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Average word length for novel

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by MiaC, Jun 10, 2021.

  1. MiaC

    MiaC Minstrel

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    Is 25 chapters of 4-5000 words per chapter too long?
     
  2. LCatala

    LCatala Scribe

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    How Many Words Are in a Novel? Word Counts for All Kinds of Books

    25*4000–5000 words gets you 100,000–125,000 words for the whole book, in the range of what's common for fantasy.
     
  3. Stevie

    Stevie Scribe

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    A quick search across a few site with google confirms what LCatala has posted above. 100k looks to be around the 'sweet spot' for fantasy, 125k looks to be about as high as you'd want to go. 110/115k words cropped up more often as an upper limit in the search I did.

    It's always worth asking yourself if the story needs to be as long as it is. I can't see any editor complaining about an 80 or 90k word novel if it's a good read.

    Worth bearing in mind that the longer a novel is, the more it is going to cost a trad publisher to print. If you're self publishing, not such an issue maybe.
     
  4. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    125k words is fine as a fantasy novel.

    There's a bit more to the discussion than just the overview given above. For one, it depends on the exact genre. If you're writing epic fantasy, then 125k words is fairly standard. Urban fantasy on the other hand tends to run a bit shorter, as do some other fantasy subgenres, so it might be a bit too long, though it's not in the "This is too long for us" range. Especially since a professional editor might be able to cut 10% of the words out.

    Then it also depends on how you want to publish. For traditional publishing length matters. They want all their books to fall nicely in the ranges given above. They believe that this is what the market demands, and it's certainly what many bookstores demand. They know how to market and sell these books. So that's what they publish. Therefore, if you want to have a traditional publisher pick up your books, then you need to aim for that 90k-125k window.

    If you self publish, then it matters a lot less. self-published fantasy novels have a much wider page-count range. I would put it at 50k - 150k. Lower than that will leave a reader feeling it's too short. Much longer will ask for a commitment from the reader. And most self-published authors would probably advise you to cut longer works in half (or even 3 parts) if possible, since then you have 2 or 3 books in a series you can sell. But no one will question you if you publish a book with 50k or 125k or 150k words. Readers accept that and are fine with them.
     
  5. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

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    I think it needs to be mentioned that age ranges matter, too. No kid's book is going to be 100k+ words. Adults have the time/money/brain power to handle a big book, which tends to use all those words to discuss complex topics. But if it's 100k+ words of "Uh huh, yeah, tell me more about your grocery trip" then it's Too Long, no matter what.

    Also all words aren't created equal. A 5,000 word piece of journalism is going to feel different from a 5,000 short story, or a 5,000 academic article. People can "devour" long books if the pace is snappy and content interesting. A short book can feel like a slog if the pace is glacial or words needlessly difficult. So when people say epic fantasy is long, it's because a good number of those words go towards the additional characters, the additional world building, but if 10k of those words is a quantum physics lesson as to how exactly your magic works, then that's bad.

    Publishers can, and do, publish outside of the above stated ranges...but they need good reason to. There are absolutely first time authors who have 170k novels published....but all those words are needed, and the writing is good enough to back that up. Forget that Sanderson and GRRM have huge novels, they have publication history to back up their skills for publishers to take that risk, you do not. My epic novel is at 175k, started at 190k, and the ideal is to get it to 160k, as that's the normal high end that agents tend to request fulls for the genre. If you go on Query Manager you can find this sort of data and make educated decisions. But even if you choose to self publish, that doesn't mean you can get away with super long stuff if a lot of it is filler. They're going to be able to tell in the first few pages by looking at your style/pace and be able to determine if they want to invest that time/money into you.

    Quick ETA: These wordcounts are always rounded to the nearest 5,000. Different programs count the words in different ways, so sharing exact numbers with outside parties is impossible. When Scrivener updated on Windows, their new counting algorithm decreased my wordcount by ~1k.
     
  6. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Sage

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    Harry Potter isn't a kids' book then, I guess.

    Nor Twilight.

    Even The Hunger Games clocks in close to 100,000 words.

    Point being, all of those were written for the YA market.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2021
  7. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

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    YA is not the same as kids. There are no 100,000 word magic tree house books.
     
  8. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    As per the Nebulas. which are not wildly different from other industry standards. Chapters have nothing to do with it. It's all word count. Good luck!
    12794379_10153918942366291_1181257168848352054_n.jpg
     
    Ned Marcus likes this.
  9. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    Just as a side note, Sanderson's first published novel, Elantris, is somewhere around 150k words. Not quite 170k, but not that far off either. So it can be done in certain genres, just only if those words are needed, and probably only in those genres.

    From what I gather, the word count standard these days is simply whatever number Word gives. It's the program everyone (in the corporate world) uses and it's quick. It doens't actually matter if it's exact or not, since no one cares if a book is 100k or 101k words. All that matters is how it compares to other books in the genre when measured in the same way. If Word says Twilight is 100k words, then any other book where Word gives 100k words will be about the same length.

    First Harry Potter book is only 76k words. And I'd say that the first two are the only ones firmly in kids-books teritory. After that, the themes and books become darker. Also, the last 3 books are definitely too long and needed an editor brave enough to cut out half the words.
     
  10. Stevie

    Stevie Scribe

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    Looks like the answer to the question is, "no." If you're in the 100-125k range, don't sweat it.
     
  11. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Just one more note, which has probably already been mentioned but the caffeine hasn't kicked in, yet. The first in my team's urban fantasy series comes out swinging at 135k. Second is less, 87k. 3rd will be more - currently sitting at 165k or so. In speculative fiction we get a bit more wiggle room for world building, hence all of the doorstops in our genres. First, write your book. Editing and word counts are for later.
     
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