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:
- 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.
Here’s another handy breakdown:
- 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!