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What is the best word count for a novel? (1 Viewer)

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I seem to be finding conflicting information about what would be the best word count for getting a publisher interested in a novel. Or once it's published, to help it sell well.

The writers advice blogs generally say around 70,000-90,000. But when I look at best sellers they are a lot more.

The Gold Finch - 297,680 words
50 Shades of Grey - 172,260
The Shining - 200,000
A Tale of Two Cities - 135,000 words
The Da Vinci Code -170,000 words
The Catcher in the Rye - 73,000 words (I remember thinking this one was quite short when I first read it)
The Philosophers Stone (Harry Potter) -
76,944 words (a younger readership)

I know people say just use as many words as you need to tell the story, but I have lots of characters and two plotlines, so I could take it into different directions if needed. For a first time author writing a corporate thriller, what would be a good word count range to get publishers interested?


 

Tiamat

Patron
Interesting question. I don't necessarily think there's a single "best" wordcount, but I think the range you mentioned is sort of the standard. I know a few traditionally published authors who shoot for that range in particular. I also think it varies based on genre, current trends, and target audience. The author's publishing experience almost certainly counts to some degree as well. Case in point, the first Harry Potter book is only 76,944 words, but the fifth one is 257,045. Publishers are more likely to let well-known authors take up more space, so to speak.

Although I can't speak to corporate thrillers in particular, I believe the typical thriller novel tends to be a touch longer than, say, a romance, so I think you could get away with up to 100K-110K words. There's no reason you couldn't go longer if the story demanded it, but longer works from new authors tend to be a tough sell. It would just have to really blow a publisher's socks off for them to invest in a longer work from an unknown.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Interesting question. I don't necessarily think there's a single "best" wordcount, but I think the range you mentioned is sort of the standard. I know a few traditionally published authors who shoot for that range in particular. I also think it varies based on genre, current trends, and target audience. The author's publishing experience almost certainly counts to some degree as well. Case in point, the first Harry Potter book is only 76,944 words, but the fifth one is 257,045. Publishers are more likely to let well-known authors take up more space, so to speak.

Although I can't speak to corporate thrillers in particular, I believe the typical thriller novel tends to be a touch longer than, say, a romance, so I think you could get away with up to 100K-110K words. There's no reason you couldn't go longer if the story demanded it, but longer works from new authors tend to be a tough sell. It would just have to really blow a publisher's socks off for them to invest in a longer work from an unknown.

That is good to know about Harry Potter and is in keeping with what I have read about first time authors and subsequent publications.

I'm currently at 50K and originally, I was shooting for 70K but so far I have only covered a week and a half of time. There is still a month to go before the actual crime gets discovered. Of course, I could jump ahead, but I prefer not to do that. I have already included a lot of background on the three MCs and that took up a fair bit of words, so I should be able to cover a longer time frame in the second half. Also, I am using a lot of dialogue to tell the story and that takes more words than narration. So now I'm thinking it would be more comfortable to finish at around 90K-110K.

The target market is professionals who have read a lot of technical, business-related nonfiction in their jobs. I wouldn't think a larger word count would be an issue for them. What do you think?

Is it likely that a publisher, if looking for new material in the 70-80K range, would cast a wider net so as not to miss anything that could potentially fit into their target range? I'm thinking it would be more likely than them considering something that is too short. It would be easier to pare down than to rely on the author to add on. Does that make sense?

Although, changing my word count puts me at just 50% complete instead of 70% complete. It's a bit of a psychological hurdle, but I think I can deal with that!
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Tiamat

Patron
The target market is professionals who have read a lot of technical, business-related nonfiction in their jobs. I wouldn't think a larger word count would be an issue for them. What do you think?

Is it likely that a publisher, if looking for new material in the 70-80K range, would cast a wider net so as not to miss anything that could potentially fit into their target range? I'm thinking it would be more likely than them considering something that is too short. It would be easier to pare down than to rely on the author to add on. Does that make sense?
That first question is a difficult one to answer. I read a lot of technical, business-related nonfiction in my job and I'm in no way daunted by longer works, but I'm certain some of my colleagues would say the opposite. I'm not sure work reading requirements are in any way proportional to one's preferred novel length.

