Updated: Sep 1, 2021
How long should a novel be?
By Michael Heath / selfpublishingUS.com
People often ask me how long their novel should be. It is a good question with several answers since fiction is written in different categories and some genres require word counts different from others.
An adult novel, that is a novel written for a reader 18 years of age or older, should be 70,000 to 110,000 words with 80,000 to 90,000 being the sweet spot. Books written in the Fantasy or Science-fiction genres often contain stories that require a lot of description, so words count there that go to 115,000 are acceptable.
Books written for younger people should be shorter. In the young adult category where the books are written for people 12 to 18 the word counts normally fall in between 55,000 and 80,000 words. Middle grade books have readers that are 8 to 11 years of age and generally have word counts ranging from 20,000 to 55,000. Early reader books which are written for children 6 to 7 years old (do you recall Dick and Jane?) should not exceed 1500 words. A children’s picture book like Cat in the Hat usually have about 1000 words.
A novella is longer than a short story but is not as complex as a true novel. Books like that are typically 18.000 to 40,000 words. Examples of novellas that hover near 30.000 words are Of Mice and Men, The Old Man and the Sea and Animal Farm. These books are classics but keep in mind that publishing houses often feel that this category is not very marketable. Chances at success are greater with a full-length novel.
Are these hard and fast rules? Not really. With a little research you can find many exceptions. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is considered a short novel at 47, 094 words. Some of the later Harry Potter books blow past the typical young adult book with 200,000 or more words. In both cases, the books were written by established authors who could bend the rules. If you want to get the attention of an agent, you should stay withing the publishing norms. Why give an overworked agent an easy excuse to reject your work? When you become the next JK Rowling you can then do pretty much what you want.