Average word count for books: How long should a novel be?

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.

36 thoughts on “Average word count for books: How long should a novel be?”

  1. Nice posts. Keep them coming. I appreciate the effort and generosity in sharing information. Most often on the net we come across articles written by SEO content writers with very little knowledge about the topic. They cannot afford to spend much time in researhing a topic well before they write. Hence, the result is a long article with very little information in it. It is nice to hear about getting a book published from a writer who has been there and done that.



  2. Thanks, Shilpa.

    Before my book got published, I spent many years breaking my head over many of these operational and business aspects. The learning curve was very slow.

    So after I crossed the milestone (of getting the book published), I thought, if I could document some of the knowledge here, it might reduce (if not eliminate) the head-banging-against-the-wall for others who are facing similar roadblocks.

  3. Hello Sameer. I just read this article you wrote based on the question i had posted. Firstly, I apologize for the late response. Secondly, I’d like to thank you for doing this as it was really helpful. . However I have stopped writing after reading this article. My word count barely puts me in the novellas category. It takes a Herculean effort from my end to write, as I am doing it for the first time and realizing that my chances of getting published are slim to none I have completely lost hope. Anyway, thank you for your help (and for giving me the credit for this article). I’l let you know that I only began writing after I read a couple of Durjoy Dutta’s hilarious names for his novels. I thought if that’s the best someone can do with the name of a book, I can surely do better. Apparently it’s harder than it looks. Thank you again and I wish you all the best for all your future endeavors.

  4. Pranay,

    I started this blog hoping to educate and inspire others so they could continue pushing ahead. Not to make folks give up on their dreams.

    Please don’t stop writing because of some technical word-count definitions. For each of these categories there IS a market for good work. If it does not fall in the conventional book zone, it’ll have other platforms that you could explore – magazines, ebooks, websites, blogs.

    The expectation that a writers first published work will become a bestseller is impractical. Always takes baby steps, before one can walk or run.

    So hang in there, buddy.

  5. Hi Krishna,

    From your blog (edit: not available now), I see that you’ve been running some interesting experiments with your query letters. And I’m guessing your question for me would be related to that blog post.

    I don’t have the resources to help out in a personal capacity at this stage. So the best option would be to share your questions for me on this blog and I’ll try my best to answer them.

    P.S. ALL CAPS = Shouting (in the online world)

    • HI SAMEER U R DOING REALLY GOOD JOB…should i sibmit my manuscript without getting any copyright….kindly reply me, i will be grateful to u.
      thank u

  6. Hi Sameer,

    You are doing a great job. I hope more and more writers (including experienced ones) get a chance to read your posts on a regular basis.

    Even the communication with the readers is useful here.

    Now my query: I have written and directed a couple of feature films. One had well known names too. Not too happy with my movies but I am still doing something about it, just not aggressively.

    Currently, I live in the US, I am new to writing literary fiction. Murakami and Nobokov being the main inspiration. I have about 8 short stories (total word count tops 90,000) that have been cleaned up and re-edited etc. Before my first novel comes out and to attract experienced literary agent I have started submitting them to literary publications in the US.

    Most of the stories do have Indian characters or India in it. I wonder if you could advice me how to explore Indian publishing industry. Starting next week I am going to spend 3 months in India (Mumbai). Should I find an agent / submit in Indian literary publications (which ones are top five?) / or directly approach the publication houses? ? Besides Penguin India / Rupa which are other respectable publications?

    Appreciate your time and thanks in advance.


  7. Dear Sir,

    I would like to know what is the word count accepted by the Indian publishers for a fiction novel? And do they reject without much consideration if the word count is high?


  8. @Manish:
    Here’s a list of the top publishers in India.

    Speaking of stories with Indian characters, I just saw the ‘Life of Pi’. The India flavour doesn’t reduce the global appeal of such stories. So if you have something that enhances the overall impact, you’ve got a global bestseller ready to hit the market.

  9. @Manisha: There are no hard and fast rules. As long as the tone and pace of your story does justice to the plot, you’d do fine.

    Apart from that use the blog post above to decide whether you want to position your book as a novel, novella, novellette, epic or any other exotic variation.

  10. Hello sir! I’m doing my 2n year in bachelor’s in literature. I have an idea of writing a book and it is in process. The publishing process seems too complicated.I’m totally confused regarding the copyrights. I need your help and suggestion on the whole…..

  11. Hi Sameer,

    Thanks for this informative article. Very helpful indeed. Some publishers like Rupa Publications ask for detailed synopsis. Can you please give me some idea what should be the word count of the detailed synopsis of a novel whose word count is around 65k. your help is highly appreciated.

  12. Hi Sameer,
    I have already written a novel which is posted on wattpad and lies in the novellas category. My story is on the #35th position in the mystery/thriller category on wattpad. I wanted to know should I try getting it published as I feel maybe I wouldn’t get a good response from the Indian market as Indian teenagers are moreover into romantic novels. Please suggest what should I do.

