How Many Words Are in a Novel? Word Count by Genre & More

How many words are in a novel? Any work with 40,000 words or more can be considered a fully developed novel. But this differs by genre — the average word count ranges from 58,000 words in erotica to 109,000 for fantasy works.

However, some authors have more questions or even doubts about these numbers. When writing a work of fiction, considering the word count can feel like limiting the creative process. No one wants to feel like their compelling story is constrained by a number.

What first-time authors may not know is that the right word count can:

  • Improve your chances at a publishing deal
  • Make your work more attractive to readers
  • Inform your book’s price point

For these reasons and more, it's wise to have some context for how long most novels in your genre tend to be. Finding the word count sweet spot for your genre can propel your book to publishing.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. The best book length for your novel, based on 15 fiction best-sellers
  2. Practical tips on how to increase or decrease your book’s word count without sacrificing quality
  3. How to plan the word count for your next book

Links in this article may earn me a small commission if you use them to purchase a product. This is at no cost to you! It helps me continue to write these handy articles that anyone can read for free!

Why is word count important?

Word counts are helpful guidelines that can improve your book’s chances of being read. Here are the top 3 reasons that your novel word count is important:

  1. A novel’s word count can make or break book deals. If you are an author seeking a traditional publishing route, you know that literary agents see copious amounts of manuscripts, and competition is fierce. Just one misstep can put you out of the running. Even a high-quality manuscript will be passed over if it’s twice the expected word count. Though there are no hard and fast rules, traditional publishers usually won’t take on the first novel with over 100,000 words from a new author.
  2. Word count can affect readers’ impressions. 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 for length, whether too long or too short, they might pass it over.
  3. The number of words often determines how much your book costs. Novellas, which typically contain under 40,000 words, are usually sold at a lower price point than a full-fledged novel.

Your word count affects the opinion of both publishing houses and readers, not to mention establishing your price point.

However, the broad category of novels is full of sub-genres, so it’s essential to know exactly what word count is best for your book.

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Word Count: Novel vs. Novella

One commonly asked question: Are 40,000 words enough for a novel? 40,000 words are usually not enough for a novel. The average book needs to be around 50,000 words to be considered marketable. This may be disheartening for authors of shorter works.

However, there are other genres available for books with a lower word count range. Let’s take a look at categories of books that contain fewer than 40,000 words.

  • Novel: 40,000+ words (though you’re better off above 50,000 words)
  • Novella: 17,500-40,000 words
  • Novelette: 7,500-20,000 words
  • Short story: 1,000-10,000 words
  • Flash fiction: 1-1,000 words

There’s a market for shorter books, but you can help your pitch by using the proper term for your manuscript’s length.

Word Count: Adult vs. Young Adult

The reader’s age is a pivotal factor to consider when determining the best word count for your novel. Conventionally, the younger the audience, the shorter the recommended length.

Here are the best word counts for a YA novel to children’s books:

  • Adult fiction: 50,000+ words
  • Young adult: 45,000+ words, but ideally not over 80,000 words
  • Middle grade: 22,000+ words, usually not more than 60,000 words
  • First chapter book: from 5,000+ words up to about 20,000 words
  • Early reader: 1,000+ words
  • Picture book: 250–750 words
  • Board book: 25–200 words

It’s important to meet your reader where they are developmentally and in terms of attention span with your novel word count and content. Remember your audience.

via GIPHY

No matter the age you’re writing for, you can benefit from some of our favorite book writing tools here at Kindlepreneur.

How long are novels by genre?

As we’ve seen, the genre of a novel can determine its length. Sci-fi novels top out at 377,000 words, while short stories live up to their name, averaging 30,000 words.

How many words is a typical novel? A typical novel is around 90,000 words. For reference, the average non-fiction book is only 50,000-75,000.

Though some authors far exceed this estimate, like J.K. Rowling or George R. R. Martin, their colossal fanbases predated their lengthiest works.

For a first book, it’s best to stay around the ideal word count for specific genres.

The books in the following graphic came from both publishing houses and self-published authors on Amazon. The data were averaged based on Amazon's Top 100 Best-selling books in each genre.

To keep the average novel word counts accurate, outlier books, box sets, anthologies, and omnibuses were removed. Blue segments represent 25% of the genre, and the orange section signifies 50% of the books in each category.

Number of words in a novel top Kindle categories

The number of words in novels from the top 15 Amazon Kindle categories, according to our extensive in-house research, were:

  • Fantasy: 109,000 words on average (range 27,000-318,000)
  • Historical fiction: 102,000 words on average (range 6,000 to 223,000)
  • Horror: 102,000 words on average (range 19,000-377,000)
  • Genre fiction: 99,000 words on average (range 6,000-221,000)
  • Literary fiction: 98,000 words on average (range 58,000-163,000)
  • Science fiction: 98,000 words on average (range 11,000-377,000)
  • Action/adventure: 96,000 words on average (range 16,000-299,000)
  • Contemporary fiction: 96,000 words on average (range 33,000-196,000)
  • Women’s fiction: 94,000 words on average (range 6,000-163,000)
  • Mystery/thriller/suspense: 91,000 words on average (range 14,000-196,000)
  • Romance: 91,000 words on average (range 19,000-194,000)
  • Crime fiction: 89,000 words on average (range 24,000-180,000)
  • Religious fiction: 75,000 words on average (range 13,000-161,000)
  • Erotica: 58,000 words on average (range 5,000-157,000)
  • Short stories: 30,000 words on average (range 4,000-101,000)

What are the key takeaways?

