Many writers, particularly those new at the craft, often ask about typical word counts for short stories, novels, and novellas.
The answer is that guidelines are all over the place, depending upon whose recommendation you have come upon. Not only are there guidelines for literary categories, but in many cases for genres. That said, be sure to check submission guidelines of the particular publisher or publication:
Short Stories– I’ve seen articles that place word counts anywhere from 500 to 30,000 words. In my opinion that is too wide of a range, so let’s take a look at the most popular ranges.
- Short-short stories generally range from 500-2,000 words. Lately these guidelines have also been applied to flash fiction.
- This crosses with the guidelines for many short story submissions which often fall between 1,000 and 7,500 words. That is not the “end-all be-all” standard as some contests, anthologies and magazines extend the category to as high as 15,000. I have rarely seen 30,000 as a maximum, although that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.
Novelettes– Years ago there was a category called novelettes which ranged from 7,500 to 15,000 words. As acceptable short story lengths grew, that has pretty much disappeared. However, you occasionally see a publication called a novelette with word counts from 7,500 to 17,500.
Novellas – Novellas which were very popular in the first half of the twentieth century are experiencing resurgence, perhaps due to the popularity of Print On Demand and eBooks. These generally range from 17,500 to 40,000 words. As the names suggests, they are little novels, and some publishers are actively looking for novellas.
Novels– Basically anything over 40,000 words, and that’s where guidelines really get crazy. Let’s start with what some consider a standard length of commercial fiction and genre novels—100,000 words. Literary fiction can go as high as 150,000 words and at top range is fantasy at epic proportions of up to 200,000 in just one book in a series.
Now let’s take another look at other genres that tend to have standard word counts at a much lower number. Some young adult novels have as few as 16,000 words, typical mystery novels about 60,000 to 80,000 with thrillers reaching 100,000 or slightly more.
Novels are often rejected because they are too long or too short. Manuscripts of between 70,000 and 100,000 words, depending upon the genre, are easier for the agent or author to pitch. This is a maximum of about 300 double spaced pages in Times New Roman 12 pt. type.
Word counts will change as progressive drafts are edited. Don’t agonize over a few extra words or not quite making the 70,000. However, if you are way off and the count is too high, go through the manuscript again to see if there is still dead weight—passages that go nowhere, lead the reader away from the action or are not missed if cut. If you have the other problem, not enough words, analyze areas that can be expanded with more detail or dialogue. Don’t fall victim to laundry lists, but scenes can frequently be fleshed out to come alive.
For more information about Morgan St. James, visit www.morganstjames-author.com, www.silversistersmysteries.com, http://writerstricksofthetrade.blogspot.com and http://morgan-stjames.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Her Spotlight column appears in the Las Vegas edition on Tuesday and in Los Angeles on Wednesday. For those interested in writing, read her Writers’ Tricks of the Trade column on Thursday in Las Vegas and Friday in Los Angeles editions.