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
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
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.
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?
Now for very big novels.
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
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
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.