What Is the Ideal Length of a Novel?


Word count, while not the most pressing issue on a writer’s list of things to worry about, still matters. When you get to the revisions stage of novel-ing, it becomes less about “getting it done” and more about “getting it published.”

But how long is too long—or how short is too short? Is your word count off the charts (in a bad way) or exactly where it needs to be?

We turned to Writer’s Digest for answers to some of the questions you haven’t asked (but probably wanted to) about novel length. If you’re worried about running too long or not long enough, this might help.

What makes a novel a novel, length-wise? 

Short stories are less than 20,000 words, and novellas are between 20,000 and 50,000. Therefore, a novel is considered anything over 50,000 words, which is why National Novel Writing Month participants use 50K as their minimum word count goal during wrimos. 

So is it better to “pitch” a shorter or longer novel? 

The answer is actually much simpler than you probably thought. Think of it this way: the less you have to work with, the more work it will be to add more later. It’s much easier to trim than it is to extend—so in short (pun intended?), it’s better to write more and cut back on word count later.

On the business side of things, publishers are more likely to take a chance on a shorter novel compared to a longer one. You know, printing costs and all that.

Where do publishers draw the line? 

It depends on your genre. All you sci-fi and fantasy writers get a little bit more leeway when it comes to length. 100,000 words is safe here. Young adult authors should shoot for around 70,000, and adult fiction-ers can go far with anything between 80,000 and 100,000.

So basically, anything below 70,000 is usually pretty iffy.

Is it okay to focus so much on word count? 

In the revisions stage … maybe. Of course, the story is always going to be your main priority: an 80,000-word book won’t get you very far if it’s not a well-written one.

There are a lot of things you’ll have to discuss with your agent, or yourself, if you’re not going the traditional publishing route, and ways to make your book more sell-able will come up. Word count might be one of them, but remember, it’s much easier to downsize than it is to, well, the opposite.

For now, especially if you’re still in the writing stage, try not to worry too much. Focus on writing the best story you can write. The rest will all fall into place when the time comes.

To learn more about book length in general, click here.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.