How Long is Your Book?

The question of “how long your manuscript should be” is sometimes hard to answer because different publishers have different guidelines. I’m going to give you some information here, but first I want you to know WHY this is important.

It’s pretty simple: If your book falls within the standard preferred word-count range, it’s one less reason for it to be rejected. It takes the question of “length” completely off the table as an issue. Now the decisions can be made based on your writing and whether your book is a fit for that publishing house. (And that’s what you want, right?)

If you are outside the normal range, it’s one more obstacle on your road to publication. That will also affect whether agents will want to represent it. The more obstacles to publication, the harder it will be to say “yes” to representation. If you’re writing outside the standard length guidelines, there’s more pressure for your work to be SO GOOD that we (agents & editors) will want to fight for it.

FICTION GUIDELINES:

Full-length fiction: 80,000 to 100,000 words is by far the best range to stay within. Some pubs will look at manuscripts from 70,000 to 110,000 words, rarely outside of that.

Some definitions:

a A “novel” is usually defined as 50,000 words to 110,000 words.

a Over 110,000 is generally referred to as an epic or a saga.

a A novella is defined as 20,000 to 50,000 words (but please don’t pitch me a novella because I don’t represent them.) Most pubs are not doing novellas except for select Christmas stories.

a Heartsongs Presents: 50,000 words. (I don’t represent these either.)

Be aware: These definitions can change depending on who you’re talking to! Also, the price point changes when it gets much over 100,000 words, and this is a big deal for publishers. They try to avoid it.

Having said all this, most of the editors I’ve spoken with said they look at the writing first. If they love the novel but it falls outside their normal length (within reason), the editor will fight for it and try to make it work. (Same with agents.)

By the way, these guidelines aren’t specific to CBA. I am hearing the exact same things from general market agents.

NON FICTION GUIDELINES:

The range is wider, depending on the topic. I recommend 50,000 to 70,000 words as the best range. You could go as low as 45,000 and as high as 80,000, but I wouldn’t suggest going too far outside of this range except for special cases (i.e. gift books & devotionals will be fewer words; intense theological treatises may be much longer).

PS: C.J. Darlington did a review of CBA novels about a year ago, and lists some word counts. Click here.

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  • A Noni Mouse

    >Great post, Rachelle. One of the things I hear new authors say most often is: “I am working on a book, which is already 150,000 words and only about halfway through.”

    Usually I have all kinds of alarm bells go off right there, and try to encourage them to ‘cut it’ a little, or divide it into parts before ‘shopping it around’ simply because I know from experience that the longer they are, the harder they sell.

    It’s good to see someone ‘inside’ the industry saying the same thing.

  • Karen

    >While you said you don’t represent Heartsong, some may want to know that the Heartsong Mysteries series is now up to 61,000-63,000 words. I’m having to kill off another character so I can add another 5,000 words to my original ms. Such is life. . .er, death.

  • Terri Tiffany

    >I had often wondered about Non Fiction. Thanks for an informative blog!

  • Inspire

    >There are some interesting exceptions to this guideline. I’m thinking of Diana Gabaldon. Her novels are huge. Outlander was her first novel and a literary agent snatched it up even though the word count was enormous. Good thing it wasn’t turned down due to word count.

    I hope agents do not turn down a manuscript solely due to word count, say if a ms is slightly over. It would be unfortunate to turn down great novels because of that. Besides, with some editing the word count can come down. But I understand your point that it would be better to have a lower word count from the start, thus increasing your chances of acceptance.

    Still, there may be some bestsellers out there that are submitted at 115,000 words, and turned down for bad books that are exact.

  • Anonymous

    >One side note … I write YA and we’ve been fortunate to get really detailed, ongoing feedback from non-CBA houses on their expectations, etc., for this particular market. (What? There might be LurkerMonkey news in the offing? Maybe …)

    Anyway, I’m hearing the ideal word count for this genre is 50,000 to 60,000. Some are longer, but not many.

