Hello, my readers! Today I’m revisiting book lengths for authors. The length of a book can be a vital factor in its success. Depending on the target audience, genre, readability, and book type, the word count in a book can vary.
That said, there are always outliers—books that have done well outside of word count brackets. If you’re a writer with questions about how long your writing should be, this article is for you.
Although there is no fixed word count, there are generally recognized guidelines depending on genre and audience.
Younger audiences have smaller attention spans and therefore cater to short, fast-paced book lengths. Adults are more tolerable with longer manuscripts. Here’s a rundown of the age brackets:
- Poetry: 5 to 3,000 words
- Picture Book: 400 to 800 words
- Play: 1,000 to 32,000 words
- Middle Grade: 25,000 to 40,000 words
- Young Adult: 50,000 to 100,000 words
- Adult: 100,000 to 130,000 words
Book genres, of course, play another role in the word count. Science fiction and fantasy works tend toward a high word count since the writer develops a fictional world from the ground up. This takes time to describe all the new rules and phenomena associated with such a fictional universe.
Historical fiction, Young Adult, Westerners, and Mysteries prefer a lower word count—of course, there are always exceptions.
- Romance & Erotica: 40,000 to 100,000 words
- Mystery/Thriller/Horror: 70,000 to 90,000 words
- Horror: 80,000 to 100,000 words
- Historical: 90,000 to 100,000 words
- Sci-fi/Fanasty: 90,000 to 140,000 words
General Book Types
Depending on the type of book you intend to write, word count plays another significant factor. Flash fiction and short stories are, of course, brief, but powerful. Novelettes are even larger than short stories. A novella is a story with a fleshed out story and characters, whereas novels are the largest.
Book type examples:
- Flash Fiction: 100 to 1,500 words
- Short Story: 1,500 to 7,500 words
- Novelette: 7,500 to 20,000 words
- Novella: 30,000 to 50,000 words
- Novel: 50,000 to 100,000 words
Quantity Versus Quality
Quantity alone does not a good book make. You have to earn your manuscript, one word at a time. If a document is 150,000 words long but fills its pages with redundant vocabulary, it probably won’t read well.
The average reading level for America is around the 8th-grade mark. If the author wants a book to read smoothly among a wider audience, then a book should read around this level. By using simpler and shorter phrases, the readability of the prose goes up.
Each word in a manuscript should contribute to the book in at least one of the following ways:
- Character progression
- Plot development
- Environmental immersion
- Reader enjoyment
There are exceptions, but if you find a word that doesn’t fit one of these criteria, it can usually be removed. You don’t want to be overly descriptive either as that slogs the pacing and reduces readability.
I recommend Brandon Sanderson’s lectures from 2020 for prose concision and worldbuilding.
Chapter length can also have an impact on readability and word count. Short chapters organize a book better, improve readability, and leave readers with a sense of satisfaction. Shorter chapters also make for good stopping points when a reader needs to put the novel down.
Longer chapters are tedious, but sometimes necessary when a section of a book demands enough information or plot progression. In this case, scene breaks are good for breaking down long chapters.
Personally, I love frequent scene breaks and short chapters, as it provides convenient spots for me to park my bookmark. 😛
Reader & Writer Relationship
Half of telling a story comes from the reader’s imagination; give half and let the reader form the rest. This stimulates the reader’s mind, bringing with it a sense of fulfillment.
A book is as much of a journey for the writer as it is for the reader. If you can provide that opportunity—for a reader to have fun and explore—they will flip pages nonstop and won’t care about book length. This is especially true with worldbuilding using the iceberg theory.
The length of a book is up to the writer, depending on audience, genre, book type, readability, and the author’s long-term goals. Authors who have built up an impressive resume of stories can skirt the rules.
Here’s a free online program called WordCounter that checks the word count, reading level, speaking time, and word frequency. Just paste your work into the program, and it will analyze everything for you automatically. I also use Hemingway to check sentence length and readability. Grammarly is another great tool you can install into your browser. It actually works with Hemingway in your browser.
Thank you for reading and good luck in your writing endeavors. Stay safe out there! 🙂
I’m playing around with some new designs with my blog and testing them out. I’m also merging my blog with Mailchimp (still in testing). I plan to send out blog news, book promotions, and free gifts once I get it up and running! 🙂