Well, here’s the short answer: as long as it needs to be — no more, no less.
So write, write, write — then edit, edit, edit.
But if you’re curious to see how your manuscript measures up to to the standard word-count expectations for your genre, the following is a summary of an informative article by Chuck Sambuchino called “Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post.”
Check out that piece for all the details, or see the breakdown below.
Adult Novels: (literary fiction, romance, mystery, thriller, etc.)
Here’s what Chuck recommends for commercial fiction:
80,000 – 89,999 words: Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999 words: Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999 words: Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999 words: Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000 words: Too short
110,000 words or above: Too long
When you push beyond 110k words, you’re getting into “epic” territory. Is your book an epic?
Chuck also says that although “chick lit” books fall into the category of commercial novels, they tend to be a bit shorter, around the 70-75k words range.
Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Books in these genres are generally longer than standard novels, which Chuck attributes to the world-building that has to occur.
He recommends 100,000 – 115,000 words.
A little less or a little more is ok (as long as you’ve made an honest effort to trim the fat, in the event that it’s more than 115k).
Though these books have been getting longer lately, 20,000 – 55,000 words is a good target. If your book is for “upper middle grade” you’d be fine in the 40,000 – 55,000 range. For a younger middle grade audience, stick to the 20,000 – 35,000 range.
Chuck believes that word counts in the YA genre are very flexible.
For starters, 55,000 – 69,999 is a great range.
The word round the agent blogosphere is that these books tend to be trending longer, saying that you can top in the 80Ks. However, this progression is still in motion and, personally, I’m not sure about this. I would say you’re playing with fire the higher you go. When it gets into the 80s, you may be all right—but you have to have a reason for going that high. Again, higher word counts usually mean that the writer does not know how to edit themselves.
A good reason to have a longer YA novel that tops out at the high end of the scale is if it’s science fiction or fantasy. Once again, these categories are expected to be a little longer because of the world-building.
Concerning the low end, below 55K could be all right but I wouldn’t drop much below about 47K.
50,000 – 80,000 words.
But be sure to edit! Just because you lived it doesn’t mean it’s worth telling the world about.
Be sure to check out Chuck’s full article for some of the reasoning behind these word-count targets, and why you’ll be hurting your chances of getting an agent or book deal if you stray from the standard.
Does your book conform to these standards? Is it shorter, longer? Why? Let us know in the comments below.