To the second question, publishers are lucky in that they receive significantly more manuscripts than they could ever hope of publishing, so they don't really have to look too hard to find new material. Granted, I don't know that publishers have strict word counts they abide by or anything like that, but I do know that the longer the novel is, the more it costs to publish the thing. The more it costs to publish, the less likely they are to take a risk on a newbie. Not only does a new writer not have an established fan base that can be counted on to rush out and buy the latest novel no matter how long it is, but the amount of time and work that goes into editing a longer manuscript is also a factor. Even if you have the most inspirational work ethic this world has ever seen, the publisher doesn't know that about you. They've never worked with you before to see how efficiently and effectively you handle requests for rewrites and edits; they have no idea that you're phenomenal at marketing and promoting your work. All they know about you is that you wrote a novel that--either knowingly or unknowingly--is longer than the traditional length for debut thriller authors. Again, that's not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it is still something of a red flag.

Now, take all of this with a grain of salt; I've neither published a novel nor worked for a publisher. I just think the business side of publishing is something a lot of folks just don't consider too often. It's not nearly as interesting as the writing side. :)
 

Hector

Senior Member
My longest novel so far is 54k words. I don't know how people manage more words than that. :highly_amused:
 

TWErvin2

Senior Member
It partially depends on the genre and even the subgenre. Epic fantasy readers tend to expect longer novels than urban fantasy. Also, it is my observation that often that the works published by an author tend to get a little longer as they advance into their career.

Rather than check the word count of best sellers, check the word count of first novels published. If you can narrow it to the genre or subgenre, even better (as indicated by the OP, corporate thriller). Maybe even look at specific publishers. If they have guidelines, they may list preferred word count. But you can also check the length of their recently released titles, and those of their debut authors.

Another thing might be to check the guidelines for established agents in the industry, especially those that represent the type of works you write. They may have preferred word counts listed.

But, as indicated, the story should be as long as it takes to tell (in the best manner possible). Good luck moving forward!
 

Nicola

Senior Member
Coincidently, I have just watched a few videos on YouTube of an Agent speaking about word counts amongst other things. 80,000 words does tend to be the average, and most agents/ publishers would be put off by a word count much less than 70,000. The maximum mentioned was 130k and above as it's asking a lot from readers. But as already pointed out, for already established authors a lengthier novel is not as much of a risk if they already have a fan base etc.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
It partially depends on the genre and even the subgenre. Epic fantasy readers tend to expect longer novels than urban fantasy. Also, it is my observation that often that the works published by an author tend to get a little longer as they advance into their career.

Rather than check the word count of best sellers, check the word count of first novels published. If you can narrow it to the genre or subgenre, even better (as indicated by the OP, corporate thriller). Maybe even look at specific publishers. If they have guidelines, they may list preferred word count. But you can also check the length of their recently released titles, and those of their debut authors.

Another thing might be to check the guidelines for established agents in the industry, especially those that represent the type of works you write. They may have preferred word counts listed.

But, as indicated, the story should be as long as it takes to tell (in the best manner possible). Good luck moving forward!

Thanks for your response! It was incredibly helpful. I went into MS Wishlist, and found a number of agents representing similar novels. Some of them did give word count guidlines. You are right that the first published novels tend to have a lower word count. Most indicate under 100K. Fortunately, that will work well for me. But it's good to have the confidence that I am shooting for the right number.
 
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Cephus

Senior Member
What's your genre. Every one has its own standards. 80-100k is a general goal, but romance skews lower and epic fantasy skews much higher. There is no single number.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Coincidently, I have just watched a few videos on YouTube of an Agent speaking about word counts amongst other things. 80,000 words does tend to be the average, and most agents/ publishers would be put off by a word count much less than 70,000. The maximum mentioned was 130k and above as it's asking a lot from readers. But as already pointed out, for already established authors a lengthier novel is not as much of a risk if they already have a fan base etc.

Thanks for the confirmation. It's good to know the average. Originally, I was shooting for 70,000. But I'm leaning more towards 80,000 now. I think it is still low enough not to scare off publishers.
 
