Book Writing and Publishing FAQ – How Long Should My Fiction Book Be?

Last week, I wrote about how long nonfiction books should be in the Book Writing and Publishing FAQ series.  Today, I’m going to tackle fiction.  Before I dive in, I want to remind you that there are exceptions to every rule and the word counts provided here are simply suggested guidelines.

In order to offer word count targets for your fiction book, you need to consider two things: your book’s genre and the current market trends.  In other words, there are acceptable word count targets for young adult fiction that are not the same as the word count targets for literary fiction.  Similarly, audience preferences and publisher strategies change over time, so reviewing successful books in your genre that have been published recently can help you determine your word count target.

With that said, let’s look at word counts!

There are varied suggestions related to fiction word count based on who you ask, so I thought it would be best to provide word count targets straight from the source — a literary agent.  Colleen Lindsay is a member of the Penguin Group (USA) business development group and former literary agent.  She writes a blog called The Swivet where she writes extensively about the book publishing industry.  Recently, she published a post with current word count “rules of thumb” that you can use as a guideline while writing your fiction manuscript.  You can read her complete post here, which includes a lot more details and suggestions than the word counts provided below.

So without further ado, here are Colleen Lindsay’s suggested fiction manuscript word count targets by genre:

  • Middle grade fiction: 25k to 40k
  • Mainstream YA fiction:  45k to 80k
  • Paranormal YA or YA fantasy: under 100k preferred but can go as high as 120k
  • Romance: 85k to 100k
  • Horror: 80k to 100k
  • Western: 80k to 100k
  • Mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction: 90k to 100k, but light paranormal mysteries and hobby mysteries are shorter at 75k to 90k, and historical mysteries and noir are 80k to 100k.
  • Literary fiction: As high as 120k but trends make even short literary fiction (65k) acceptable.
  • Chick lit: 80k to 100k
  • Novella: Anything under 50k
  • Science fiction & fantasy: 100k

Again, the word counts above are strictly guidelines.  Authors like J.K. Rowling prove that an agent and publisher will accept longer manuscripts for an exceptional book, and certainly, word count typically lengthens in sequels.  However, if you want an agent or publisher to even bother looking at your query, stick to the word counts suggested above!


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