    LurkerMonkey

  • Nicole

    >Rachelle is right with few exceptions although it does tend to depend on genres (i.e. some thrillers, fantasy, and historical fiction go considerably over) and platform (of course: Ollie North, Robert Liparulo) for fiction. While this is the industry standard based on, well, cost, for one thing, it does leave out consideration of those in the reading/consumer public who prefer the epics/sagas, and the longer novels do seem to be more visible in the general market offerings, although that could be changing?

    The 300-350 page novels with the more open templates repeatedly seem too short and often “clipped”, some formulaic. More depth for me.

  • Kat Harris

    >I agree with nicole. Depth is good, and the 300-page novels often seem clipped and formulaic.
    While I like being able to put a novel away in an afternoon, I miss the sagas — like The Thorn Birds — my older sisters used to read.
    Readers are hard-pressed to find novels that length today.

  • Inspire

    >Some excellent points about what readers want. Some prefer short novels. But there are so many that want to read a much longer novel. I miss them. I don’t see any in CBA in historical fiction. I hope there will be a resurgence of the meatier novel someday.

    Shogun
    North & South
    Dream West
    Chesapeake

    Diana Gabaldon
    Jeff Shaara
    Bernard Cornwall
    Phillipa Gregory’s ‘The Other Boylen Girl’ is 672 pages.

  • Melissa Biemans

    >Question: YA novels, what are we looking at.

    I’m at about 80,000 words with several sequences left to edit (adding to as well as trimming).

    I think, when all is said and done, once I’ve gone through another edit process and clipped things etc, i’ll be down to about 70,000… (give or take).

    I wonder what’s average or recommended without being cookie cutter.

  • Marla Taviano

    >Ha! I think you’re on target with your non-fiction range. My books are 69,000 words, 60,000 words and 50,000 words.

    My first one was originally 110,000. When the publisher asked me to get it to 69,000, I thought “no way” but said “yes way.” I cut and chopped until nothing but good stuff was left and thought, “Hmmm…shoulda just left out the fluff to begin with.” Now, that’s a concept.

    Much better to leave a reader wanting more than to bore him/her at one or more points in the book.

  • Rachelle

    >Regarding YA… LurkerMonkey is right on. 50-60k is ideal.

  • Anonymous

    >Wordcount is interesting to me from the reader viewpoint as well. I am really not likely to read a book that is longer than 250 pages. Just will not do it (unless the author’s name is Elizabeth George.) I have an author buddy who writes 350-pg books and I buy them and then I read the first 125 pages, then the last 125 pages. And that’s it. Just as my disposable income is rising to the point where I can purchase books comfortably, I find a dearth of material I’m willing to read.

  • Anne L.B.

    >May I ring in on the epic / saga genre?

    Like any genre, it won’t appeal to everyone. But some of us love to read epic novels for the pleasure of not merely peeking at, but actually stepping into the lives of the characters. An epic can be particularly appealing to women (we’re so about relationship) as we watch the storyline develop and multiple characters grow, perhaps over a generation.

    Epics are about reading for the pleasure of the journey, not just reaching the destination (as in non-fiction).

    How many of the great literary achievements of the past were well past the 110K mark?

    If this genre is phased out because it doesn’t sell in an era of text box size attention spans and two hour movie plot resolution, it will be a true loss to civilization. (Epics also lean toward the dramatic.)

  • Joseph L. Selby

    >I appreciate the clarification of epic fantasy, as it’s the genre I read most. I never understood why people talk about 50k-100k manuscripts when all the books I read clearly have a lot more than that (Pat Rothfuss’ first novel clocked in around 250k).

    The two questions I’m always left with is, How does a prologue fit into the scheme of things? When an editor/publisher asks for the first three chapters, do you include chapters 1-3? Prologue-chapter 2? Prologue-chapter 3? I assume the answer is chapters 1-3, but using Pat as an example again, his prologue demonstrates the strongest writing in the entire book. If I had been him, it would have pained me not to include it.

