How many words is too many words?

For me, there’s nothing more cringe-worthy than when a first-time author announces that their manuscript is over 200,000 words, or worse yet, 300,000 words. The worst part is that they usually say with pride, like they’re looking for praise. I’ll admit, writing that many words is quite an accomplishment and for that reason, they should be proud, but announcing a single volume manuscript that long tells me that the writer has not done their research in regards to how long their novel should be to fit established guidelines.

Now, most word count guidelines are just that; guidelines. That said though, there are practical reasons why those guidelines exist. That’s not to say that a 200,000 word manuscript can’t be published that way, but it’s less likely to be and it will run into a few problems trying to get there.

First, let’s look at traditional publishing. First, a publisher (or agent) is going to be looking within a certain range for the length of books they’re willing to work on. One reason for this is that the longer the book is, the more effort and time it takes to get it ready for publication. A second reason is that for marketing purposes, each genre has an established word count range which readers expect to find when they pick up a book in their preferred genre.

According to ‘The Write Life’, here are the guidelines for most genres:

too-many-wordsFiction Genres

  • Mainstream Romance: 70,000–100,000 words
  • Subgenre Romance: 40,000–100,000 words
  • Science Fiction / Fantasy: 90,000–120,000 (and sometimes 150,000) words
  • Historical Fiction: 80,000–100,000
  • Thrillers / Horror / Mysteries / Crime: 70,000–90,000 words
  • Young Adult: 50,000–80,000

Now, what about self-publishing? You might think that if you’re not trying to get the attention of a publisher or an agent that word counts don’t matter, but you’d be wrong. Readers also have expectations and it is easier to market to people if they know what to expect. Not only that, but printing costs come into effect. If you’re book is monstrously long it’s going to cost waaaay more to print than your average book that that’s going to impact what price you set and therefore your bottom line.

So if you have a manuscript that’s way over or under the word counts suggested for your genre, I recommend taking a closer look to see if you can add or remove sections, or consider making your monster of a manuscript into several volumes. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

keep-calm-and-edit-later

Here’s another handy breakdown:

General

  • Flash Fiction: 300–1500 words
  • Short Story: 1500–30,000 words
  • Novellas: 30,000–50,000 words
  • Novels: 50,000–110,000 words

What about you? Do you think about word counts when preparing your manuscript? Thanks for reading and please leave your thoughts below!

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19 comments

  1. I’m not sure how long a book is with 120,000 words. I’d be better off understanding how many pages that would be. But, I wonder then, what it took for the Outlander series to get published seeing as those books range from 500-900+ pages. Now that’s a lot of words!

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    1. 1. The Outlander series was published a long time ago. Lots has changed in the industry since then.
      2. I should clarify that these guidelines are most important for first time authors, as publishers may be more likely to take risks with authors that are known to sell.
      3. Page count will vary greatly depending on the size of the book and the way it is formatted. That’s why, with manuscripts, it’s easier to go by word count.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well I know that, but I don’t know the word count when I’m reading a book. I don’t write so I have no idea. I’m just saying, in general, 120k d9esnt sound like it’s a very big book.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. This was very helpful.

    Word counts are something I worry about a lot, as I tend to struggle to reach them. I’m worried that once my story is told anything I add simply to pad out the word count will be pointless fluff. I’m working on finding ways to increase word counts in meaningful ways and have branched out into writing more short stories and novellas.

    The perils of being concise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I recommend just writing as far as your first draft is concerned. The story takes as long or as little as it takes to tell. If it’s complete as a novella, why try and make it a novel?

      A tip for novel writing though, you can always think about adding subplots. 🙂 That will naturally increase the length.

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  3. A very helpful guide. Every other week I see people asking “How long should my story be” and it seems to really leave people confused. For a draft I always say it’s as long as you feel the story needs to be, and for the edits the story should be as long as it needs to be.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That tends to be true. Though for some stories I find the best process is to edit as I go in order to find the best pacing possible. Outside of myself I think a lot of people go “My story is novel….so I have to make it super long!” and it doesn’t need to be, it isn’t natural to the writer, and it ends up a big ol’sadness fest.

        Liked by 1 person

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