how to · Pay It Forward · Tips · Writing

Share-It Saturday: Word Count by Genre

Reblogged from Manuscript Agency

Word count by genre: How long should my book really be?

Publishers and agents are typically inundated with manuscript submissions from authors seeking publication. And as a result, ‘the authorities’ (as I shall hereby refer to them as) are looking for reasons to reject your book. The standouts are standouts, and speak for themselves. But for every standout manuscript there are hundreds of manuscripts that are hard to place – could they be best sellers if they found the right audience? More often than not they are looking for reasons why these manuscripts shouldn’t make their lists. And scrutinising the word count is one such method of reducing their ‘slush pile’.

Most literary genres have expected word lengths, which have been driven by audiences – in terms of their own expectations of the genre, as well as our (the professionals) expectations of them (an obvious example for this: children’s books need to be shorter than science-fiction for adults, simply because children don’t have the attention span that adults possess).

Adhering to the expected word count demonstrates that you understand your market. It also shows that you have the ability to pace your narrative and make every word count (that you are disciplined at self-editing).

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Here are the general figures that you’ll want to know:

  • SHORT STORY:
    • Under 500 words can be described as ‘Flash Fiction’
    • Between 1000 and 8000 words is a short story (also, most short story competitions will stipulate their required word length for entry)
    • Between 5000 and 10,000 words is a long short story
  • NOVELLA:This is a story that is between 10,000 and 40,000 words.
  • NOVEL: A manuscript over 40,000 words is considered to be a novel. However, very few novels these days are as short as that. Generally a 50,000-word novel would be the minimum word count. Most novels are between 60,000 and 100,000 words. A single novel can be longer, but once the length is above 110,000 words publishers may look at cutting it back, unless it is a particular kind of book – books over the 110K word count are usually considered ‘epics’.

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SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

Always keep in mind that each story has its own natural length, which may fall outside these guidelines. If this is the case, just be prepared to ‘justify’ your reasons for falling outside the ‘norm’…always keep in mind, you are selling this to the agent/publisher/commissioning editor in the first instance, but then they have to sell it to the sales and marketing team (which can be a particularly hard sell! You can emotionally trap the creative team more than you can ‘the suits’…they want numbers and figures and hard facts. And at the end of the day, they have a lot of power, so it is important to keep both these audiences in mind when you are ‘selling’ your book).

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