  • Anonymous

    >When I finished the first draft of my novel it was around 105,000 words. I thought back then that I was going to enter it into the Jerry Jenkins WritersGuild contest, which required the count to be between 75,000 to 100,000 words.
    I took out unnessary words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes and even chapters. That knocked it down to less than 90,000 words.
    The WritersGuild requirements are pretty close to what Rachelle recommends on today’s blog.
    So there you go.

  • Anonymous

    >One more thing. I wrote the comment about the Christian WritersGuild. I generally prefer to read books that are somewhere between 300 to 500 pages. I have read books up to and over 600 pages, but it takes me about three months to finish. I read only at night before going to sleep.
    However, I recently found some of the very first novels written by some of my favorite authors and discovered their first books were rather thin, between 250 – 300 pages.
    I’m guessing your first novel needs to be shorter, but if you become really successful, then you can sit around and write a book as big as you want with your big name and all.

  • Nicole

    >For “Inspire”, I believe B. J. Hoff and Michael Phillips have some long historical CBA fiction.

    And, yay! to all of you who hunger for epics/sagas. We are forced into being a diminishing breed, ignored for the most part, even argued against in the professional ranks. Here’s to the epics/sagas! :)

  • Timothy Fish

    >Word count is one of the things I consider from the very start of a manuscript. Knowing how long the final product helps when we are trying to create the proper pacing for the work. My original goal for my WIP was 80K. Knowing that I allocated the first 8700 words to setup, in which reader sees that the Geoff’s wife is cheating on him and he doesn’t know it. It also introduces the reader to Geoff (an English teacher) and reveals that Geoff isn’t completely happy with the situation, but there isn’t much he can do. The inciting incident occurs at 8700 words when Geoff’s wife leaves him. The next 10,000 words are dedicated to Geoff figuring out what he should do. Where is she? Does he want her back or is he better off without her? He finds her and then we begin to see some of the secondary characters begin to get involved. In the next 20K words, Geoff fights to get her back and when we reach the middle of the book, it looks like he has succeeded. For the next 15K words, the situation begins to grow worse again as his wife gets caught up in a sinful lifestyle. Before we reach 55K words, she is lost to him and there is no way to get her back. At 62K, he is mourning the loss of his wife, but a student comes to him with a glimmer of hope. There may be a way to get her back. From there, Geoff pushes hard toward the end. Perhaps he will get her back, perhaps he won’t, but he won’t be holding anything back.

    The manuscript has crept to 85K, but I have added proportionally to each section. What I like about this approach is that it is very easy to see where I need to say more and where I need to be more concise. I also like it works for nearly any size story.

  • Cheryl Barker

    >A question: Is there a preferred range of words for a gift book, or is there a lot more flexibility with those?

    Thanks for a helpful post, Rachelle!

  • Mary DeMuth

    >Thanks Rachelle, for helping folks understand word counts. I’ve sent writers here so they will know.

    And it’s important to note that it’s not fluff we’re filling with those word counts. Be sure your words sing. Be sure they’re necessary. Be sure not to bore your reader.

  • Scoti Springfield Domeij

    >Thanks for the info, Rachelle. I appreciate the fine tune details that you share. I’m polishing my book proposal and was starting to freak because it will be longer than 50,000 words. Now I can relax.

  • Joseph John

    >Awesome advice. I found three posts on reputable agent’s blogs dedicated to this same topic. All of them said you should shoot for a word count in the 80k-100k range. Thanks for the pro tip.

  • Sandra Cox

    >Thanks, Rachelle.
    Very helpful blog:)

  • Cross Campus Ministry

    >aha! This is what I needed to know. I guess i have several thousand more words to write
    Mike
    crosscampusministry.com

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  • Mohammad

    I am currently writing a “novel” it is almost 10,000 words, However i have been working on it for 3 years. [however my age might have to do with how slowly i have worked on it. I am turning 15 in a month, meaning i was 11 or 12 years old when i started]

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