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.
- 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.
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.