A novel is either a work of fiction, such as a mystery; or a work of nonfiction, such as in-depth information about a historical event. When you are writing a novel for the first time, you will have many questions. For example, how should you structure the plot? How can you make your characters relatable?
Another question you may have is: how many words should be in a novel? The answer in a large part depends on whether the novel is fiction or nonfiction. The genre of the work also matters. In this article, we’ll look further into both fiction and nonfiction in regards to their respective word counts.
The various genres in fiction differ in recommended word count. Novels in the same genre will not have the same word count. Rather, there is a range that authors can follow. Word counts also differ among the different reading levels – adult, adolescent, and children
Adult Commercial Fiction
Most of the bestsellers that you see on bookshelves are examples of adult commercial fiction. The genres that fall under this category include:
Per Writer’s Digest, “between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for” when writing novels in these genres. However, “you can have as few as 71,000 words and as many as 109,000 words.” These types of books are not meant to be sagas. You need to be concise and to the point.
Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
These two genres are the exceptions in commercial fiction in regards to length. They are longer, running about “100,000–115,000” words, although some can go as high as 124,000. The higher word count is due to the worldbuilding common in these types of works.
Some science fiction and fantasy novels are much longer. For example, the five books published so far in George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, have a total combined word count of 1,770,000.
Adolescent fiction has the same genres as adult fiction but is more age-appropriate. It consists of two types:
Middle Grade – According to Writer's Digest this kind of novel is for readers who are between 8–12 years of age. There is no “profanity, graphic violence or sexuality.” They range from 20,000–50,000 words, based on subject matter and age range. That number can be larger for 12-year-olds, with a range of 40,000–55,000 words.
Young Adult – These books are for teenagers. They have a very flexible range of 55,000–79,999 words. However, science fiction and fantasy young adult stories are going to run longer than 80,000 words, due to the world building in those types of novels.
An example of adolescent fiction is the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Can you guess how many words are in Harry Potter? It's a lot. The total word count for all seven books in the series is over 1 million words; 1,084,170 to be exact. Each book in the series has a different word count, ranging from 76,944 (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) to 257,045 (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).
Other Types of Fictional Writing
Novellas and short stories are other types of fiction.
Novellas – If you are writing a novella, you’ll probably want to know how many words are in a novella. Novellas are about 20,000 to 50,000 words, with 30,000 words being the average.
Short Stories – The length of short stories can range from 1,000 up to 7,500 words. Any longer, and the short story becomes a novelette. Literary magazines are a common publisher of short stories, and as they have limited space prefer a shorter word count.
Books written for children have the fewest amount of words, due to the lack of subplots and the focus on educating young readers. The amount of words in a book written for children depends on what age group the book is for and the type of book it is. For example, the popular Dr. Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham, known as a rhythmic book, only has 50 words.
Nonfiction books vary widely in subject matter. As such, the word count also varies. There are numerous genres of nonfiction, including biographies, folklore, creative nonfiction, journals, history, essays, and religious text. The word count range for each genre can vary quite siginificantly.
To emphasize this, look at how many words are in the Bible how many words are in the Bible. The answer depends on what version and translation of the Bible you are using. “There are hundreds of different translations of the Bible, and each one has a different number of words.” The King James version, for instance, has 783,137 words.
Another example of nonfiction is the dictionary. How many words are in the dictionary? That depends on what dictionary you are looking at. The Oxford English Dictionary has 171,476 current words.
For most standard nonfiction books on subjects such as politics, business, history, science, etc., opinions on recommended word count vary. Rick Benzel of the website Publish to Get Clients suggets you should “aim for about 70,000 words” when writing standard nonfiction. On the other hand, Chuck Sambuchino at Writer’s Digest states that it is tough to estimate word count when it comes to writing nonfiction. He states that it’s best to look at the word count in comparable books.
Words Per Page
So, how many words should be in a page when you’re writing fiction or nonfiction? Publishers have their own unique ways of formatting the final product, so the words per page requirement will vary. According to Fiction Factor, “in most cases, industry standard preferred length is 250 words per page.”
In conclusion, the word count for novels varies depending on the type of writing, the genre and the age group. When trying to get a book published for the first time, it’s best to be conservative. To most publishers, having a higher than average word count indicates that a “writer does not know how to edit themselves.”