Novel vs. Book: Three Key Differences

man reading a novel ... or is it a book?

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

If you’re already a published author or plan to be one day, understanding the differences between a novel vs. a book is key to better understanding your literary jargon. These two terms are quite often used interchangeably; however, each has its own distinctions, which is what we’ll be exploring here.

What is a novel?

A novel is a book that tells a longer, fictional story. A typical novel usually has a minimum of 40,000 words — anything shorter is considered a novella or a short story. Novels involve more complex storylines, well-developed characters, and as we’ll see below, can belong to various genres.

A novelist is an author whose written work is primarily novels — but that doesn’t mean they are limited to a specific genre. There are dozens of authors who have written a fantasy novel or horror novel to diversify their writing.

What is a book?

A book, on the other hand, is a more general term that refers to any written or printed work where the pages are bound together. It can be any length, about any subject, and it can be fiction or nonfiction. So, novels are books, as are biographies, textbooks, essays, poetry collections, encyclopedias, and so much more.

Key differences between novels vs. books

Think of it like this: a novel is always a book, but a book is not always a novel. Novels focus on fictional storylines and characters, while the term “book” refers to fiction and nonfiction works in various genres. Here are some more distinctions between the two.

Characteristics of a novel

  • A fictional narrative
  • In-depth character development
  • A minimum of roughly 40,000 words
  • Complex plotlines

Characteristics of a book

  • Includes various forms and genres
  • Can be fiction or nonfiction
  • Can be a variety of lengths
  • Has no minimum word count (in fact, a notebook has a wordcount of zero)

Genres and categories

As mentioned, novels can a fictional tale in any book genre, including:

  • Romance. Romance novels involve themes of love and relationships, from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen to The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough.
  • Mystery. Mystery novels explore suspenseful narratives that keep readers on the edge of their seat. Well-known mystery novels include works by Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • Science fiction. Science fiction, or sci-fi, novels involve alternate realities, extraterrestrial activities, advanced technology, or futuristic ideas. Dune by Frank Herbert is a classic example of a sci-fi novel.
  • Fantasy. These novels bring readers to different worlds that typically feature mythical characters, magic, and adventure. Perhaps the most well-known fantasy novels are found in The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien.
  • Historical fiction. Historical fiction novels are fictional stories told during a known historical time. World events in the story may have actually happened, but the storyline and characters are fictional. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a great example of a novel in this genre.

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Books include novels and all genres, some of which include:

  • Academic texts. Educational works that expand on academic or scholarly subjects, such as history, math, science, etc.
  • Essays. Shorter compositions that convey an author’s analysis or perspective on a certain topic.
  • Short stories. While fiction, short stories are just that — shorter works that contain everything a good story does, like developed characters, a plot, and setting.
  • Memoir. A memoir is an autobiographical work that highlights specific instances or a specific timeframe in an author’s life and their experience of such.
  • Self-help and personal development. Self-help books are written to help readers in personal areas of their lives, such as goal setting, self-awareness, and self-improvement.

Common misconceptions

Perhaps the most common misconception is that all books are novels. As we now know the differences between books and novels, we know the inverse is true — all novels are books — but “book” describes a much wider range of published/bound products.

Novels are the sole type of fictional books. This is another common misconception when differentiating between novels vs. books. There are plenty of other forms of fictional storytelling other than novels, including short stories, comic books, graphic novels, manga, poetry books, and more.

Similarities between novels and books

While there is a distinction between novels and books, there are many similarities between them, as well.

  • Written content. Both novels and books contain, well… words. But more than that, they contain words that have a purpose — whether that’s to educate, inform, or entertain readers.
  • Format. Books and novels can be found in paperback or hardcover, as well as digitally, such as eBooks or audiobooks.
  • Genres. Books and novels belong to different genres and cover a wide variety of subjects.
  • Publishing. Whether authors self-publish or go the traditional publishing route, books and novels go through some type of publishing process. Additionally, books and novels go through editing processes, as well.

Understanding the difference between novels and books is not just helpful in literary conversations, but it will help you in your own writing, too. Knowing exactly what type of written work you want to create can help you narrow down how you want to publish and release it out into the world — not to mention, whether you should call it a novel, or a book.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I look at it as a book is the object, but a novel is the fictional written content of the book. This also helps get around the fact that a lot of books are now only produced or consumed digitally.

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