'How long should my novel be?' is a question an awful lot of writers ask. Former literary agent Danielle Zigner takes a look at typical novel lengths per genre and what appeals to publishers within the current marketplace...
Within the publishing industry we tend to talk about the length of a book in words rather than in pages. Typically, a book that is published in paperback format at a length of 300-400 pages will come in between 80,000 and 100,000 words.
For adult fiction (especially crime, thrillers, women’s fiction, saga and romance), 100,000 words is a good benchmark to aim for. Too far over this and agents and publishers might be worried about pacing, or how much editorial work the book will need. Too far under and they’ll worry that the story isn’t well-developed enough, or that customers won’t feel they’re getting value for money.
There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. But as a debut author it’s best to tick as many boxes on the agents’ and publishers’ checklists as you possibly can to give your book the best chance of being picked up. So try to stick to the conventions.
Word count guidelines do, however, differ between genres and age groups.
As mentioned, general fiction for adults should come in at 100,000 words. But genre books (fantasy, sci-fi, or historical fiction) are often longer; around the 125,000 word mark.
Giants of the genre (e.g. George R R Martin) might come in closer to 300,000 words, but established authors can get away with a lot more than debuts. As with general fiction, for a debut it’s best to err on the side of caution and stick to 100,000 words where possible.
For literary fiction, it can go the other way; anything from 55,000 to 100,000 words is acceptable.
For young adult fiction, the word count is once again lower, with the ideal being 55,000 – 80,000 words.
Younger still, middle grade fiction (ages 9-12) should come in between 30,000 and 55,000 words.
Books for readers aged 5-8 typically sit around 20,000 words. And lastly, picture books can have as few as 100 words, and in any case certainly fewer than 1,000 words.
If you find yourself drastically outside the suggested length for your audience, then it might be worth considering whether your book is structured in the best way for connecting with your readers. Certainly, when it comes to gaining representation from an agent and being offered a book deal by a publisher, you’re more likely to succeed if your word count matches their expectations.