How Do I Write Thee? Let Me Count the Words.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Ciao, SEers. Yep, I went the cheesy-route in the title. Hopefully Elizabeth Barrett Browning doesn’t mind me manipulating her masterpiece.

It’s February, the month of love. (If you subscribe to that, which I kind of don’t. I’m a romantic, so I think love is important all the time.)

Anyway, today I want to talk about word counts in fiction. Specifically, definitions of categories, ranges of words, and genre norms.

Word counts are important for both publishing and contest submissions. But breaking things down into categories is always easier than speaking in great yet nebulous generalities. So that’s what publishers did. When people talk about types of fiction, these are the categories and an estimated range of word counts assigned to them.

Categories/Word Counts:
  • Micro-Fiction: Up to 100 words
  • Flash Fiction: 100 to 500 words
  • Short Story: 500 to 7,500 words
  • Novelette: 7,500 to 20,000
  • Novella: 20,000 to 40,000 words
  • Novel: 40,000 to 110,000
  • Epic: 110,000+

Knowing what you’re writing will help determine an appropriate sales price. Obviously people will be willing to pay more for epic fantasy than they will a flash fiction piece.

The book industry deals with word counts because it helps publishers determine profits. While none of the count ranges are hard and fast rules, they are (or were at one point) industry norms. Factors used to determine these ranges included:

  • Words necessary to write a complete, fleshed-out story.
  • Amount of time to edit a story of that length.
  • Production and shipping costs of the final manuscript in book form.
  • Sales potential of stories in those genres.

As to what the magical formula was to calculate numbers per genre, I have no clue. But with the advent of eBooks and indie publishing, word count ranges have grown. And, as always, for every “rule” in publishing, there’s a great example of someone who broke it successfully.

Here are general guidelines for length:

It’s important to note there are dozens of sub-categories with various definitions, any deviation of which can skew averages. It’s also worth noting that traditional publishers have established word counts for their subgenres/imprints/lines, so if a writer is submitting to such a publisher, counts should defer to the specified guidelines.

Feel free to save or pin this infographic as you see fit, but written descriptions follow.

Word Counts
Novel Length Per Genre:
  • Picture Books: 500 to 700 words (with an average length of 32 pages).
  • Middle Grade: 20,000 to 55,000
  • Upper Middle Grade:  40,000 to 60,000
  • Young Adult: 55,000 to 70,000
  • Mature Young Adult: 60,000 to 90,000
    Note: The longer length must be warranted by the content. It is best the keep novels in the 70,000 to 80,000 range.
  • New Adult: 70,000 to 100,000
  • Adult Fiction: 80,000 to 120,000
    • Western:  50,000 to 80,000
    • Mystery: 50,000 to 90,000 (cozies and older works lean toward the shorter side; contemporary mysteries run longer)
    • Romance: 50,000 to 100,000+ (large range for sub-genres)
      • Category: 55,000
      • Sweet/Christian: 70,000 to 130,000
      • Paranormal: 85,000 to 100,000
      • Historical: 100,000 to 200,000* (Diana Gabaldon has skewed this average high.)
      • Fantasy: 95,000 to 200,000
      • Single Title: 100,000 to 110,000
      • Romantic Suspense: 90,000 to 130,000
    • Women’s Fiction: 75,000 to 110,000
      Some are longer than this, but if you are a first-time novelist, shoot for this range; otherwise, you risk the slush pile.
    • Suspense/Thriller/Horror: 80,000 to 100,000
    • Mainstream: 80,000 to 100,000
    • Sci-Fi/Fantasy: 90,000 to 120,000 (longer length for world-building)
      • Slipstream: 80,000 to 100,000
      • Comic Fantasy: 80,000 to 100,000
      • Romantic SF: 85,000 to 100,000
      • New Weird: 85,000 to 110,000
      • Urban Fantasy: 90,000 to 100,000
      • Contemporary Fantasy: 90,000 to 100,000
      • Hard Sci-Fi: 90,000 to 110,000
      • Space Opera: 90,000 to 120,000
      • Epic/High/Traditional/Historical Fantasy: 90,000 to 120,000

Writers: Do your published works (traditional or indie) hit these ranges, or have you bucked the trend?

Readers: Do you even consider word count in the value of a story, or do you not even consider length when deciding if a story is worth purchasing?

Let’s talk about it.

Staci Troilo

45 thoughts on “How Do I Write Thee? Let Me Count the Words.

  1. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links | Staci Troilo

  2. It’s so interesting to see it broken down like this. Thank you, Staci, for sharing.
    My preference depends on ebook vs paperback. I much prefer epic reads in paperback. Even after adjusting font size and lighting on my Kindle, I can only read from it during the day and early evening. A few nights of insomnia revealed it as the culprit.
    Also, I recently noticed that I really enjoy reading novellas. Perhaps it’s due to the heightened sense of accomplishment. 🙂
    Another fabulous share by SE. Congratulations to all on the well-deserved recognition and award. Cheers!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Natalie, you and I are complete opposites. My husband just bought me a hardcover book, and even with my reading glasses, I struggle to make much headway. The print is just too small. But when I read on my Kindle, computer, or even my phone, I can make the print as big as I need to, and then I can read more. They say the blue light of electronics can keep you awake. There’s probably some truth to that. You can also probably train yourself not to be bothered by it. (My husband needs the television to fall asleep.) I’ve recently started using an amber filter on my electronics at night, and that’s supposed to defeat the blue light problem. I don’t know if it does or not, but I know my eyes don’t get tired as fast.

