What’s the Best Word Count for a Self-Published Novel?

Last Updated on by Michael Brockbank

Is your book too long, or is it too short? What’s the perfect word count for the novel you plan on writing? Today, we’ll dive into the word counts of various genres and why they’re important for setting your writing goals.

It’s all about who you’re writing for and how you convey your story. Statistically speaking, not every genre has the same success with the same number of words.

Unfortunately, writing a novel doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. In fact, there are a lot of variables that come into play to gauge a book’s success.

Style, genre, layout, author popularity, and even the font will greatly influence how well any novel performs with its audience.

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Why Does a Novel Word Count Matter?

When I started my writing career, I was always curious as to why other authors spent so much time agonizing over word count. At the time, I was interested in publishing a book that looked good on the shelves. Doesn’t that deal more with page count?

Yes and no.

I’ll go into pages in a moment, but the overall word count of a novel has several facets to consider.

Reducing the Risk of Seeming Long-Winded

Keeping the word count at a reasonable number helps prevent the book from seeming long-winded and uninteresting. Although there is more that goes into a novel to make it more engaging, the length could signify some editing might need to be done.

If scenes in a book are so drawn out that a reader gets easily distracted, then it’s too long. You want a reader to be engrossed in the tale, not thinking about what to have for dinner.

Time to Publish

The longer a book is, the longer it’s going to take to get it published. Not only do you need to consider writing time, but then you have an editor who’ll need to go through the materials as well.

And this says nothing about using beta readers, who will also need time to read the book.

Cost to Print the Book

Although you have the option to publish an eBook, some of you might want printed copies. A longer book is going to be more expensive to print. This makes it more expensive to buy, especially if you’re trying to earn a bit of profit through self-publishing.

Unless you have an amazing marketing team or have established yourself as a popular author, people are less likely to fork over $20 for a lengthy horror novel.

Expectations from the Target Audience

In today’s bite-sized, quick content, environment, a lot of your readers would rather have entertainment that doesn’t take long to finish. In fact, many publishers and agents view shorter works as easier to market.

This is one of the biggest reasons why TikTok is so popular today, and why YouTube is trying to jump on the short-format bandwagon. It also explains a bit of why Amazon is now offering Kindle Vella, which is a series format for authors.

This doesn’t mean that all of your works should be 1,000 words or less. It really comes down to the target audience and what they’re willing to spend money on. Luckily, there are a number of ways to get your stories out to readers today.

Take your favorite book. Then, ask yourself why you read it and why you enjoyed the experience.

Why Did I Read The Stand 5 Times?

I’ve read the uncut version of The Stand twice and the cut version three times. I know, it might sound a bit obsessive to some. But why is this book my favorite?

  • I love post-appoclyptic tales…always have.
  • The flow of the book kept me turning the pages.
  • And, it’s Stephen King.

Mind you, I read this book before I even became a big fan of Stephen King. However, he did an amazing job of keeping me interested in the story regardless of the word count in the novel.

That’s what it’s really all about – can you keep a reader turning the pages?

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Major Genres for a Novel and Their Word Count – ish

Trying to find the perfect length for certain types of novels is quite difficult. Every “expert” on the Internet has his or her own lists and lengths that differ from the others.

However, most will still have a general consensus about how long certain genres need to be based on past successes.

Use this as a guide, but take it with a grain of salt. Because everyone will have an opinion as to what the best word count for a novel will be. And some just don’t really seem to have a firm grasp of writing.

Science Fiction: 50,000 to 120,000

After going through a variety of blogs and websites from some of the top names in the industry, the length of science fiction is among the broadest in terms of word count.

In one instance, an expert states that 150,000 words is good for sci-fi, while another says that anything over 110,000 is too long.

This is a prime example of what I was talking about…every expert has a difference of opinion. Though, I usually side with experts who show examples of books that have been successful and their word counts.

Fantasy: 50,000 to 120,000

The word count for a fantasy novel is virtually identical to science fiction. In a lot of ways, the readers are quite similar. The variation of both numbers seems to mostly stem from the difference of a YA novel versus one for adults.

Young adult books tend to be slightly shorter than their adult counterparts.

Again, one expert says you can write an epic tale with 200,000 words while another provides warnings about anything over 120,000.

Thriller/Horror: 40,000 to 90,000

Horror novels seem to have one of the lowest gap ranges for writing. Most of the experts I’ve come across are in agreement that 90,000 words is a generally safe maximum for thriller and horror novels.

Though, one of my favorite books, “Night Shift” by Stephen King, has roughly 150,000 words.

However, Stephen King is more of an exception than the rule. People will buy and read his books simply because of his name. Night Shift is also an anthology, which often tend to be somewhat longer anyway.

Romance: 50,000 to 100,000

Romance is another that has a general consensus among experts. Most agree that 50,000 to 100,000 is a good length for romance, with subgenre romance starting at 40,000 words.

Apparently, “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks has around 52,000 words.

Self-Help: 30,000 to 70,000

According to experts, a self-help novel is among the lowest for word count, aside from children’s and general picture books.

Of course, this is going to vary greatly on the topic you plan to cover. Some personal issues are going to take much longer to dive into, especially if you plan on going into great detail regarding certain conditions.

Memoirs/Biographies/Autobiographies: 45,000 to 200,000

Non-fiction, especially those works based on a specific individual, has one of the widest gaps for word count. It doesn’t seem that experts can agree on the perfect high and low of these types of books.

