How long is a book?
You might think that’s a strange question. For writers it is an important one, especially if they want to be published by a traditional publishing house.
Writers refer to the length of a book by its word count. A writer will proudly announce their ms (manuscript) has reached 70k (70,000 words). They will sometimes aim for a daily written word count, with anywhere from 500 to 5k, or more, the target. It’s a measure all writers seem to use in some way.
So what length do writers aim for with a book?
As I mentioned before, it depends on their publishing goals. The generally accepted rule of thumb for classifying a book based on its length is:
Novel - 50k and above
Novella - 20k to 50k
Novellette - 7.5k to 20k
Short story - up to 7.5k
However, this all changes when you take into account the genre of a story. Young adult fiction is best aimed around the 55k to 75k, sci-fi works well when it is over 100k, and children’s picture books are best kept under around the 500k-600k.
Some publishers specify the word count they require. Mills and Boon (and its various imprints) list the word count they want for each sub-genre. For example, submissions for their romance suspense books must be between 70k and 75k, western romance around 55k, and their Essence books around 85k. Other publishers are not so specific, but 80k is considered the ideal length for a novel.
So let’s put this into some perspective.
Agatha Christie’s mystery books averaged around 40 to 60k, J.K. Rowling’s books ranged from 77k (Philosophers Stone) to 257k (Order of the Phoenix), while Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility comes in at 119k.
So how long are my books? Well, Roses started out at 102k, but was edited down to around 74k (yes, there’s a lot of ‘deleted scenes’ hanging around). Retribution clocked in around 66k, and my upcoming novel Seeing Red is around the 68k mark.
I don’t set myself a deliberate target when I write a story. Each book is as long as it needs to be, and as an independent publisher, I can do that. It’s a luxury I enjoy.
Doesn’t mean I don’t keep a close eye on my word counts…
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