How long should my novel be?
One of the most common question would-be authors ask me is: how long should my novel be?
It’s an important consideration, as the length of a novel can either make or break you when it comes to publishing.
Here’s the skinny:
The optimal length of your book depends on two things: your genre and how you plan to publish.
The length of your book depends on genre
Each genre has its own industry standard, however, most genre, or commercial, fiction sits firmly around 80,000 words. Once you’re an established author such as JK Rowling or Stephen King, the word limits fly out the window, but for first-time or unknown authors, the limits are in place, and you’re better off sticking to the rules
Think of is as a test. All of us commuters are stuck with the speed limit, but the tried and true, the trained professionals can drive at hundreds of miles an hour. Why? They’ve got the track record.
Thank you; I’m here all week.
But seriously, until you’re James Patterson, stick with the 80,000 mark as your target goal if you’re writing genre fiction.
Typical Word counts by genre:
The length of your novel depends on how you plan to publish
Traditional publishing houses stick to genre limits for first-time authors. They’ve found that 80,000 is the magic number that will get readers to buy books.
Always remember publishing houses are less interested in your art and more interested in sales. (It’s one of those “sad but true” truths of the publishing world.)
As a consequence, agents are more interested in what’s marketable than in what’s beautiful. Like all rules, this isn’t always 100% accurate, but remember: no matter how much an agent likes your book, agents don’t make money unless your book sells.
If you want to go the traditional publishing route, you’ll have to play by the rules. The trade off for limiting your word count to industry standards is backing from a big name, and some marketing support.
Because of the strict rules and lack of emphasis on aesthetics-over-marketability, many authors choose the self-publishing route.
Self publishing has nearly no rules, depending on what company you go through. In fact, many companies incentive longer books because the more pages you publish with them, the more money they’re making in printing costs from you. For this reason, most self-publishing companies have no limits on how small or large your book will be, and many relish the fact that so many authors have difficulty telling their story succinctly.
If you choose the self-publishing route, just keep your audience in mind. You want to tell your story in the most concise and compelling way. Why? The better a page-turner you write this time around, the better chance readers will rush to buy your next book–and that’s publishing gold.
Ultimately, a writer’s job is to “tell the very best story he or she can,” as Literary Agent Eric Ruben said in a recent Writing Gym interview. Focus on your story first; be sure that your pacing is impeccable–a real page-turner, and then worry about how to fit within word limits and about how you will publish your story.
Have questions about pacing your novel? Work with a coach to ensure the highest quality story possible.
I want to publish a novel one day, so this is incredibly helpful knowledge. Thanks!
You’re so welcome, Nicole. I would love to talk with you about what you are writing.
As always, Annalisa, lots of helpful info. Thank you!
Thanks so much, Andrew. I am glad this was helpful for you.