When writing your first literary fiction, different questions come to mind, including “how many words in a book?” or “how long should a novel be?” The shortest and simplest answer is 70,000-90,000 words – even if you are self-publishing. But the ideal book length will depend on the genre.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the average word count of different genres.
What Is the Book Word Count per Genre?
The book word count per genre varies from 40,000 words to a whopping 125,000 words. For instance, the book-length of general literary fiction novels is around 70,000 to 90,000 words. On the other hand, how-to books can be anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 words. Here is an overview table of the average word count of different genres.
Expert insight: Top publishing houses like Penguin Random House typically has novel word count recommendations. They may not consider your book if it falls below or above their required word count range. So, always check the submission requirements if you prefer to have your book published by a traditional publishing house.
|Book categories/genre||Type of book||Average word count|
|Fantasy||Fiction||90,000-110,000 (sometimes up to 125,000)|
|Sci-Fi||Fiction||90,000-110,000 (sometimes up to 125,000)|
|Children’s Books||Fiction||30,000-50,000 (Middle Grade), 5,000-10,000 (Chapter Books), 300-800 (Picture Books), Early Readers (2,000-5,000)|
What Is the Average Word Count of a Fiction Novel?
The average word count of a fiction novel is between 70,000 to 90,000 words. However, as mentioned earlier, the final word count guideline depends on the genre. For instance, a short story only averages 1500 to 30,000 words, whereas a fantasy novel can be 90,000-110,00 words long. Here is a closer look at each one.
Insider Tip: No one is exempted from word count woes – even if you intend to self-publish. At the end of the day knowing how many words in a book can help you craft a better story. If you should ever want your book published traditionally in the future, you’ll have a manuscript that is already ready for publishing.
Epic novels have the longest word count compared to other fiction novels. On average, you are looking anywhere at 120,000 to 200,000 words long. But it can be more. For instance, Ayn Rayn’s Atlas Shrugged, one of the longest books in the world, is a whopping 561,996 words long!
A novella is the in-between of a standard novel and a short story; its word count is lower than a novel but longer than a short story. So, how long is a novella? It is only around 30,000-50,000 words. Examples of a novella include George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Many aspiring writers believe that short stories like Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher have the lowest word count in the fiction novel category. However, a short story book can have as many as 30,000 words, with 1,500 words being the lowest.
If your novel is lower than that, it will fall under flash fiction. Its word count range can be as low as six words up to 1000 words. Virginia Woolf’s A Haunted House is an example of flash fiction.
Thriller / Suspense
Thriller and suspense novels have 70,000 to 90,000 words, which is expected because you need to create suspense with a build-up. If you are having a hard time sticking to the average word count of a suspense novel, here are some tips:
- Make the storyline unpredictable: One of the most important aspects of writing suspense is making sure that your readers are always at the edge of their sits!
- Develop the right characters: Don’t settle for cookie-cutter or stereotype villains and heroes. Look for an unexpected plot twist even in your characters.
- Pile problems one after another: Give your characters, specifically the protagonist, more problems that will further complicate the storyline. You can also use these problems to create a well-rounded character arc!
Mystery novels have the same word count as thriller or suspense books. However, there is a between the two, particularly in how the story is written.
For instance, in most mystery novels, the crime is already revealed in the first few chapters. The main characters will then solve the mystery as the story unfolds. On the other hand, in thrillers, the suspect is established early on, and the protagonist must stop him.
If you are writing your debut horror book, you should aim for at least 70,000 words and a maximum of 90,000 words. Writing a great horror story is more than just having the scariest, most atrocious-looking character; it should also include:
- A relatable protagonist: Familiarity on a personal level is what attaches your readers.
- Hints of foreshadowing: Create and build tension and you can instill fear in your readers.
- Pacing is critical: Like horror films’ slow panning to a dark corner of the room, you should also write with a sense of a developing dread. You can express it in shorter sentences or play around with the reader’s imagination!
The word count of romance novels averages between 70,000 to 90,000 words. However, most romance books are shorter than the expected word count. This is partly because this genre revolves around writing about two characters and their own unique experiences, thought processes, and adventures.
For instance, Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook is below the expected 70,000-word count – it’s only around 48,978 words!
