This question came in as a reader comment on one of the earlier blog posts. This question about average word count was on my mind as well, when I started writing my book. Most blogs and writer websites had the more-or-less the same advice – forget the length and the average word count of your novel. Write your story and forget the rest.
I wouldn’t dispute that rationale to a large extent. But the follow-your-heart recommendation needs to be considered in the context of commercial and business interests of the publishing company too. So I continued searching for the other side of the story. Where word count translates into a specific number of pages, which in turn influences how painful it would be to publish your book.
I found several high level guidelines on the internet. These were to do with whether the book would be categorised as a Novel or a Novella or an Epic or something else. In this post, I’d like to share some thoughts on word count considerations.
Let’s get the basic theory out of the way first. Here’s how the word-count of your book will decide what category your masterpiece falls in.
We’ll skip the extreme options like Micro-fiction (upto 100 words) and Flash fiction (100-1000 words) because you may not need a traditional publisher to print such a small book (it’ll resemble a booklet or worse, a pamphlet). These might be more suited to a magazine or an ebook or for online website submissions.
Then we move into the realm of Short stories (upto 10,000 words) which might also be suited for one of the formats mentioned above. But we are now moving into the traditional publishing zone.
The Novellette (10,000 to 20,000 words) might be a tough sell, as it falls in the no-mans land. Too long for magazines and too small to be packaged as a regular book.
Novellas (20,000 to 50,000 words) might work for those smaller book series you might have seen in bookstores. But if it’s a one-off, then publishers might have some thinking to do. For non-fiction books, this would still be ok.
The sweet spot for most authors (fiction and non-fiction) is in the 50,000-100,000 word range. This is the traditional ‘Novel’. My MBA book falls in this category.
Epics are those heavy-weight mammoths that you occasionally find in the bestsellers list. In non-fiction these would probably fall in the reference section. There are a few problems with first time authors approaching publishers with a novel that falls in the Epic category.
- It takes more resources (editing, printing) to produce, store and transport.
- It takes up more space in bookstores (so you are probably taking the space of 2 books)
- It will have to priced higher than regular books
Unless publishers look at you as the new bestselling star on the horizon, you are unlikely to get too much love from them.
So if you are already midway into writing your novel, take a step back and think if you are writing a novel or a novella or an epic and how the wordcount would influence your chances of getting published.
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