How many words are in a novel? Some writers don't like that question.
Limits and recommendations on word counts can seem counterintuitive to the creative process. After all, sometimes a story needs to run its course, and you don’t want to be tied to artificial limits that inhibit a compelling journey. Nevertheless, word counts can be a soft barrier that do a couple of distinct things to help out authors.
First, if you are an author who is seeking to get published traditionally, word count is something you should care about. As we all know, literary agents see copious amounts of manuscripts and competition is fierce. Just one misstep can put you out of the running. If you write a 120,000-word book for an audience that traditionally expects 60,000, you might blow your chance at landing an agent or a book deal.
Second, you need to think about your reader. Readers tend to be experts in the genres they love. They’ve read dozens of their favorite types of novels, and they have expectations when they look up your title. If your book doesn’t fit their expectations (in this case, based on book-length), they might pass up your book.
For these reasons, it's smart to have some context for how long most novels in your genre tend to be.
So in this article, you will learn:
- How many words are in the best-selling books of 15 fiction genres
- How to increase or decrease your book’s word count
- How many words should be in your next book
The Process I Used to Determine Average Novel Length
I’ve seen many theories on the right length of a story. The old adage I was taught was that a novel is at least 40,000 words, but I know authors who are earning a lot of money writing novels that are shorter than that. I’ve also seen wide ranges depending on the genre. For example, some sites say 50,000 to 150,000 words is right for Science Fiction stories. But that felt like too large of a range.
I decided to do my own research and go more granular because I wanted to look at how different genres compare when it comes to the most successful authors.
So to find the current answer to this pivotal question, I looked at the top 100 best-selling books for 15 of the top fiction genres in Amazon’s Kindle Store. I omitted any boxed sets, omnibus, and anthologies as they would skew the word count numbers higher than they should be — with the exception of “Short Stories.” Then, I used each book's given page count and leveraged a study we did in the past about how many words are in the average page on Amazon. You can read all about the nitty-gritty details in that article, but essentially it looked at the responses of over 900 authors who were asked how many words they had in their book, whether they were fiction or nonfiction books, and how many pages Amazon listed those books as on their site. With this data, I multiplied by page counts and compiled word count estimates.
So, to recap and explain the below graph:
- This is a collection of both Traditional and Self published books
- They were collected based on Amazon's Top 100 Best-selling books in those genres over time and averaged
- Outlier books (like one that was over 800,000k words, or 100 words) were removed
- Box sets, anthologies, and omnibus were removed
- Each blue represents 25% and the orange represents 50% of the books – so they're quartiles
How Long Are Novels by Genre?
Let’s take a big picture look at the results of this analysis in the graphic below:
What Are the Key Takeaways?
Now, I doubt many of us are surprised to see Fantasy books being the longest on average and Short Stories tending to be the shortest, but I do think there are some interesting takeaways here:
- Based on this analysis, most best-selling books in these specific genres are at least 90,000 words. This is much more than I see recommended by other sites that say 50,000 to 60,000 words is enough. Best-selling authors are writing longer books and readers might expect yours to fit that mold as well.
- If you are writing Fantasy, Historical Fiction, or Horror, expect to be writing a novel about 15% longer than most other genres at 105,000 words. I personally did not realize Horror books were running that long.
- If your novel is not quite that long or those numbers seem daunting, don’t lose hope just yet! It is quite possible for shorter novels to be successful in each of these genres. In one case, a Fantasy book was in the top 25 of best sellers with approximately 42,000 words (less than half of the average length for this category).
- This isn’t necessarily related to word count, but it was of note to me: In almost every single genre, at least 50% of the top 100 books were a part of some series or collection.
How Many Words Are in a Fantasy Novel?
The average best-selling Fantasy novel on Amazon is around 109,000 words.
But, remember, this is a rule of thumb. I did find quite a range of word counts in this genre. In the top 10 best-sellers, there were 2 books that were about 50,000 words or less. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were also 13 books longer than 150,000 words and one that was over 300,000!
How Many Words Are in a Historical Fiction Novel?
The average best-selling Historical Fiction novel on Amazon is around 102,000 words.
Historical fiction had a variety of word counts, from a 6,000-word book to a couple of novels over 200,000 words. Despite that, there were only a handful of novels under 60,000 words, and the top 10 books in this genre averaged over 110,000 words, so it’s a safe bet that you should have a solid word count.
How Many Words Are in a Horror Novel?
The average best-selling Horror novel is around 102,000 words.
One novel stood far and away in the title for longest Horror story and, for that matter, all standalone stories. Can you guess which one? The Stand by Stephen King.
How Many Words Are in a Genre Fiction Novel?
The average best-selling Genre Fiction novel is around 99,000 words.
As you can imagine, the top 100 Genre Fiction books had a little bit of everything. But I was a bit surprised to see a lengthy novel focused on the Roman empire make the list. It was over 200,000 words. Just goes to show you that some stories can end up being more popular than your wildest dreams.
