Is your novel too short?
I often find myself editing clients’ manuscripts that are far too long and (occasionally) far too short. Whenever I approach a writer about changing the length of their novel, they frequently attempt to “prove” that the word count is acceptable by throwing around famous novels:
“Well, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is only 36,363 words!”
“Everybody loves Harry Potter, and The Order of the Phoenix is over 250,000 words!”
But the problem with these arguments is that they don’t prove anything. There are exceptions to every rule and there always will be, but that doesn’t make knowingly breaking the rules a good strategy for those seeking publication.
So What’s the Ideal Length of a Novel?
That depends on several factors, including where you publish and the genre.
The Low End: Many agents and publishers will automatically reject novels that are shorter than 60-70,000 words (Sorry NaNoWriMo writers). Exactly where they draw that bottom line depends on the individual. If you keep it above 65k, you probably won’t be rejected on word count alone.
The High End: Somewhere around 100-120k is the cut-off length for most agents and publishers. Anything above 100k puts you in the high-risk zone for rejection, so make sure your query is top notch.
Ideal Length: I’ve heard from several agents and publishers that 80k is their favorite length.
The Low End: If you’re going with traditional publication, anything under 50k is probably too short (65k for historical). If you’re self-publishing or e-publishing, you will find there is a market for stories as short as 3,000 words.
The High End: Typically, anything over 70k is too long for a romance. Historical romances and genre-bending romances (scifi, fantasy, etc.) can push as high as 95,000 with some publishers.
The Low End: Generally, anything less than 80k is too short, but there may be exceptions for “light” SciFi/Fantasy, books that could be marketed as mainstream.
The High End: SciFi/Fantasy can easily get way up there in word count! First-time novelists (note: self-publishing still makes you a first-time novelist to the traditional publishing world) should try to keep it under 120k, but certainly lower than 150k. Publishers specializing in SciFi/Fantasy are more comfortable with high word counts than those that are simply open to publishing it.
The Low End: Cozy mysteries may be as short as 55-60k. Thrillers should push a little higher: 65-70k on the low end.
The High End: Cozy mysteries are usually no longer than 75-80k. Non-cozy mysteries and Thrillers can get as long as 100-110k.
There’s nothing wrong with deviating from the length recommendations. Some writers will successfully publish an unusually long or short first novel. But you can almost definitely increase your odds of publication by staying in a word count range that publishers are comfortable with.
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