What is the Length of the Average Novel?

alex atkins bookshelf booksIn general, book publishers don’t like publishing really long books — the higher the word count, the more pages that have to be printed, increasing the cost of producing and shipping each book. So what is the ideal word count for the average novel? According to Colleen Lindsay, a former literary agent and associate director of marketing at the NAL/Berkeley Publishing Groups, the average novel length is between 80,000 and 100,000 words. For example, novels with about 80,000 words include Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (80,398 words) and Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (82,370 words). Novels with about 100,000 words include Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird (100,388 words) and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (107,349 words).

However, word counts differ dramatically depending on the genre. Lindsay elaborates: “Word counts for different kinds of novels vary, but there is are general rules of thumb for fiction that a writer can use when trying to figure out just how long is too long… And bear in mind that there are always exceptions.” Those exceptions include successful authors who have been with a publishing house for a long time and have a solid track record with previously published shorter novels. Lindsay adds, “And, yes, once in a great while you will see an incredibly long debut novel. But the writing has to be absolutely stellar; knock-down, drag-out, kick-you-in-the-teeth amazing.” Think of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (960 pages, about 418,000 words); Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire that ignited a bidding war and eventually netted a $2 million advance (944 pages, about 411,000 words), or Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (1,024 pages, about 446,000 words). Lindsay offers these general word counts for novels:

Middle grade fiction: 25,000 – 40,000 words

Young adult fiction: 45,000 – 80,000 words

Romance: 85,000 – 100,000 words

Horror: 80,000 – 100,000 words

Crime fiction, mysteries, thrillers: 75,000 – 90,000 words

Literary fiction: 65,000 – 120,000

Science fiction, fantasy: 100,000 – 120,000

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For further reading: http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2008/03/on-word-counts-and-novel-length.html

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