How Many Words Are in a Literary Fiction Novel?
The average best-selling Literary Fiction novel is around 98,000 words.
The top 10 best-selling Literary Fiction books actually had the second-longest average word count of all of the genres I studied, with over 109,000 words. The top 100 for this category (which the 98,000-word average is drawn from) also had the smallest difference between the shortest book and the longest book.
How Many Words Are in a Science Fiction Novel?
The average best-selling Science Fiction novel is around 98,000 words.
I found something interesting about this genre when combing through the numbers. While on the whole, Science Fiction stories tend to be pretty long, at the time of compiling this list, the #1 seller in this genre was less than ⅓ the length of the genre average at about 30,000 words.
How Many Words Are in an Action and Adventure Novel?
The average best-selling Action and Adventure novel is around 96,000 words.
Fun fact here: All seven of the Harry Potter books are still in the top 20 of this genre over 13 years after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released. Now that’s staying power. This category also had one of the longest books in all genres that I researched at almost 300,000 words long.
How Many Words Are in a Contemporary Fiction Novel?
The average best-selling Contemporary Fiction novel is around 95,000 words.
Contemporary Fiction novels tended to be one of the most consistent genres in regard to word counts. Over 55% of books came in around 80,000 to 105,000 words.
How Many Words Are in a Women’s Fiction Novel?
The average best-selling Women’s Fiction novel is around 93,000 words.
Along with Contemporary Fiction, Women’s Fiction was one of the most consistent categories that I looked at. About 50% of the novels fell into the range of 87,000 to 105,000 words.
How Many Words Are in a Mystery, Thriller, or Suspense Novel?
The average best-selling Mystery, Thriller, or Suspense novel is around 91,000 words.
While almost all of the novels in this category topped the 70,000-word mark, each of Dean Koontz’s 6 books from his Nameless series made the list. They all come in under 20,000 words.
How Many Words Are in a Romance Novel?
The average best-selling Romance novel is around 90,000 words.
The Romance category actually had the “youngest” collection of books in the top 100. At the time of this writing, no book was published before 2013. Every other category had books dating back to at least the 2000s, and some categories included novels that were originally published in the ‘80s. It seems like the fresher the publication, the better in this genre.
How Many Words Are in a Crime Fiction Novel?
The average best-selling Crime Fiction novel is around 89,000 words.
The top 10 Crime Fiction books tended to be slightly longer than the category overall. They were just under to 100,000 on average.
How Many Words Are in a Religious Fiction Novel?
The average best-selling Religious Fiction novel is around 75,000 words.
About 20% of the books in this genre were under 50,000 words, so there is a definite opportunity for some shorter works here.
How Many Words Are in an Erotica Novel?
The average best-selling Erotica novel is around 57,000 words.
I found Erotica to be a unique category in a few ways. First, this genre had, by far, the largest range in word count among the top 100. Word counts were all over the place from 5,000 words to 150,000 words.
I also found that Erotica had the most boxed collections in the top 100 of any genre with almost 20.
How Many Words Are in a Short Story?
The average best-selling Short Story is around 30,000 words.
Despite being called “Short Stories,” over 15 novels in this genre ended up being 50,000 words or longer, with one novel pushing 100,000 words. Most of these longer works were collections instead of a standalone story. The shortest story in this category? Only 4,200 words. That’s like twice the length of this post.
I also wanted to make a note here that Short Stories are different from Amazon's special category called Short Reads. We are looking only at Short Stories.
How Do I Increase My Word Count?
If, after seeing all of this data, you feel the need to add some words to your story or want some tips on how, here are some things to think about:
- Write your whole first draft first, then edit later. Get all of your ideas out of your head and figure out what might need to be cut after your story is finished.
- Are there any new characters (preferably with opposing goals to your main characters) or obstacles that you could add to your story?
- Are there any summaries or detailed descriptions that you “told” that you could “show”?
How Do I Pare Down My Word Count?
If this study makes you wonder if you need to edit down your novel, here are some questions and suggestions to consider:
- Are there tangential/non-essential scenes, characters, or subplots that can be removed from your story?
- Are there characters or scenes that accomplish the same goal?
- Do you start your book scenes in the middle of the action or are there long descriptions leading up to it?
- Cut unnecessary adverbs or adjectives, and don’t be afraid of contractions.
How Many Words Should My Novel Be?
Each story is different and you shouldn’t pad your book if it doesn’t make sense for the overall story, but using the charts above, you should now be able to pinpoint a more precise range for the length of your novel.
It's worth noting that some books find success in multiple genres. I'd encourage you to write with your ideal readers in mind and simply enjoy any success your book happens to find in non-target genres.
With this data, you’ll know how to match your readers’ expectations and hopefully join these best-sellers in your respective genre. Good luck and happy writing!