Here are the key takeaways of what this data can mean for your novel length:

  • While a book only needs 40,000 words to make the threshold for a novel, Best-selling authors are writing closer to 90,000 words on average. Readers might expect yours to fit that mold as well.
  • Fantasy, historical fiction, and horror novels are about 15% longer than other genres.
  • In one case, a fantasy book was in the top 25 best sellers with approximately 42,000 words (less than half of the average length for this category). Word count matters, but rules can still be broken!

To answer the commonly asked question: Are 70,000 words enough for a novel? 70,000 words would be enough for a standard religious fiction or erotica novel. However, most authors today are averaging 90,000 words in a novel, so you may want to increase the length.

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How many words are in a fantasy novel?

The average best-selling fantasy novel on Amazon contains around 109,000 words.

Remember, this is a rule of thumb. There is quite a range in the word counts needed for world-building, and creating an alternate reality can take up extra words.

In the top 10 best-sellers, there were 2 books of 50,000 words or fewer. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were also 13 books longer than 150,000 words and one 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, just over the 100,000 words we recommend as the max for a first-time author.

There were only a handful of historical fiction novels under 60,000 words, and the top 10 books in this genre averaged over 110,000 words. It’s a safe bet that you should have a solid word count if you write historical fiction.

How many words are in a horror novel?

The average best-selling horror novel is around 102,000 words. To reiterate, first-time authors should not exceed 100,000 words in their first book unless it is fantasy or sci-fi.

One novel stood far and away in the title for the longest horror story and, for that matter, all standalone stories. Can you guess which one?

The correct answer is The Stand by Stephen King, one of the masters of the genre, weighing in at 500,000 words.

How many words are in a genre fiction novel?

The average best-selling fiction novel is around 99,000 words.

As you can imagine, the top 100 genre fiction books had a smattering of every subject. Nevertheless, I was a bit surprised to see a lengthy 200,000-word book on the Roman Empire make the list. It serves as a reminder to write about your passions, even if they seem niche.

How many words are in a literary fiction novel?

The average best-selling literary fiction novel is around 98,000 words.

Of the many genres, this one is relatively consistent in what works for readers. The top 100 for this category had the most negligible difference between the shortest book and the longest book. Aim for 98,000, and you’ll be golden.

How many words are in a science fiction novel?

The average best-selling science fiction novel is around 98,000 words.

Combing through the numbers, I made an interesting discovery. While science fiction stories tend to be pretty long, when compiling this list, the #1 seller in sci-fi was only 30,000 words (which decreased the average).

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 7 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 the staying power of a good story.

How many words are in a contemporary fiction novel?

The average best-selling contemporary fiction novel is around 95,000 words.

Over 55% of books came in around 80,000 to 105,000 words, making this a consistent genre for the length needed to sell well.

How many words are in a women’s fiction novel?

The average best-selling women’s fiction novel is around 93,000 words.

These bestsellers ranged in a similar word count to contemporary fiction: roughly 50% of the novels contained 87,000 to 105,000 words.

How many words are in a suspense, thriller, or mystery novel?

The average best-selling mystery, thriller, or suspense novel is a slightly shorter 91,000 words.

While almost all of the novels in this category topped the 70,000-word mark, all 6 books from the Nameless series by Dean Koontz made the list. Each of the books in the series is 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 on the list was published before 2013.

When it comes to love, it seems like the fresher the publication is, the better.

How many words are in a crime fiction novel?

The average best-selling crime fiction novel is around 89,000 words.

However, the top 10 in the bestseller list all ran slightly longer than this, coming in at just under 100,000 words 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 for 2 reasons. First, this genre had, by far, the most extensive range in word count among the top 100 books, fluctuating all the way from 5,000 to 150,000.

Secondly, erotica had the most boxed collections in the top 100 of any genre — almost 20 collections made the list.

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 book pushing 100,000 words. Most of these longer works were collections instead of standalone stories.

The shortest story in this category? Only 4,200 words. That’s like… twice the length of this post.

How do I increase my word count?

If, after seeing all of this data, you are looking for actionable ways to increase your word count, here are some of the most effective tips:

  • Send your mental editor on a short vacation. Write your whole first draft out and edit later. Not only will this increase your word count, but it will also keep you in the creative headspace instead of stopping mid-sentence from fixing a minor detail. Your book will be longer before you know it!
  • Bring in a fresh face. Are there any new characters with opposing goals to your main characters that you could add to your story? What other obstacles could your hero overcome?
  • Write adventures, not explanations. Are there any summaries or detailed descriptions that you “told” that you could “show” instead? Allow the reader to infer your point for themselves through action instead of spelling it out for them in a few sentences. You can learn more about outlining a story here.

As you increase your word count, let your imagination flow like this.

via GIPHY

You can always go back and remove superfluous sections later.