    • However, Purnima, your question isn’t for me, but I’ll tell you what, Since you’ve already been published you should do even more justice with your talent. That is, why wait? Without digging you can’t decide the structure of the soil. So, just go out there and bid yourself to the publishing market. Advertise in the right place where mystery or thriller has its own readership. I agree you, that romance is on the summit in India, but it is not the only thing to take care of. I am currently in the middle of my first romance and still have a niche in fantasy, that I’m holding on to be the next.
      And by the way, there’re are enough market for other genres in India as well.
      See, The Shiva Trilogy by Amish, it comes under the line of epic fantasy and boomed the Indian market. Just go out, your book will always find its place in the right ground. If you call yourself author, you certainly have optimism with the right market skills: tap into it.
      All The Best and congrats!!

  13. Hi Sameer, Thanks for your posts on the writing environment in India. Found your posts very informative, insightful and useful. Please keep them coming. l’ve published some articles in nonfiction space as a hobby including an ebook on business themes which is now in Amazon, and have been exploring the fiction space for some time. Hence, your posts were very relevant and useful for me to build an idea. Cheers. Thanks again

  14. Hi sameer,
    You are doing a great job, these informations are very helpful for all of us who are trying their best to shine in the literary field. And my querry is whether the novel manuscript should be submitted to only one publisher at a time or it could be to many?.. will you please elaborate how the agreements and contracts are done?

  15. Hi Sameer,
    This is a long one but I have been keeping it in for long.
    I have been sifting through your informative posts, link after link, and I am back to the word count post. Well… To begin with, I have completed my first novel about 2 years ago, which comes under contemporary romance, women’s fiction and family and relationship fiction. That’s a broad classification as I am kind of specific about all that it concerns. However, how can I classify the genre when it is a bit of all these?

    I have queried most publishers and agencies around 2 years back except a few, and of course got rejected. And I knew the reason. It was like 250K words long. I know it was naive and stupid of me to think it would even be noticed, despite all my research into publishing, but I had no idea how long that really is. Lol. Laughable really. And after the rejections, I knew why. It was the giant word count that would make my book as big as ‘Gone With the Wind’.

    A lesser possible reason is my writing style which is less like the cliched Indian English love stories that are plagueing the popular market now, with sentences for titles. And the setting of the novel in Goa with characters with a touch of western lifestyles and names. Like I am not that comfortable with Indian names. It might surprise some to know that my heroine is named Selena, my hero is named Noah etc. It is my freedom to choose but not without apprehension about the cultural market.

    And I started killing my darlings a year back. In the midst of major life changes like medical internship, marriage, motherhood and all that, after more than a year, I reached the epilogue. I have brought down the giant word count of 250K to 175k just last night.. Which is, sadly, STILL huge. But if i could do away enough to shrink it down to this, I can easily do another 25K because by the end of editing 44 chapters, I have become a better editor and writer and the first chapter already seems poorly done to me now. And yes, the next revision is gonna begin. I guess you already understood why my book was rejected.

    But.. I know this story can’t be cut down too much. Because of the need to be long enough to say a story of 10 to 15 years. In such a situation, will the pace and plot stand up for a debut of 150K word in this concerned genre / genres? That is an estimate I am imagining after the next round of editing. But I am kind of lost right now. Apologies for the long comment. And thanks in advance since you took the time to read all along. 🙂

  16. @Purnima: If you can handle a lot of rejections along the way, no harm in trying.

    @Sourajit: Thanks for sharing your views. Muchas gracias!

    @Madhukumar: You can (and should) submit it to multiple publishers.
    Contracts is a completely different topic that can’t be summarised in a short comment. The short answer is – it’ll be sent to you by the publisher with standard clauses. You review, challenge clauses you don’t agree with and then sign.

    @Sana: I’ve written a book (Business Doctors) with international characters, so I hear you. About the length, if you think you can’t bring it down further, why not present it as a series? Each book would be shorter and within the range publishers prefer.

  17. Thank you for the suggestion, Sameer. 🙂 I did think of a series, but it is a stand alone book. I guess I just have to do more weeding. I am pretty sure it will help. I will update how short I get it after the next edit. And definitely gonna check out your book. If it is not at all an issue to have characters without cultural borders, I know where my babies belong. 🙂

  18. Hi Samir,
    You are doing a wonderful job by helping all us a lot. I am too writing a novel and is about to complete, but the main problem is that my english is not the that good for the level of novel. So what should i do, i dont want to get my book publish with annoying literature, so what should i do, should i prefer a proof reader or there is any alternative. please guide me the possible way.

  19. Hi Sameer,
    You are an eye opener. No doubt there. Although I am very much confident of my work as comparable to any of the leading authors, I’m also very well aware now that getting my novel published is not going to be that easy as many aspects need to favor me along with an extra dosage of luck and the almighty’s blessings, where I might be lacking ground.
    I need you to kindly review a few chapters of mine to see if I’m what I’m pronouncing myself to be. Surely I could use a little encouragement from a pro.
    Would you help me?