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Nicola

Senior Member
Thanks for the confirmation. It's good to know the average. Originally, I was shooting for 70,000. But I'm leaning more towwards 80,000 now. I think it is still low enough not to scare off publishers.

Yes I think you should be safe with 80,000 from what I have read.
 

Private Universe

Senior Member
Another case in point that the works published by an author tend to get a longer as they advance into their career, is Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series:

Twilight – 118,975 words
New Moon – 132,758 words
Eclipse – 148,971 words
Breaking Dawn – 186,542 words

Total: 587,246 words

= more author confidence, and more publisher relaxation.

At 66,506 words, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar is shorter than The Catcher in te Rye.

I found this online:
Novella: 17,000 – 40,000 words.
Longer than 40,000 is generally considered a “short novel”.
Short story: Under 7,500 words.
If it's under 1,000, then it might be called “flash fiction”.

Re. "The story should be as long as it takes to tell (in the best manner possible)" VS. The harsh realities of publishing pragmatism:

It's such a hard tension to navigate the hard bottom lines of publishing VS. the individual creativity and unique expression required to write a book/story, with the one enterprise potentially killing the other, but neither can live without the other. Sounds an unhealthy co-dependent relationship to me, but we're willing to grapple with it because the rewards when it works are so sweet.

The 2009 film 'Julie and Julia' I think had a great scene showing Julia Child breaking the mould in publishing 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' which was longer than the typical cookbook at that time.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Another case in point that the works published by an author tend to get a longer as they advance into their career, is Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series:

Twilight – 118,975 words
New Moon – 132,758 words
Eclipse – 148,971 words
Breaking Dawn – 186,542 words

Total: 587,246 words

= more author confidence, and more publisher relaxation.

At 66,506 words, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar is shorter than The Catcher in te Rye.

I found this online:
Novella: 17,000 – 40,000 words.
Longer than 40,000 is generally considered a “short novel”.
Short story: Under 7,500 words.
If it's under 1,000, then it might be called “flash fiction”.

Re. "The story should be as long as it takes to tell (in the best manner possible)" VS. The harsh realities of publishing pragmatism:

It's such a hard tension to navigate the hard bottom lines of publishing VS. the individual creativity and unique expression required to write a book/story, with the one enterprise potentially killing the other, but neither can live without the other. Sounds an unhealthy co-dependent relationship to me, but we're willing to grapple with it because the rewards when it works are so sweet.

The 2009 film 'Julie and Julia' I think had a great scene showing Julia Child breaking the mould in publishing 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' which was longer than the typical cookbook at that time.

That's a good obsevation about the length continuing to get longer as the authors and the publishers get more confident.

I always think I have this figured out at about 80-100K for a first novel. But then I see that Kevin Kwan broke in with his first novel Crazy Rich Asians, coming in at 120,000.

Anyway, I do think what you say makes sense that it will take as long as it takes...
 

Cephus

Senior Member
Another case in point that the works published by an author tend to get a longer as they advance into their career, is Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series:

Twilight – 118,975 words
New Moon – 132,758 words
Eclipse – 148,971 words
Breaking Dawn – 186,542 words

Total: 587,246 words

= more author confidence, and more publisher relaxation.

It's more a matter of the more successful the author, the more terrified the publisher is to force them to use an editor. The same is true of J.K. Rowling and why the last Harry Potter books got so insufferably long. They were making so much money off of her that they were afraid to piss her off.
 

Private Universe

Senior Member
It's more a matter of the more successful the author, the more terrified the publisher is to force them to use an editor. The same is true of J.K. Rowling and why the last Harry Potter books got so insufferably long. They were making so much money off of her that they were afraid to piss her off.

Plus they knew fans were hooked so wouldn't be too bothered about the length. They might grumble but they'd still read to the end.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Plus they knew fans were hooked so wouldn't be too bothered about the length. They might grumble but they'd still read to the end.

Or maybe they thought they would give them more for their money. Although the piss-off factor sounds more likely. :)
 

ideasmith

Senior Member
Are micro or flash fiction good for a new author to try to get published? Would publishers be more likely to take a chance on someone who can spin a good yarn with fewer words, and if the books were successful, could always ask the author to write meatier?
 
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