Updated: Dec 21, 2021
“It is the character of the road you travel gives you wisdom not the length of the road!" - Mehmet Murat Ildan
As I edited my book (I am completely finished now!!), I have been thought a lot about lengths. Lengths in books you want to publish (through the normal route) can be incredibly important because agents and publishers tend to be looking for a certain thing. However, that being said, I included this quote at the beginning of the post to remind you (and myself) of one very important thing: no matter how many or few words you have, if your content is not on point, then the word count is always going to fall short.
I do believe it is important to do your research about lengths. Understanding what others in your genre have done helps you to ensure you do not fall short or submit something that doesn't quite represent the genre well. That being said, do not try to twist your book around length averages and requirements so much that you lose the things that make your book unique and beautiful. Let your book flow as it wants to, and don't try to stuff unnecessary words or chapters into it that might make it seem clunky or too long (despite being shorter than the average!).
So what is the average? Having done a lot of research at multiple points in time, I think I feel safe to tell you the average novel (especially a first novel) is usually within the range of 80,000-100,000 words. Different genres range within that and even below and above that as well. However, I tend to think that 80,000 is a pretty good 1st goal for just about every genre (unless you are writing novellas or short stories). It fits within the ranges of most genres and gives you room to add or subtract. If you are someone who often decreases your word count on the second draft, then I would suggest ensuring that you are not in one of the categories that is looking for a higher word count before moving ahead with 80,000 as your first goal.
So what are the general guidelines for the different genres? Well, Foster Grant suggests that the guidelines below might be those that publishing companies ask for from books within the genres. However, it should be noted that they are general guidelines. Not only might they range from publisher to publisher but there are books that have been published below or above them (Harry Potter for example). If your content is good, I wouldn't worry about being a few thousand below the expected word count.
Crime – 90,000 to 100,000 words
Thrillers – 70,000 to 90,000 words
Literary – 80,000 to 110,000 words
Romance – 40,000 to 100,000 words
Fantasy – 90,000 to 110,000 words
Horror – 80,000 to 100,000 words
Science – 90,000 to 125,000 words
Historical – 100,000 to 120,000 words
I think it can also be helpful to get an idea of books that might be within your word count range whether that be where you are at now, where you think you'll end up, or where other books in your genre are at. This can not only help you to get a grip on how long you need to be but it can help you to get a physical look at how long books the same word length as yours are. You should remember two things looking at these: 1. There is some variation in page numbers on some of them due to there being different editions out there. I have tried to show the range of these when I can. 2. There is and always will be a variation in the number of words per page in books due to spacing and page size. This accounts for the smaller page numbers when there are larger word counts. Here are some examples of common books:
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis – 38,421 words (208 pgs)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis – 53,960 words (223 pgs)
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley – 74,800 words (280 pgs)
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling – 76,944 words (223-336 pgs)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling – 85,141 words (251-368 pgs)
Cinder, Marissa Meyer - 87, 661 words (390 pgs)
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein – 95,356 words (310 pgs)
The Time Traveller’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger – 155,717 words (546 pgs)
Eragon, Christopher Paolini – 157,000 words (509-544 pgs)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling – 257,045 words (766-870 pgs)
A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin – 424,000 words (973 pgs)
Less important, but still important enough to be briefly mentioned is chapter lengths. I spent a good while researching this topic a couple of months ago when I was trying to figure out how long my chapters should be. I have a number of shorter chapters (something many authors do) and I was concerned that my short chapters might be too short or that my chapters overall might be too short.
I'm here to tell you YOUR CHAPTERS ARE NOT TOO SHORT! Unless your chapters are less than 500 words or so (which is likely to end up being about 2 book pages, 3 if it is stretched a lot), you are fine. You are simply establishing your own pattern with your readers. Personally, I like reading books with shorter chapters so long as they do not (constantly) end every second page. I find that it allows me to read just one more chapter more easily and find an easier place to stop reading when I need to do so. So if you don't want to have 3,000 word long chapters, don't! If you do, do!
If you look average chapter lengths up online, the first thing that will pop up will be a short paragraph telling you chapter lengths should range between 3,000-5,000 words long. This paragraph suggests 1,000 words is too short and 5,000 words is too long. While I would tend to agree that as you near 5,000 you might want to consider adding extra breaks in your chapter (adding that handy *** in to show split scenes can aid the readers and help the chapter seem not as long) I do not think that 3,000 should be the minimum. Again, I personally enjoy shorter chapters and I have personally counted some of the shorter chapters in A Court of Thorns and Roses and found them to be only a few hundred words long. Nevertheless, I have included below the average chapter lengths of some common authors and book series to give you an idea of common lengths and so that you might be able to compare lengths to those that you know you yourself enjoy. At the end, you can find a summary of the lengths I myself have.
James Patterson (in general) - 1,500 words
Lemony Snicket The Bad Beginning - 1,856 words
Marissa Meyer Cinder - 2,306 words
Christopher Paolini Eragon - 2,660 words
Sarah J Mass A Court of Thorns and Roses - 2,820 words
Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveler's Wife - 3,177 words
J.K. Rowling Harry Potter Series - 4,282 words
J.R.R. Tolkein The Hobbit - 5,018 words
Having now finished editing my book, I can tell you (as I did in my previous blog post) my chapters average around 1,775 words (between James Patterson and Lemony Snicket). I have about 5 chapters that fall between 800-1,200 words (a smaller chapter) and 3 chapters that fall between 2,500-3,000 (though I have a couple that are just below that). Most of my chapters, however, are in the 1,600-2,000 range. My book ended up finishing at 83,244 words.
My first draft of the book (with an entirely different plot) was 91,000 words so I have come down quite a ways from that and I am a few thousand short of the general fantasy bar of 90,000 words but I believe that my book can succeed and I am happy with these numbers. I do believe the content speaks for itself and I do not want to add any unnecessary chapters in to try and reach a word count. Rather, I will let the book speak for itself and I encourage you to do the same!