How long should you make your novel? A quick Google search will give you many, oftentimes conflicting, answers. I found several sources stating that the limit is around 150,000 words or higher. Others say that you should shoot for anything over 70,000 words. So what’s the right answer?
Before I answer that question, you need to know why word count is important. Most publishers and agents have a standard preferred word count range. If your novel fits within that range, that’s one less reason for them to reject it and one less obstacle on the road to publication. Would you believe that most agents reject over half of the queries submitted to them simply because the book is too long or too short? Trust me. Hundreds of queries pass across their desks every day. They’re looking for any reason they can find to reject your manuscript and whittle their list down to something more manageable.
So again--what’s the right answer? Let’s go straight to the horse’s mouth for the real deal. Let’s go to the blogs of real life, honest-to-God agents.
Every article I read by a reputable agent stated that the ideal word length for a full-length novel is 80,000 to 100,000 words. Some of them broke it down by genre, stating that different publishers might accept certain genre like young adult and chick lit with a word count as low as 50,000 words. Historical fiction or epic fantasy might run as high as 120,000 to 140,000 words. But if you are a first-time novelist, stick to the standard--at least until you’ve established yourself as a sellable product.
However, I guarantee that there are writers out there that won’t listen. They will see those big, fat, epic novels on the shelves of their local bookstore and think, Joseph John doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about. What does he know? He isn’t even a published author. Some of these writers create “epic” novels simply because they aren’t very good at writing. A good writer knows how to cut out the excess fat that is oftentimes the mark of inexperience or incompetence and prune his manuscript down to its most essential elements.
But what if it’s a good novel? What is wrong with a 150,000 word epic novel filled with fully developed characters and an engaging storyline that keeps readers turning page after page?
The buyers for bookstores--the people responsible for populating the shelves--usually buy fewer copies of longer books because books with higher page counts cost more to produce, resulting in lower profit margins. At the same time, shorter books don’t sell as well either, because people aren’t willing to pay as much for a 180-page book. You have to charge less and, once again, end up with a lower profit margin. That’s why your editor will squirm if you hand him a manuscript outside of that ideal word count range; it’s all about the Benjamins, baby.
Yes, there are exceptions to every rule. Usually, however, those exceptions are established authors with a proven track record for selling books. Once in a blue moon, you’ll see an exceedingly long debut novel that an agent and publisher loved so much that they were willing to take a chance on it.
But if you’re a first-time novelist, you shouldn’t be taking any chances. Err on the side of caution. Ensure you maximize the marketability of your novel, make it as attractive as possible for potential agents and publishers, and keep it at 80,000 to 100,000 words.
Check out the original article on my website.