      I’m with you on novellas. It used to be I didn’t care for them; I preferred lengthy novels. Now I have so little free time, I find novellas fit my schedule better. I even wrote one recently!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Definitely going to look into this, Staci. I’ve heard the reference to blue light before, but never gave it much thought.
        I just recently bought my first pair of reading glasses. I’ve accepted the necessity to do so with grace. lol.
        I much prefer my ebook for reading because of the flexibility it offers. You nailed it!
        Sadly, I have a few paperbacks that will never be read because of the small font size. The printing process baffles me in these cases.
        Congratulations on your novella. Your writing accomplishments are inspiring. Go you!

        Liked by 1 person

      • In the last year, I’ve been forced into trifocals. They only put the prescriptions down the middle of the lenses, so you have no peripheral vision. If that’s not bad enough, I can’t see properly out of any of the three prescriptions. I’m constantly moving the glasses up and down or tipping my head… I just can’t find a sweet spot anywhere. No one tells you about these problems as you get older. But I’m sure you’re handling the necessity of glasses much better than I am!

        That’s too bad about the tiny-print paperbacks. What were the publishers thinking?

        And thank you for the kind words. I appreciate it more than you know. 🙂


  3. Thank you for this post! It’s really helpful to know what is expected in a certain genre. Maybe in future posts, you could talk about all those different genres. I’m a bit (a lot, to tell the truth) confused about many of those. Probably it’s due to the fact in Italy we don’t have so many sub-genres. doesn’t even have those categories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re not the only one who gets confused, Irene. There are a ton of subgenres, and the BISAC codes (which pretty much every bookstore but Amazon use) are different than Amazon’s categories. Here’s something you might not know, though. You can contact Amazon and request they list your book under other (unlisted) categories. It only makes things more confusing, but it can also be helpful.

      I wouldn’t worry too much about your length or your genre. Like I said, these “rules” were a lot more important before indie publishing. And if you want to go with a traditional publisher, they’ll probably have specific requirements, anyway. This post was just meant to serve as a general guideline. (That said, if you have a specific question, I’m happy to try to answer it for you.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I had bundled all my flash fiction under 500 words, but micro fiction makes sense; a story in six words or trying to write in exaclty 100 words is very different from a meaty 499 words! My two novellas evolved; I had only ever written long novels and short stories, but felt these should be in between. They came out at about 27,000 words without me planning any length. All my short stories are under 6,000, one of my novels is 95,000 and it turns out my trilogy consists of three epics!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I aim for 80K on my novels and end up anywhere from 79K to 83K. My first book (paranormal romance) came in at 127K, but I pared it down to 115K, then had to cut farther when I submitted to publishers. It ended up being 92K and I think was stronger for the cuts. My novellas average 20-22K pretty consistently.

    When I am interested in a book, I do check page count. I’m fine with long reads, and don’t mind spending to purchase them, especially when I know the author and know their work is good. I have, however, balked at paying $3.99 or more for a 20K novella–especially when I don’t know the author. Those I usually skip.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You know, I never used to look at word counts before purchasing a book. Then an author released an eBook at a ridiculously high price, and I checked to see if I was getting my money’s worth. I didn’t feel like I was. I mean, to that point, I owned everything she’d released. But I thought the quality was going down as the prices went up. It seemed like she was milking her fans while phoning it in. I don’t buy her work anymore. If I’m going to spend good money on books (and who among us doesn’t?), I want to know it’s justified.

      And I’m with you. $3.99 doesn’t seem like a lot in and of itself, but for an unknown writer and so few words, that’s too much. There are too many books out there (especially in a low-risk/no-barrier-to-entry category) to make that kind of investment.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I started off writing long, now I have a hard time making word count. I’ve stopped worrying about it so much, and accept the fact that stories will be as long as they need to be. I still try to write to a target. I’m working on a novel now, and can’t let it turn out at 50K that sort of thing. I also did a bunch of this research years ago, and found the numbers varied depending on the source. That partially led me to my current beliefs about being as long as they need to be.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. My first book, Fantasy Fiction, was around 80 – 90k. My second, Mystery/Thriller, was a whopping 147k. All my others have been much shorter… between the 50 – 60k mark. Generally, I let each book dictate its own length. This is a great post, Staci … Thanks for sharing! 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    • Wow, Harmz, 147K is huge! I agree; books should dictate their own length. I have an editing client, though, who consistently writes in the 50K-60K range and does phenomenally well. Maybe there is something to planning for a certain size, but I just let my stories go where they need to.


  8. Another great and informative post, Staci. Both my novels, in the suspense/romantic suspense category, were around 85K words. I wanted to make them around 90, but doing so would only add unnecessary content. Aiming for around the same count for book three. However, in a new series that I’m toying ideas around, I’m thinking of making them a bit shorter. However, my books tend to write themselves so who knows what I’ll come up with.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s so hard to pick a book length. And there’s something to be said for letting the work dictate the length. I’m somewhere in the middle. I outline, so I have an idea of my final target before I start. But I always seem to add a subplot or two, then I have to adjust my expectations. Or I cut ruthlessly and drop from a novel to a novella. I like the idea of a series being consistent with word counts book-to-book, but I haven’t done that personally. (Like I said, I let the content dictate length, and sometimes a story within a series will be longer or shorter than the others.)

      Kudos to you for resisting the urge to add words for the sake of length. A lot of people pad their work, and it’s never as strong that way.

      Liked by 2 people

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