines
  • Average word counts by genre
  • Examples of short and long novels
  • Word count FAQs

What affects your novel’s word count?

Various factors can influence the length of a novel, including its genre.

Mystery, fantasy and historical fiction, for instance, each have unique characteristics and expectations that can affect the length of the book. An epic fantasy may require extensive world-building and exposition, resulting in a high word count of over 100,000 words. On the other hand, a cosy mystery novel, perhaps characterised by its lighter tone and amateur sleuths, typically leans towards a shorter length, ranging from 70,000 to 90,000 words.

Novels aimed at younger readers, such as middle-grade or young adult, may be shorter, while those written for an adult audience may be longer and more complex.

The author’s writing style might also affect the novel length. Writers who use more descriptions may produce longer novels, while writers who use a more concise style may produce shorter works. But it’s still a good idea to follow the rules, especially if you’re thinking about print publishing because the length will affect the actual cost of the book.

Word length guidelines

Which category does your work fall into? Let’s look at some broad guidelines:

  • Novel – 40,000+ words
  • Novella – 20,000-40,000 words
  • Novelette – 7,500-20,000 words
  • Short story – 1,000-8,000 words
  • Flash fiction – 1-1,000 words

Remember, these are general guidelines and it’s not uncommon for works to arrive on bookshelves that defy conventions. And, while it’s arguably vital to follow genre “rules” to meet expectations, it’s also important to keep in mind that word count limits are not absolute.

Average word counts by genre

Below, we dive into average word counts for some popular novel genres.

Young adult

Young adult (YA) novels usually range between 50,000 and 90,000 words, though this might vary depending on the subgenre and publication preferences. Contemporary YA fiction is often between 70,000 and 80,000 words, while fantasy and science fiction YA novels sit at the upper end of the range, sometimes extending beyond 90,000 words, allowing for rich world-building and immersing storytelling.

Thriller & crime

Thriller books tend to have a word count of 80,000 to 100,000 words. This length supports the development of gripping narratives, interesting characters and dramatic twists and turns. However, bear in mind that these standards are not set in stone, and there may be exceptions depending on the story. In fact, some thrillers may fall under this average word count, especially if they are fast-paced.

Fantasy & science fiction

These genres typically allow for longer works because of the world-building and complex storytelling. The word count for fantasy and science fiction novels generally falls between 90,000 and 120,000, allowing for detailed worlds, characters and plots. Epic fantasy and science fiction novels even exceed the average word count range.

Romance

Falling within 50,000 and 100,000 words, romance novels are often quick reads with fun, satisfying plots. The genre has a wide range, allowing for flexibility depending on subgenres, like a contemporary romance or steamy historical love story, and publishing preferences.

Historical fiction

The average word count for this genre is often between 80,000 and 100,000 words, with historical accuracy, engaging characters and a captivating plot being key novel components.

Children’s fiction

Books for children often fall between 25,000 and 50,000 words. This is typical for middle-grade books that are aimed at readers between 8 and 12 years of age. One example that falls within this category is Charlotte’s Web, reaching 32,000 words. However, some middle-grade stories extend beyond the word count “rules”. Take Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as one particular example, coming in at over 75,000 words.

Are shorter novels easier to sell?

Shorter novels may have an easier time finding an audience, and therefore, a higher chance of being sold successfully. Many readers want shorter works that can be read in a few sittings. Longer works require a more substantial investment from readers, which may not appeal to everyone. Shorter books are also typically quicker to write and edit, allowing authors to maintain a more consistent publishing schedule, which can be beneficial in building and keeping a reader community. However, the success of a novel ultimately depends on a combination of factors, including the quality of writing, the narrative and marketing.

Examples of short and long novels

There are exceptions to the rules, and plenty of novels fall outside of average word count standards.

Here are some well-known examples:

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – this classic novel is often cited as an example of concise and effective storytelling, with a word count of around 47,000 words.

2. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo – set in 19th-century France, the novel follows the lives of various characters, including Jean Valjean, a reformed convict, and Inspector Javert, who relentlessly pursues him, amid a backdrop of revolutionary events. The work is almost 1,500 pages long.

3. Under the Dome by Stephen King – with over 350,000 words, this sci-fi mystery

4. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – recounts the life of Chiyo, a young girl in 1920s Japan, who is sold into the world of geisha, is over 180,000 words in length.

5. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – at 587,287 words, this epic is an infamous word count rule-breaker. Set in Russia during the Napoleonic era, the novel follows the lives of various aristocratic families intertwining personal narratives with historical events.

Word count FAQs

1. Is 40,000 words long enough for a novel?

While a 40,000 novel is categorised as a novel, it is on the shorter side. This is certainly common in children’s novels. However, if you’re writing for adult readers, novels should be at least 50,000 words long.

2. Is 50,000 words too short for a novel?

It all depends on the genre. This word count is on the lean side for adult readers. However, 50,000 words would be ideal for middle-grade books if you’re writing for children.

3. How many words is a 300-page novel?

There are around 90,000 words in a 300-page book. But it can vary depending on several things, including the book format (hardback or paperback) and font size.

4. Is 200,000 words okay for a novel?

A book of 200,000 words is not unheard of, although works of this size are uncommon. This can be down to various reasons, including reader expectations and printing costs. Consider industry standards for word counts by genre when self-publishing or looking for representation. This is especially true for new authors who are building a reading community. Long books can put readers off and they may avoid it if they’re unfamiliar with your work. Therefore, sticking to the word count “guidelines” can lead to more readers.

5. What is the average word count per page in a novel?

There is a general rule of thumb for the average word count per page in a formally typeset and printed novel. Most novels tend to have around 250 to 350 words per page. In some cases, you may find novels with 200 or 400 words per page, but those are less common. That being said, the average word count per page in a novel can vary depending on several factors. The format of your manuscript, such as the font size and style, the margins, the spacing between lines, and illustrations or visuals, all contribute to the number of words that can fit on each page. Additionally, after the typesetting process, the final product, whether it’s a printed book or a PDF, can have its own variations.

Make every word count 

Word counts matter. And it’s worthwhile making sure your novel meets the general guidelines, especially if you’re on submission or self-publishing your book.

Why not get a second opinion on your novel? I understand the importance of polishing your manuscript so that it reaches its full potential. That’s why I offer editorial services tailored to meet your specific needs. Find out more information on the Writing Hub.

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Written By Eira Edwards

Eira is a writer and editor from the South of England with over five years of experience as a Content Manager, helping clients perfect their copy.

She has a degree in English Literature and Language, which she loves putting to work by working closely with fiction authors.

When she’s not working on manuscripts, you can find her in the woods with her partner and dog, or curling up with a good book.

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