How Many Words?

You’ve got your rough draft done!  You’ve done your happy dance but freeze as you suddenly realize it’s only…. You fill in the number of words…. 40,000, 150,000, or 3,813 words long.  Is this a novel?  Is it too long?  Too short?  What length should a novel or novella or novelette or short story be? 

According to Wikipedia and other sources here’s typical word count:

  • Short story – under 7,500
  • Novelette – 7,500 to 17,499
  • Novella – 17,500 to 39,999
  • Novel – 40,000 and up

Other sources included a sub heading for flash fiction being under 1,000 (or 1,200 or 1,500). 

Writer’s Digest categorizes them as follows:

  • Short story – 1,500 to 30,000
  • Novella – 30,000 to 50,000
  • Novel – 55,000 to 300,000

(What happens if your writing is between 50K and 55K?  Apparently it falls into no novel’s land?)

IAPWE (lots of letters for International Association of Professional Writers & Editors) states “There’s no universal standard for the different classifications.”  Their suggested word counts match Wikipedia. 

Take a deep breath and relax.  It’s a rough draft, you don’t have a final word count.  Believe me when I tell you this is the start – and only the start – of what your final will look like.

Here’s an article which breaks down by genre the typical length.

Things to consider:

If you’ve written 10,000 words and wanted a novel, you’re not done.  You’ve gotten through the first act (if this were a play).  You need to ask yourself – is there more to the story?  Are their places I can expand while improving the story?  You definitely don’t want to just add filler.  Don’t ever just start adding adjectives to increase the word count.  Your blue plush sofa shouldn’t suddenly be a blue plush three seated sofa.  Empty filler loses readers and gets you bad reviews. So can you add more without it being empty filler?  Or is this it? 

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images on Pixabay 

There’s nothing wrong with 10K being a damn good 10K story.  If this is it, congratulations you’ve got a rough draft for a short story.  You are ready for the next step. 

If there is more, get a snack and wade back in.  Your characters have more to whisper in your ear about their story. 

What genre are you writing in?  IAPWE suggests looking for organizations which represent your genre and see what they recommend for word length.  Scifi tends to be longer – over 100K while romance is more likely to be shorter – 50K to 100K. 

It never hurts to do research.  Research the publishers who are prominent in the genre you’re writing in.  Look for their submission guidelines.  Be aware – just because your novel is in their word count guidelines there’s no guarantee you’ll get published.  But their requirements can give you a goal to strive for. 

If you’ve written a romance that is 125K words long, you many need to cut scenes.  No you won’t actually bleed to death if you cut scenes – it will only feel like it.

Does this mean a scifi novel can’t be 60K long?  Nope.  But if you try submitting to a traditional publisher, they are likely to reject it out of hand.  If you self-publish, readers may not be willing to pay as much. These are not key at this stage but they are things to think about as you move forward.

Obviously the key is to get a good story written.  The rough draft is the starting point it is not your ending point.  You have LOTS of steps to work through before you’re done. 

If you have a writing question you want answered or discussed, use the contact form to let me know.

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