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Genre Word Counts and Why They Matter

Word Counts in a novel or book


Word Counts matter. Why? Unless you are self-publishing, a traditional publishing house will be less likely to take a chance on a larger novel from a first-time author. Larger novels are more expensive to print; the more words included in your final manuscript, the more pages it will take to print. More pages equal higher printing costs. 


The more expensive a book is to print, the less money they will make. 


On the flip side, if you are self-publishing, the same rule applies. The more pages to print, the higher you have to charge for your book because of your own printing on demand cost. This can be an issue because if a reader doesn’t know you as a writer, they may not be willing to pay a higher price for your book.


Shorter novels are more marketable. All genres have a specific suggested word count and will read and market better if kept within those general guidelines. Writing outside the realm of the guidelines can hurt your marketability unless you are someone like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.


Audiences reading a romance novel expect a certain word count (thickness) to the books they read. Readers of sci-fi expect books they read to be on the thicker side. Go to the library, a bookstore, or your own bookshelf, and check out the thickness of a book in the genre you write. Check online for the word count in that book; then stick to that guideline.


Have you written a fiction manuscript with 110,000 words? You need to go back through it, re-read it out loud, find words, descriptions, dialogue, etc…to remove. EDIT IT down! This is a major problem editors, agents, and publishing houses find, therefore, it's harder to get a traditional contract. It shows that you are a new author. Cut out those words. Shorten its length. You will need to take out thousands of words. It will be too long and costly to produce.


You are targeting to a certain audience with your book. If you are not, you should do a lot more research to find out who, and what type of reader, reads the genre you write. A science fiction novel will not target well to Historical Non-Fiction. A romance novel will not target well to Memoir/Biography non-fiction readers or sci-fi buffs. KNOW YOUR MARKET!


How long should a book be? I have listed a general applied guideline below for you to go by. As I previously said, audiences expect a certain word count. They are accustomed to a certain length. Don’t hurt yourself and/or your sales by making yourself look like a ‘newbie’ by writing too short or long of a book. Do everything you can to stay within the expected range. 


If you have just written your first novel, there is a general rule of thumb. It usually ranges between 80,000 to 100,000 word range. Usually, 50,000 words is considered the minimum novel length. Anything over 110,000 is considered too long for fiction. 


Any manuscript that falls between 20,000 to 50,000 words will generally be considered a NOVELLA. A manuscript that falls below 20,000-25,000 can be considered a NOVELETTE.


Word Count isn’t an exact science but always follows a general rule. (Keep in mind, all rules are made to be broken) 


Consider J.R.R. Tolkien. In his The Lord of the Rings trilogy, each book has an overabundant word count. These sagas are an exception to the general word count rule, because hey…doesn’t everyone know who Tolkien is? 


Manuscripts written between 5,000-30,000 can be considered a SHORT STORY.


And then there is Flash Fiction. This type of writing doesn’t really have a defined word count but it does generally fall between six words – Look at Hemingway’s story “For sale, Baby shoes, Never Worn” – on up to 1,000 words.


Now, to get to the general rule of thumb of word count in a manuscript that I, as an editor, usually follow at LS Book Services, LLC.


Inside the realm of literary fiction, there are different genres that follow more specific word counts. These are targeted counts and can be adjusted a little. 


Romance – 50,000 – 90,000 words. If you write for specific imprints such as Harlequin, you will first need to check their requirements before submitting. A perfect romance for vacationing can run around the 50,000 word count mark. Authors of this genre include: Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, and Jude Deveraux 


Science Fiction & Fantasy – 80,000-120,000 words. This also includes Dystopian works.      These novels are an art in building worlds, and inventing these new environments make this genre a bit longer than others. Samples of this genre include The Lord of the Rings; I, Robot; and 2001: A Space Odyssey


Mystery – 80,000-90,000 words. (Cozies, a subgenre of mystery, tend to be a little shorter and can come in at 70,000-80,000 words) Authors include the greats:  James Patterson and John Grisham


Thrillers/Suspense – 70,000-90,000 words – A good suspense story that keeps the plot moving forward in order to keep the reader engaged such as The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith or And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie


True Crime – 90,000-100-000 words which include:  In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule


Memoir/Biographies – 75,000-90,000 words


Non-Fiction – There is not a definite guide for word counts in this genre due to the many subgenres being written today. Your best bet is to look up that category online to find the length or word count for similar books in your subgenre. 


Historical Fiction – 70,000-150,000 words. (This may depend on the topic and demands of the current marketplace) Such historical fiction works include: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and believe it or not, Stephen King is in this genre with the novel 11/22/63. Also in this genre is The Color Purple by Alice Walker (coming in with a little over 69,000 words) and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens with approximately 135,400.


Literary Fiction – 80,000-120,000 words such as a Fictional Short Story Anthology, The Handmaid’s Tale, and To Kill a Mockingbird.


Mainstream Women’s Fiction – 80,000-100,000 words such as Danielle Steel or Debbie Macomber


Young Adult/YA Fantasy – 60,000-80,000 words – YA books are geared more towards teenagers, and usually address heavier topics. They can have more adult themes than child literature. A sci-fi YA book will be closer to the top of this range. Examples are A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede 


Middle Grade – 40,000-50,000 words These books are generally geared towards children 8-12 years of age and include such works as Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson and Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume


Picture Books – 500-700 words plus illustrations


Self-Help – 60,000-70,000 words 


I know this list was a lot to read but I wanted to try to give you a close estimate of certain genres with a few examples of each. If you have any questions about where your manuscript may fall, please feel free to contact me at editor@LisaSimpsonBooks.com I am always here to help you with whatever you may need.


I hope this blog may help you. You have my permission to print this out and keep for future reference.  

Added by: User Lisa Simpson
Created on: 2021-10-26 10:27:27
Last Updated: 2021-10-26 10:27:27

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