  20. Dear Sameer,
    I am a freelance short story writer for children. Do book publishers(school text book publishers) accept short stories of about 500—600 word count? Is there any publishing house that accepts these?
    Gayathri Krishnan

  21. Hello Sir,

    I have been following your blog and regard your comments and blog highly !
    I have written a novel around 90000 words, Genre : Fiction, Love Story. It’s still pretty much and i don’t understand how can i trim the chapters as it will eventually loose its content ! Do you have idea much words count does conventional Indian fictional love stories have ? around 60-65K as i hear.
    I am approaching for a self publishing and with the numbers of word count it might become a problem while i price the book as the number of pages will be more. Though i don’t have relevant knowledge i am still searching.
    Please suggest/reply regarding the same.

    • Sir,
      I think your word count it just perfect. But if the publishers are not accepting that, then get your hands on what you truly want to say. Is it really worth that much words? Even if it is a yes, try to weave two scenes into one, and then make it narrative. I hope that’ll get a few thousands words down.

      In my sense, 80,000 words are eligible standard for your genre.
      Thumbs up!! 🙂 <3

  22. hello sameer, I m grateful for you guidance. i would like to know how to get d raw script reviewed before sending to any publisher

  23. I am inclined to explore the self publishing option for a book on Management practices, aimed at Senior Managers. What, do you reckon, are the pros and cons of this proposal?

  24. Hi Sameer,
    I just read a lot up there, I do have some questions.
    I have a lot of things ready to be published in English and Hindi both…and some are still going on. Maybe one or two would be short stories, rest all article kind of things, eye openers, and some other misc. things. I am simply fond of writing just anything as I keep noting down whatever comes to mind. my writings have been appreciated by friends and yes, also by a literary person in the neighborhood.
    Please suggest how I should start. Should I be my own publisher or attach my writings with someone?
    Please help as I am desperate to have my work published.
    thank you

    • Hi, Monika.
      The phase you are in, as described by you, can be called the scribbling phase. It’s the same as when I was in ninth class years ago, and was so desperate to be an author that I even dreamed myself signing novels for fans in a long queue, with my eyes open, and it used to be as real in my psyche.
      As I can see, you write your mind which has lots of ideas than your peers. ’cause you are an author!
      To be honest, writing is in reality a lonely job. You learn by yourself, you think all of the ideas by yourself, and then there’s no one to “vibe” for you if your idea is worth a shot or not. That is just your gut feeling with a small sense of eye over the market, which later becomes your experience. So, begin wherever you feel the road smooth, and start practicing. Honesty, I didn’t join college after twelfth just to dig my art for a year! Was it against my parents will? Yes.

      Although, I might not be eligible enough for giving you any advice. The best piece of suggestion that I can give you is go slow and steady, as is the classic adage. Trust me I have learned it my whole life. Let the panic to get published boil inside you, and start getting better everyday. And please be specific over one language, because you’ve to treat literature as art. It is in fact art. So, treat it like one. And then, make a list of prompts (which you can search on the internet) and then practice the juices of this art up to maximum exploitation of your mind. You’ll get bored, you will want to give up sometimes, but before that write down why you want to be an author. Is it in you? Yes! You are an artist, never lose what you truly are.

      Try everything, alone and with some writing-buddy, if you can find one (which I still today haven’t been able to find). Exploit the art within you before the real action. You’ll find what works for you. Just go for it. Writing world is counting on you, as on me. (I am, too, standing where you are today: writing the first draft of my first novel)
      All The Best!!

  25. Hi Sameer,

    Need your suggestion on grammer & Vocab, is it fine if while narrating the story to use the simple English or we need to use some hardcore vocab words only..

    Please suggest i am about the start on my concept…

    • Hi, Rahul.
      Without being offensive, I think you still have not started to treat reading as your meal. What you want to start is literature. So, please get your hands in learning the language up to the creative extent, since years later you will be treated as a master of this “language and literature”.

      You know what, I was so stupid at the start that once I thought I’d write in Hindi, then translate into English before completion. Which is truly the worst thing that ever came to my mind. I was twelve years old then.
      You have a lot of life left in you. Start by learning, then go for the writing part. The road is curve, so it is not easy to be tamed. But not hard too, if you learn in a better way with the truth in your determination for the craft.

      All eyes waiting on you!! 🙂

  26. Nice article, thank you!

    How good an idea is it (from publishing point of view) to combine two novelettes or novellas so as to make it roughly the length of a novel?

  27. Hi Sameer.
    I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and it really helped me understand the publishing process in India so Thanks a lot! I’m an NRI who wants to be published in India. I’ve previously self-published a short stories novella on amazon, but I wanted to try the traditional route and to be honest, it is not easy, plus the time we need to wait to just get a single response from the agent/publisher only to be turned down. so, I’m curious, is it possible we can self-publish a contemporary romance book based in India on kindle and how exactly do we market it?
    I would really appreciate your thoughts on it and if there is a good self-publishing platform in India that helps evaluate work. Will look forward to your response 🙂


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