Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How Long Should A REAL Novel Be?

People love giving writers advice, but as I pointed out in Copyright Myths Authors Should Know About, most of the people giving advice are just bending over and farting out something they think sounds good. Nowhere is this more true than conversations about manuscript length. People will argue back and forth about how long a book should be, and in many cases the length a book must be, before it will be seen with favor by a publisher. Unfortunately, most of the "rules" you've heard are probably either made-up, or so out of date as to be laughable.

Which is why this week, The Literary Mercenary would like to provide some rough guidelines for writers who are trying to figure out how much is enough, and how much is too much.

Mileage, and word count, may vary.

The General Guide to Novel Length

The following numbers come from The Writer's Digest, and you can check them out right here, if you're curious. They're a few years old, but judging from my own research and conversations with those working in the industry, they seem pretty reasonable.

For "standard" manuscripts:

- 80,000 - 89,999 is completely acceptable
- 90,000 - 99,999 should be just fine
- 100,000 - 109,999 pushing your luck

Those numbers are a ball park for your "average" novel. However, some genres have different averages. Science fiction and fantasy, in particular, are given a pass on being "too long" because of all the additional world building that has to go into the novels. These genres tend to fall more into the 100,000 - 115,000 word range before you start getting too long.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, young adult books and Westerns are allowed to be much shorter than your average novel. Westerns can get away with 65,000 - 80,000 words, and YA novels can range from 55,000 - 69,000 words without much issue.

If You Really Need To Know... Ask

I want to stress at this point that the lengths mentioned above are general guidelines only, and there's no guarantee they're accurate to any one, specific publisher. You know why? Because every publisher is different. So, in a way, this is a lot like dating advice. You can get general tips about the things that are and aren't acceptable, but if you want to know about that guy or girl you've got your heart and/or genitals set on, you should try asking them instead of me.

Seriously, email works wonders.
While you can buy a copy of The Writer's Market, most publishers have their word count guidelines listed on their websites. And if you're serious about getting yourself published traditionally, you should do a quick tour to see which houses you can work with, and which ones simply aren't going to be pleased with a book of your length.

And For The Non-Traditionalists...

I mention traditional publishing specifically, because publishing houses set their own standards. If you're going the self-publishing route, then you are the one who gets to set your standards. Well, you, and your readers. Which is why if you get complaints that your book is too long, too short, too padded, etc., you might want to pay attention. Otherwise, though, if your fans are happy, you're good to go!

As always, thanks for sticking your head in to see what I have to say. If you'd like to help support The Literary Mercenary, stop by my Patreon page, and consider becoming a patron. As little as $1 a month can make a big difference, and help me on my quest to deliver you solid content week after week. If you want to make sure you don't miss any of my updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter!


  1. A REAL novel? Huh?
    Who's reality?

    1. The purpose of the title, Christine, is to draw the reader in, and then to set up the idea that there's only a single standard so we can knock it down. Because so many people in the writing world insist that they know the secret to the perfect novel, the point is to show that depending on what you're writing, and for whom, a "real" novel can have vastly different definitions.

    2. Since Christine has read Michener, I would hazard her definition of a real novel is much longer than the short-attention-span theater manuscripts we see today. I recall reading Centennial when I was about 17. It took me about 13 or so hours, but I digested all 1100+ pages...and was enthralled throughout. #Epic