Fantasy novels are longer than most fiction books, averaging 90,000 to 110,000 words. The longer length is expected since fantasy books have their own worlds. Some can even go beyond the average fantasy book word count.
For instance, in A Game Of Thrones by George RR Martin, it’s more than twice the maximum 110,000-word count. It has a total of 298,000 words, but readers are rewarded with an immersive and intricated view of Westeros.
Examples of fantasy novels with their word count:
- The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien – 177,227 words
- Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey – 83,832 words
- The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson – 383,389 words
Young Adult (YA)
Young adult novels have a word count of between 60,000-80,000 words. However, there are some books that break this guideline.
Take a closer look at J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the word count is over 70,000 words. By the fifth installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it’s already more than 250,000 words – that’s 50,000 words more than the average word limit of an epic!
Does it mean first-time authors of young adult novels can write more than the expected YA word count? Not technically. Only famous authors with a loyal fanbase and successful books can get away with writing more words. To err on the safe side, aim for a maximum of 90,000 words.
Examples of YA novels with their word count:
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – 99,750
- Divergent by Veronica Roth – 105,143
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – 73,404
Science fiction novels share the same average word count as fantasy books (90,000-110,000 words). There is also a lot of flexibility to increase the number of words in order to meet the story arc, character development, and of course, world-building. Here are the word counts of some popular sci-fi novels:
- The Martian by Andy Weir – 104,588 words
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – 100,609 words
- Dune by Frank Herbert – 181,493 words
Most first-time authors believe that children’s books are predominantly illustrations and word count doesn’t really matter, but that’s far from the truth. When writing books for kids, you’ll have to consider the type of children’s book you are writing.
For instance, picture books that are for kids ages 0-6 years old have more illustrations than text (around 300-800 words only), whereas middle-grade novels have an average of 30,000-50,000 words.
Fun fact: Despite having a similar word count to adult fiction books, YA novels like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games still falls under the children’s book category.
What Is the Average Word Count of Non-fiction Books?
The average word count of non-fiction books is 60,000-80,000 words. It can be longer however keep in mind that most traditional publishers will have a more stringent word count for non-fiction manuscripts.
Self-help books typically have around 40,000-50,000 words. If you are self-publishing, it can be shorter – 30,000 words or less. Self-help manuscripts share some elements with fiction books. This includes a table of contents, chapters, foreword, epilogue, and references.
Insider Tip: Most self-help books typically start with a personal story related to the book’s main central problem or topic.
Memoirs share the same word count as fiction books. They average between 70,000-90,000 words. If it is lower or shorter than the average word count, you may not have enough substance to tell a story that is exciting and engaging to your readers. A short memoir can also leave your readers confused and not have enough information to truly understand your story.
- Becoming by Michelle Obama – 159,277
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – 78,384
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X -184,443
Insider Tip: Some famous memoirs can be as long as a sci-fi or fantasy novel. This is partly because the author is a prominent figure.
How Can I Find Out How Many Words Are in My Book?
You can find out how many words you have in your book by referring to your writing software’s word count feature. Most writing programs have this feature. For convenience, we also have a word counter tool.
For instance, for Google docs, click the “Tools” (found in the upper left section of your document). Select “Word Count” and a pop-up window that includes the number of pages, words, and characters will appear in the middle of your screen.
If you don’t want to constantly check the word count, you can also have the word count displayed as you type. When the pop-up window appears, check the “Display word count while typing.” Alternatively, you can press Ctrl+Shift+C or Command+Shift+C to quickly toggle the word count window.
Microsoft Word has the same Word Count feature, which you can also access by going to the Tools and then selecting the Word Count option.
If you are using Scrivener, one of our recommended software for book writing, look at the footer section and you’ll find a word count box. For a detailed overview of your manuscript, click the word count box, and you’ll see other information, including the average sentence length, number of characters, and even the reading time.
Word Play: How Many Words in a Book?
So, how many words are in a book? It’s typically 70,000 to 90,000 words. Keep in mind that this word count is not definite, and will depend on the genre you are writing.
Hopefully, our overview of the general word count guidelines per genre gave you a better idea of how long a novel should be. But don’t limit yourself, especially when writing. You can always shorten or lengthen it during the revision stage of how to get a book published. Happy Writing!