However, most will generally agree that 80,000 is a good number to reach for memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies.

Mystery: 40,000 to 90,000

Generally speaking, experts seem to agree somewhat that a mystery book should range around the same as a thriller or horror novel. This makes a bit of sense considering the genres involved.

And it appears most will agree that the 80,000-word mark is ideal for this type of novel.

Young Adult: 40,000 to 90,000

Young adult books tend to be a bit leaner than adult alternatives but still retain a comparative length. Although the high-end is 90,000 according to some experts, most agree that 80,000 words is ideal for YA.

It really depends on how well you can keep a younger audience’s attention.

Middle-Grade: 20,000 to 55,000

Obviously, middle-grade books tend to be thinner as the age group is roughly eight to 12-year-olds. And although each expert has a differing opinion about low and high-end numbers, most generally agree that 40,000 words is the sweet spot.

This is mostly because of how difficult it is to keep a young reader’s attention. Tell the story as quickly as possible while still making it intriguing to a young mind.

Children’s and Chapter Books: 200 to 10,0000

This one makes me scoff slightly. It seems that experts really don’t have a clear grasp of children’s or chapter books in general. I mean, 200 words? That seems more like a picture book than a children’s book.

Are they writing pamphlets for kids, or what?

This is why you need to take “expert” advice with a grain of salt. Especially if that particular expert has never published a book and is just writing a blog post.

Picture Books: 300 to 800

Essentially, picture books are a child’s doorway to reading. They are usually quite short in terms of word count with vibrant graphics helping them understand the story.

If you plan on putting together a picture book, use extremely simple and plain text. The idea is to get a child reading, not bore them to tears by sounding like an IKEA manual on downers.

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Word Count Estimations for a Novel Are Often Flawed

What a lot of these experts are failing to realize is that a lot goes into an estimate when trying to figure out the best word counts. You can’t simply assume a book as X amount of words based on its pages.

Case in point, I increased the page count of A Freelancer’s Tale just by making the font one point higher and slightly increasing the spacing between lines. It comes out to 147 pages and is 34,878 words long.

Font type, size, spacing, chapter heading layout, and more can greatly influence how many pages are in a book.

What I’ll do is:

  • Count the number of words on the second line of any page, which gives words-per-line.
  • Times the number of words against the number of lines of text on that page, which gives words-per-page.
  • Times the result against the total number of pages in the actual story (not the foreward, intro, prologue, etc.), which gives the subtotal of words for the book.
  • Then, take the number of words-per-page times the number of chapters. This is because a lot of books will use blank and half pages to start a chapter. This gives the total chapter words that are missing.
  • Subtract the total chapter words from the subtotal of words.

I know, it’s a bit convoluted of a process. But it’s a much more accurate estimation as it helps you remove font size, spacing, and blank pages from the equation.

In the future, I plan on getting my own estimates for the word counts above based on sales and reviews. But until then, I suppose I’ll just have to rely on other experts.

Word Count per Novel Depends On Your Abilities to Tell a Tale

Keep in mind that the average word count in a book is just a rough guideline. If you can keep an audience reading, then you can get away with a 500,000 words masterpiece.

However, that will take an incredible amount of talent.

Why Not Focus on Number of Pages Instead?

In the beginning, I was more concerned with page count instead of words. I wanted my book to look comparatively to similar works of my genre.

This was indeed a flawed idea.

As I said earlier, a lot of things can influence the actual page count compared to the length of a written story. Adjusting the font and spacing alone added nearly 50 pages to my book.

And it still looks great on paper.

You also have to consider the app you’re using for writing your bestseller. Software renders fonts differently, so, a novel written in something like Libre Office can show anywhere from 440 to 750 words per page.

But in a formatting tool like Kindle Create, it’ll come out to 250 to 300.

And then also consider the format you plan on using. The difference between a paperback and an eBook can vary greatly. For example, my eBook is 124 pages on the Kindle, compared to the 147-page paperback.

My point is that you shouldn’t worry about the average number of pages in your novel, as word count is a better goal based on your story.

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Write Until the Story is Told

In reality, the best length for a novel really depends on you and your target audience. If you can put together a riveting tale that keeps people reading into the wee hours of the morning, then you can get away with a larger word count.

But if people have a hard time getting into your book because it feels slow or if the details are too drawn out, you’ll lose their interest. Even a 20,000 word book can get quickly removed from someone’s reading list.

It comes down to a balance between what you can deliver and what they want to read.

Some people are simply better at quick-fire tales that range in the 30,000 to 50,000 range than they are with pushing out something in the 120,000-word mark. That’s nothing to be discouraged about, especially if your fan base prefers the faster reads.

So, you can use the guide above as an estimate for a novel length, but remember that storytelling is vastly more important than word count.

What Do Your Writing Goals Look Like?

Now that you have an idea about the best word count for a specific novel or book, does that change your goals for your current project? I am actually debating on adjusting mine for Kingmaker, the book I’m writing right now.

Still, I tend to write until the story is told. I guess I’ll wait to see what my beta readers think.

In any case, the numbers above are a bit helpful when you’re planning out your project. Just remember that every expert has their own ideas of what a good length for a novel will be.

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Michael Brockbank

Michael has been a freelance writer since January of 2012. He has completed more than 8,000 jobs for a variety of clients ranging from animals to travel. Currently, he is the Content Marketing Team Lead of GreenGeeks Web Hosting.

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