how long should a short story be novellas and more

It’s every author’s age-old question: What is the proper word count for my book? It’s also one of those questions for which there’s no right answer.

For the most part, you don’t need to worry about strict word counts for your writing. Write what it takes to tell your story completely, but without filler and fluff. Boom—you’re done.

Sometimes, it takes only a few words to tell a full story (think about the famous example of “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”). In other cases, the complete story takes several epically long books to fully explore (Game of Thrones, we’re looking at you).

However, for marketing purposes and when selling your work to certain markets like magazines or anthologies, word count matters. Awards, too, often categorize a book by how long it is.

Let’s take a look at some generally accepted rules for fiction and nonfiction lengths and how they might fit into your overall writing career.

Average Fiction Word Counts

Flash Fiction Word Count

Microfiction and flash fiction are the tweets of the fiction world. In general, anything under 1,000 words is considered flash fiction.

Super-short fiction forces you to work within constraints, which can push your creativity and force you to be more conscious of your word choices and style decisions.

Plus, it’s often pretty quick to write (though working within strict guidelines is far from easy), which means that you can offer free flash fiction on your blog or to your email newsletter readers.

This is a terrific way to whet readers’ appetites for your longer works or get them interested in the plot of your next book.

Short Story Word Count

Short stories are often defined as any story under 7,500 words. These are the short works that literary publications tend to publish most often—magazines like Clarkesworld, Ploughshares, and Carve welcome short stories, though they sometimes publish longer works as well.

This is a great category to explore if you’re looking to build your readership through magazine submissions, 99-cent digital shorts, or free giveaways that feel more substantial than flash fiction.

Novelette Word Count

Some markets don’t recognize the novelette as a separate category, lumping it in with novellas or “short novels” instead. However, the Nebulas, the annual award of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), include a category just for these works, defined as stories of between 7,500 and 17,500.

For a long time, this was kind of the grey area of fiction—too long to be a short story, too short to be a novel—and many people didn’t write works this long because it was almost impossible to get them published. With the rise of eBooks, though, that isn’t such a problem anymore.

While readers might balk at paying for a super-skinny printed book, a 99-cent or $1.99 digitally produced tale that can be read in one or two sessions seems totally reasonable.

Novella Word Count

Novellas are frequently defined as works of fiction between 17,500 and 40,000 words long. They’re not quite novels, but they feel pretty substantial—there’s room for character development, complex plots, and more.

Literary magazines may sometimes publish novellas, and they often appear in collections or anthologies alongside shorter works. These days, novellas are starting to appear more and more as standalone published works, too.

Average Novel Word Count

Novels are fiction works of 40,000 words or more.

Simple, right?

Well, not so fast. Different genres have different preferences for novel length.

Romance Novels

This popular genre averages between 75,000 and 120,000 words, unless you’re writing a saga.

Fantasy and Sci-Fi Novels

These novels tend to run on the longer side—up to 180,000 words, or even over 200,000. At that length, however, authors in this genre need to make sure every word and detail is needed. Don’t add any fluff to these books.

Literary Novels

This genre breaks the rules when it comes to word counts. While 120,000 words are the norm, you can write 150,000, 180,000 or even 200,000 words, but you must edit mercilessly to justify increasing length.

Literary novels can also go below the normal minimum. It’s not uncommon to have a 60,000- or even a 45,000-word novel. As with higher-word-count books, however, good writing is a must.

Young Adult Fiction

Because these are younger readers, the word count for YA novels is between 50,000 and 70,000 words, although the Harry Potter series shows that you break that norm with exceptional storytelling.

Middle Grade Fiction

While average word length is 50,000 to 80,000 words, this genre has so much variety that word count depends on the book and its intended audience. The younger the audience, the fewer words needed. A good way to gauge appropriate length is to check out similar books for comparison.

Average Nonfiction Word Counts

Biographies and Memoirs

While the stories of other people’s lives are fascinating, readers don’t want to slog through anything that drags on and on. Average word count ranges from 70,000 to 100,000 words, although biographies of major celebrities or public figures can support a higher number.

Popular Nonfiction

Like novels, these books fall into the 70,000- to 120,000-word range. As always, be sure to keep it interesting so you can justify the word length.

Niche Nonfiction

For this genre, the sky’s the limit. As long as the book is written well and keeps the reader’s attention, the length doesn’t matter.

Average Book Length

In the publishing industry, 250 words is considered a printed page of text. That means 75,000 words equals 300 pages, which is just about perfect for a first novel.

As an interesting side note, Amazon’s Text Stats show that the average length of all books on Amazon is about 64,000 words.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t write more than 64,000 words! Far from it. In the age of digital publishing, we don’t need to be as concerned with shelf space and giant doorstopper books as when all books were in print and only in print. So we’re starting to see more “epic-length” works—books that are 150,000 words and up.

In general, if your fiction is running that long, you might want to look at dividing it up into two or more books and creating a series. But if you really, truly need a few hundred thousand words to tell your story right—go ahead! Readers rarely complain about getting more to read, after all.

What is the longest book you’ve ever read? Was it worth it? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

For more about developing your writing career, read on:

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Kate Sullivan is an editor with experience in every aspect of the publishing industry, from editorial to marketing to cover and interior design. In her career, Kate has edited millions of words and helped dozens of bestselling, award-winning authors grow their careers and do what they love!