Novel Word Count: Everything You Need To Know
At BubbleCow, we are commonly asked by aspiring authors ‘how long should my novel be?’
Our answer is always the same.
Word count in a novel depends on multiple factors. The only crucial factor is that your novel word count is neither too long nor too short. However, the ideal word count for novels varies with the genre.
Average Word Count in a Novel
As for the 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.
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.
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 40,000 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.
Why Does Word Count 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
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 increases 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.
- 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.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 144,523 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.
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