Novel Word Count: Everything You Must Know In 2023

Novel Word Count

Whenever I’m asked about the ideal word count for a novel, my response remains consistent. It’s not about hitting a specific number, but rather ensuring that your novel isn’t excessively lengthy or disappointingly brief. The ‘perfect’ word count for a novel is a fluid concept, one that is influenced by a multitude of factors.

The most significant factor to consider is the genre of your novel. Each literary genre has its own unwritten rules and conventions when it comes to length. For instance, a fast-paced thriller might be on the shorter side to maintain its relentless pace, while an epic fantasy might require a higher word count to fully immerse readers in its intricately crafted world.

But it’s not just about genre. The complexity of your plot, the depth of your characters, and the breadth of your narrative scope can all influence the length of your novel. A multi-generational saga will naturally require more words than a tightly focused character study.

Moreover, your target audience plays a role too. Younger readers might be more inclined to pick up a shorter novel, while more seasoned readers might not shy away from a hefty tome.

In the end, the ‘perfect’ word count for your novel is the one that allows you to tell your story in the most compelling and satisfying way. It’s about striking a balance between giving your narrative the space it needs to breathe and keeping your reader engaged from the first page to the last.

Average Word Count In A Novel

Writing Guide

As for average word count in a novel, it usually falls somewhere in the region of 80,000 words. The universally agreed minimum word count for a novel is around 40,000 words. If your book is below this word count, it will be considered a novella. I would strongly suggest that if your novel is sub-40,000 word count, you seriously consider expanding.

Though novellas have their place, they are very difficult to sell to book publishers and you will find it hard to secure agent representation with a novella. So, as a rule of thumb the average word count in a novel is between 80,000 to 100,000 words.

Saying this, if you do want to go down the novella route, here are 33 book publishers and journals seeking novellas. Novellas can be used to start author’s careers but not so much nowadays. Caroline Smailes started her writing career with novellas and has recently seen one of her books made into a film by Youtube star Luke Cutforth. This shows that there are alternatives out there for novel success.

(Please note: if you are interested in seeing word counts for shorter works of fiction, this article about writing short stories will help.)

Novel Word Count: Book Genres

It’s not quite that simple. The average word count in a novel may only apply depending on the book genre. For instance, a science fiction novel word count must be at least 50,000 words.

In order to receive the prestigious Nebula Award, the science fiction novel word count must be above 50,000. This is just one example of many factors that could influence your novel word count target.

Novel Word Count for Book Genres:
Crime Novel Word Count: 90,000 to 100,000
Thriller Novel Word Count: 70,000 to 90,000
Romance Novel Word Count: 60,000 to 90,000
Fantasy Novel Word Count: 90,000 to 120,000
Horror Novel Word Count: 80,000 to 100,000
Sci-Fi Novel Word Count: 90,000 to 125,000
Historical Novel Word Count: 80,000 to 120,000
Young Adult Novel Word Count: 50,000 to 80,000
Novella Word Count: 20,000 to 40,000
Short Stories Word Count: 1000 to 8000
Flash Fiction Word Count: 100 to 500

Notice how the maximum word count for a fantasy novel is 125,000 more than the young adult book genre? This highlights the importance of being aware of the word count guidelines in your chosen book genre.

The Sci-Fi novel word count is on average the largest of book genres. The Sci-Fi genre is all about lengthy word counts. It allows authors to develop an engaging futuristic world within a novel. Historical novels also have a huge word count due to their complex nature.

However, it’s not quite that simple. There is a belief that a debut novel is slightly different. It is sometimes said that for a debut novel you need to be aiming for a word count around 80,000 words maximum. I am not convinced by this argument, but feel it is something of which you should be aware.

Novel Word Count: Why Does It Matter?


There is a lot of talk about novel word count, but does it matter?
Let’s start with very small novels. . .
The book publishing industry has a belief that when readers are deciding to buy a novel, its physical size plays a part in the buying equation. Rightly or wrongly, it is felt that very small novels (sub-40,000 words) will appear flimsy and less substantial than the competition, and therefore will, in the mind of the reader, not be worth the retail price.
Now, I understand that this may (or may not) be the case in reality, but all that matters is that this belief persists in the book publishing world. If your novel word count is below 40,000, it will be an issue. This issue could also apply to eBooks. The reader isn’t actually purchasing a physical copy of the book. In that case you need to make sure they get the content and quality in your novel that they expected when purchasing.

Now for very big novels.

The problem with large novels (we are talking above 150,000 word count) is twofold. The first reason is all to do with cost. If a novel word count is made up of hundreds of thousands of words then it will naturally need lots of pages, and pages cost money.
Large novels with hundreds of pages can quickly become prohibitively expensive to print. All books are a gamble, but those by debut novelists are even more so. A publisher will be looking to print at least a three thousand books in their first print run. It is cheaper to print 60,000-word novels than it is to print 120,000-word novels.
Therefore, smaller novels = less financial gamble.

The second reason is also all to do with cost. When an agent or book publisher is assessing a potential book deal, foreign rights sales will play a part in the thinking. Foreign rights are permission for the book to be translated and sold in other countries.

These rights are sold to foreign publishers — giving agents, book publishers and writers an additional cash windfall. However, very large novels present a problem. Translators charge by the word and therefore very large novel word counts bring with them very large translation costs. This means the rights will be more difficult to sell and this will be seen as a negative by agents and book publishers when initially assessing your novel.

Word Counts Of Famous Novels

Harry Potter

Despite these averages and suggestions, studying word counts of famous novels shows that not all authors follow these rules. The old saying is ‘rules are made to be broken’ which is certainly the case in the Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling. The book series entire word count is 1,084,170. The novel word count increasing throughout the collection.

Novel Word Count for Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling:

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – 76,944 novel word count
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – 85,141 novel word count
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – 107,253 novel word count
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – 190,637 novel word count
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – 257,045 novel word count
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – 168,923 novel word count
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – 198,227 novel word count
When it comes to novel word count for famous novels, the size varies.
Novel Word Count for Famous Novels:
Writing Guide novel
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – 561,996 novel word count
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – 561,304 novel word count
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – 543,709 novel word count
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin – 424,000 novel word count
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 418,053 novel word count
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin – 300,000 novel word count
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – 240,000 novel word count
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville – 209,117 novel word count
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – 155,717 novel word count
The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien – 137,115 novel word count
Atonement by Ian McEwan – 123,378 novel word count
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer – 118,975 novel word count
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – 112,815 novel word count
Divergent by Veronica Roth – 105,143 novel word count
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – 100,388 novel word count
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – 99,750 novel word count
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – 73,404 novel word count
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – 70,570 novel word count
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – 67,707 novel word count
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton – 48,523 novel word count
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 47,094 novel word count
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – 46,333 novel word count
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon – 46,573 novel word count
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – 38,421 novel word count
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl – 30,644 novel word count
Animal Farm by George Orwell – 29,966 novel word count

Final Thoughts

This applies to the book publishing world and novel word count. There are various modern day platforms available for authors to sell their novels, without traditional publishing. This wasn’t always the case. Make the most of online writing communities to enhance your skills.

Novel word count is relevant depending on the book genre. Although, don’t let word count rules limit you or feel that you need to ramble on. Write your novel, worry about the word count after. There are plenty of options out there once the book is written.