How many words should my book be? (The brass tacks of word counts)

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There are so many different blogs and opinions about the ‘best’ word-counts for various genres, that I won’t even try to share a definitive answer here. Different publishing companies and agents and editors all have their own ideas on this topic.

But for self-publishing authors like myself, here are some rules of thumb that I usually to try to think about when I am creating my stories.

  • Novels (general) – anything over about 40-45,000 might be classed as a novel. Some publishing companies expect something longer (around 80-120k seems to be a popular rule of thumb). Then of course there are many highly successful novels that are 120k+ Check out the Harry Potter infographic below.
  • Romantic novels – For contemporary romance, I usually try to aim for something between 45k and 75k, with 45k being fine for a shorter racy romance, and 70-80k or thereabouts being a good length for a more in-depth ‘slow-burn’ or complex story. My first book Lover by moonlight is a slower story of emotional exploration and was about 70k. My second book Lie to me was faster and spicier – around 47k. My third contemporary romance in the Deception series (The Gemini Effect) was more of a slow burn – again nearly 70k. In the end, I find each book tends to dictate its own length.
  • Historical romance – I have generally been aiming for around 70k for my historical romances. It usually seems about right. Certainly that is what I have ended up with for the first two books in my French Connection series. (‘Isabel’s Choice’ and ‘Temptation’). The third book in the French Connection series is a bit racier (I am working on it now), and that one may end up being a bit shorter. It will all depend on just what the heroine gets up to in ‘The Secret Life of Eloise’!
  • Novellas – my first novella The Priest’s Seduction was around 20k. I think anything between about 17k and 35k can be classed as a novella. Again, some companies may have strict ideas, but if you are going out on your own, then it is your readers who can provide input on this.
  • Short stories – generally less than about 7k or 8k – again, short story publishers and competitions will have their own ideas about this.

That’s my own personal guide (approximate) to word counts. Yet having said that, one of the best bits about being an Independent author is that I don’t have to conform to restrictions set by publishing companies that work by formula. Which means I have the ultimate pleasure of letting the story dictate how long the book will be. I often have some idea at the beginning of where it is heading, but it is only as the story develops that it reveals where it wants to go, and that is when being flexible about word counts can be a real advantage. In the end, it makes for a better story, although it is always worth remembering that editing will still be just as important as ever.

It is only when readers start commenting that sections of text are unnecessary or don’t really help to further the story-line that a book might be considered “too long”. And similarly, when a reader is left feeling cheated, or as though the story was never properly aired, that it was “too short”. The rest is perhaps just semantics.

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6 thoughts on “How many words should my book be? (The brass tacks of word counts)

  1. Nice post! I’ve always understood that a novel should be in the region of 80,000 to 100,000 words, with those over 120,000 words being the ‘thumping big blockbuster’ category. Mine started at 107,000 words in first draft, with various edits taking it down through 100,000 to 97,000 and eventually to 90,000, where i began to realise enough was enough, as I’d started wanting to add words back IN!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jools – good point. My current novel is blowing out well beyond my intended length, but I think that is just how it has to be. It’s all part of the story – although I will certainly be giving it a good hard edit before I send out to the professionals.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mine went up to 107,000 words before coming back down to 97,000 and finally ending up to 90,000. Every time I came back to it, I saw more that didn’t need to be there!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My current book is third in a series of historical romances set in the French Revolution. The first two are around 75k, so I was aiming for the same for ‘The Secret Life of Eloise.’ Unfortunately Eloise has been so busy, that it looks as though we’re heading for at least 85 to 90k. Still, as long as I feel the story remains tight and unrepetitive that’ll probably be fine…

    Like

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