How do I decrease my word count?

If you suddenly realize your book is twice the length you need, here are some questions and suggestions to consider:

  1. Look for non-essential scenes, characters, or subplots that can be removed from your story. A great guiding question: Does this add something essential to my novel?
  2. Are there characters or scenes that accomplish the same goal? Most readers don’t need you to spell things out twice.
  3. Cut to the chase. Do you start your book scenes in the middle of the action, or are there long descriptions leading up to it? If you feel the need to explain every scene, try removing it and catching the character in the thick of things.
  4. Cut unnecessary adverbs or adjectives, and don’t be afraid of contractions. If you find your writing is full of adverbs and adjectives, you may want to find more striking word choices. Instead of a “very graceful and pretty,” could your character be “enchanting?” Did your character “move quickly,” or did they lunge? You don’t need more words to be descriptive, just clear ones.
  5. Learn your habits. Do you always preface dialogue with a lengthy description of the surrounding countryside? Do you start all your chapters with the inner monologue of each character? Noticing your natural tendencies can help you to edit yourself.

Though editing down your longer novel can feel tedious or even painful, remember the old Oscar Wilde quote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Your book will be better for this process.

If you’re looking for tools to help you edit, we’ve tested and reviewed dozens of editing, outlining, and formatting tools, so you don’t have to.

How many words per page are in a novel?

Now that you know how many words should be in your book, you’re likely wondering how many words per page are in a novel?

The formatting and page count of a book varies, but it’s common to fit 250-300 words per page in a novel. The exact number per page is determined by the dialogue, spacing, and typeface you’ve chosen.

How many words does a 300-page book have? A 300-page book contains about 100,000 words when printed. The number of pages can also vary based on the size of the font.

Formatting your book can feel overwhelming, which is why Kindlepreneur users prefer Vellum. Who better to trust for design help than former Pixar employees?

Want even more ideas and details? Kindlepreneur has an in-depth video on the right number of words per page for your book. Check it out below.

How Many Words Should My Novel Be?

Using the charts above, you should now be able to pinpoint a more precise range for the length of your novel. We’ve also gotten your creative juices flowing on how to add to, or edit down, your manuscript.

If you’re searching for more inspiration to write and edit your novel, check out one of these related articles, or take a look around the Kindlepreneur blog:

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 excellent writing, the right length, and an understanding of readers’ expectations, you’ll hopefully join one of these best-seller lists soon. Good luck, and happy writing!



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3 thoughts on “How Many Words Are in a Novel? Word Count by Genre & More

Comments
  1. Alyssa Bailey

    Interesting Article. I write Romance in several sub-genres and find it differs in these areas considerably. Conversation among small publishers is to target 75K for a full novel but the emphasis is not so much word count as content. No surprises there. The story ends where it ends.
    Indies I am working with are all over the place with their interpretation of the “correct” length. Anywhere from 40K, the reasoning here is it is the minimum word count to maximum return on price point, less work, same income.
    But for those of us who love the story and are in the middle, we don’t look at the word count as much as the storyline. I find I do the rough draft without any other consideration but getting the story told.
    Then, when I go back, I focus on hitting 50K knowing edits and re-writes will flesh the book out, often finishing at mid 60’s to mid 70’s and I have had no complaints.
    I have written longer and told it is too long. My readers want to feel it was a satisfying story they can finish in a couple of 2-3 hour sittings.
    Bottomline, know your audience. Great insight/information. Thanks.

  2. Judson McCawl

    Hi,

    Interesting and insightful article, thanks for posting. I’ve written five books, a series fitting in the Religious (Christian) Fiction genre. Interestingly, with my first book, I set a target of 275 pages, not a word count. The word count ended up being 70,000, which is not far off your calculation of 75,000 for this genre. However, what also caught my attention in your article was the paring down of word counts.

    After writing the fifth book earlier this year (still to be published), I felt that it was necessary to revise the first four books. The reason for doing this was because I felt that they needed to flow better, and follow the way I had written the fifth book, not the first one! When I started the revisions, I actually adopted the opposite attitude to when I first wrote them. With the first editions, I purposely included fill-in in the chapters. With the revisions, I purposely went about removing what I felt was truly unnecessary fill-in, or slowed the movement of the stories. Although I also included a whole new section in the first book, the end results for the first three books (fourth is still to be revised) was interesting:

    1. First = 70,000. Second = 82,000 (3000 words removed).
    2. First = 85,000. Second = 80,000 (5000 words removed; two chapters merged).
    3. First = 90,000. Second = 83,000 (7000 words removed; twice two chapters merged).

    Book One, Law & Grace: Journey to Calvary, was published a couple of days ago (available free), with Book Two, Law & Grace: Divine Intervention, to follow in about a week’s time. Thereafter I’ll tackle the revision of Book Four, while Book Three is being reviewed. With the word count for Book Four currently at 83,000, it should be interesting to see the outcome, but my objective will not be to match a word count, just to improve the flow of the story!

    Thanks again for the insightful article.

    1. Dave Chesson

      Oh wow…excellent work and thanks – glad you liked it.

Comments are closed.

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