A common question new writers ask is, “What are the average word counts for novels?” and, “Just how long should a novel be, anyway?” and, “How many words in a novel, again?”, and But most articles on fiction writing in general for new novelists, such as How to Write a Novel and Rediscover how to Write a Novel With StoryTeller, don’t usually touch on word count.
One answer I received near the beginning of my writing journey was, “As long as it takes to tell your story.” This answer, however, it vague at best, and unhelpful at worst.
Because, when it comes to novel writing, length matters.
Many sources agree that your long-form fiction becomes a novel when it hits 50,000 words. In the article How Many Words in a Novel on the Reedsy blog, however, the lower limit is listed as 40,000 words.
As for the upper limit, there are fairly recent novels that go up into the hundreds of thousands. For example, George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons, is 414,788 words long, according to statista.com. But Martin’s books are exceptions, rather than the rule.
The true answer is more complicated because it depends on a number of variables.
Keep reading for some commonly agreed-upon advice for word count for fiction novels. Keep in mind that these numbers vary somewhat, depending on who you ask or to which source you refer.
By Age Range
A commonly accepted word count for a middle-grade novel is 20,000 to 55,000 words. At this age-range, the general rule of novels being 50,000 words and above doesn’t hold true.
Novels intended for a young adult audience can be between 60,000 words and 90,000 words.
Novels for adults can be 50,000 words and up. The generally suggested upper limit (depending on genre and the experience level of the writer) is 100,000 to 150,000 words. However, there have been many exceptions to this top limit, as in the example of George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons above.
Within the Adult category and overlapping somewhat with the Young Adult (YA) category, word counts can be narrowed further according to genre.
Horror novels tend to fall in the range of 40,000 to 80,000 words.
Like horror novels, mystery novels tend to be between 40,000 and 80,000 words.
Speculative fiction novels are stories with settings—and often characters—that are different from what we would consider reality, such as:
- Science Fiction,
- Fantasy, and;
These novels require more world building, especially if the physical world, economy, political system, people, and so on vary greatly from what the reader knows. Because of this, these novels tend to have higher word counts.
These novels tend to fall in between 90,00 and 120,000 words. There are novels in these genres that have lower word counts, but those would usually be intended for YA or middle-grade audiences.
Like speculative fiction, historical fiction often requires much world building.
After all, modern-day readers won’t easily relate to the customs, settings, social climate, fashion, etc. of the time period the book is set in.
These books often come in at around 100,000 words.
These fast-moving, high action, suspenseful stories will ideally have 70,000 to 90,000 words.
Romance readers looking for a low-angst story to read while lying on a beach sipping a drink can find novels in this genre with word counts as low as 50,000.
More complicated, darker, or more angst-filled romances can have up to 100,000 words.
There are some other important considerations when deciding on the word length for your novel. For example, new writers would be well advised to stick to the lower word count limit for their age-range and genre.
For a new author who plans to self-publish, the higher the word count (and page count), the higher the cost of printing would be.
At the start of your career, would you have a large enough audience or fan base to make a profit from printing longer books? Will your target audience want to invest the higher price and the time commitment of a longer book, especially if it’s written by an unknown author?
Especially if you are planning on offering a print version, this is something to think about.
If you’re a new author planning to query agents, editors, and publishers, many of these professionals won’t want to invest the time and money required to publish a long book when an author is untested.
So you might want to keep your first book to the lower end of the range.
You can try writing longer books down the road when you are more established.
In the article How many words in a novel? Average word count for books by genre on the Publishing Talk blog, “Anything over 110,000 words is usually considered too long—especially for a first novel.”
When querying, it is important to check the website of the agent, editor, or publisher for their recommended word count ranges. If you can’t find the information on the website, email or call. The word counts they require for the different genres will trump any information found elsewhere.
Now that you have an idea of how many words are in a novel and how genre affects your word count, perhaps you’re wondering how many scenes those words should be divided into.
If so, check out What is a Scene in a Novel and Does the Genre Matter? If you are curious about how to give your novel a slower or faster pace, check out Evaluate Pacing of Your Novel Using Word Count per Scene.
Both of these articles are posted in the Fictionary blog.
Article Written by Sherry Leclerc
Sherry Leclerc is a Fictionary Certified StoryCoach editor, Fictionary content creator, Writer’s Digest certified copy editor, and independent author. She is a member of Editor’s Canada, the Canadian Authors Association (CAA), and The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).
Sherry holds a B.A. in English Language and Literature and a B.Ed. She is the sole proprietor of Ternias Publishing, through which she offers various editorial services. She also has a YouTube channel where she has a vlog about writing and editing, titled The Mythic Quill. You can find it on Youtube .
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