As a reader, I’ve never felt a good book was too long, even more than a thousand pages. And I’ve never found a bad book short enough.
One of the most common questions writers ask me: “How long should my manuscript be?”
Well, different publishers look for different lengths for different genres. Helpful, eh? 😊
There ARE general guidelines, which I’ll list below. But it’s important to know that these are not hard and fast rules.
Just be careful not to get too far afield, and remember that a great idea and good writing trumps all.
That doesn’t mean you can submit a manuscript twice the length a publisher recommends. But rules are made to be broken, and the most successful publishing phenomenon in history did just that.
The Harry Potter books are Young Adult titles, and YA publishers generally look for manuscripts in the 50,000 to 80,000-word range. J.K. Rowling’s record-breaking series began with two titles on the high end of that spectrum and finished with five that left the guidelines in the dust.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — 76,000 words
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — 85,000 words
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — 107,000 words
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — 190,000 words
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — 257,000 words
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince — 168,000 words
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — 198,000 words
Those titles also obliterated sales records. The first alone has sold more than 120 million copies, and the rest have sold at least 65 million each.
Obviously, my point is not that you should submit a first book of anywhere near 200,000 words. I’m just saying that some things are more important than word counts.
Nevertheless, you would be wise to come close to these suggested manuscript lengths.
How Many Words in a Novel?
Average novel word counts are generally around 85,000 but they can range from 50,000 to 120,000.
Sometimes they’re shorter — The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Old Yeller by Fred Gipson all range between 35,000 and 50,000.
On the high end are novels like Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (119,394), Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally (134,710), and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (587,287).
Publishing house guidelines vary, so check their website or contact them directly to find out what they expect lengthwise. Don’t stray far from their suggestions.
Most important, especially if you’re worried about your manuscript being too short, is to still keep your scenes tight, direct, well edited, and well honed. Make every word count and never let your total result from needless words. Editors see through fluff instantly.
If you need more words, they should come from more well-written scenes.
How Many Words Per Page in a Book?
Depending on the amount of dialogue vs. narrative and paragraph length, the average double-spaced manuscript page in Microsoft Word (the standard for submitting to publishers) fits about 225 words. (visit here for how to format your manuscript.)
Of course, a printed book will be single spaced and contain roughly one and a half to two times the words per page of your manuscript.
Book Word Count Ranges by Genre
Micro Fiction: 5 to 350 words
Examples: The 6-word story attributed to Ernest Hemingway (Google it), Fleeing Complexity by Jon McGregor, Golden Years by Edith Pearlman, Widow’s First Year by Joyce Carol Oates
Children’s Picture Books: 400 to 800 words
Examples: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, Miss Nelson is Missing by James Marshall
Flash Fiction: 500 to 1000 words
Examples: The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury, A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf, A Telephonic Conversation by Mark Twain
Short Story: 1,500 to 5,000 words
Examples: Luck by Mark Twain, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, The Door by E.B. White, The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling, A Little Cloud by James Joyce, The Great Carbuncle by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Novella: 10,000 to 50,000 words
Examples: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, Animal Farm by George Orwell
Middle Grade Fiction: 20,000 to 55,000 words
Examples: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White , Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Young Adult Novel: 50,000 to 100,000 words
Examples: The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Adult Novel: 50,000 to 120,000 words
Examples: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery , All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Devotional: 30,000 to 50,000 words
Examples: My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp, Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon
Self-Help: 40,000 to 90,000 words
Examples: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
Memoir: 50,000 to 90,000 words
Examples: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Out of Africa by Karen Blixen, All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot , The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmeal Beah
Narrative: 50,000 to 110,000 words
Examples: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer, Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand
Biography: 50,000 to 110,000 words
Examples: The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai, The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, Just As I Am by Billy Graham
Research Your Genre
The J.K. Rowling / Harry Potter phenomenon aside, it’s important to adhere to the conventions of your genre.
Study the competition. Also research publishing houses’ submission guidelines.
Never pad your manuscript just to meet a word-count guideline. If yours is too short, restructure it and add more tightly written stuff. Editors see through fluff in seconds.
And remember, keeping to word counts is important, but what makes or breaks your chances with a publisher is the quality of your manuscript.