The Business and Craft of Writing: Expectations for Book Lengths and a Bit on Genres

I finished writing my first book when I was 14. I was so proud of that thing. I had hand-written 150 pages of fantasy. And a 150-page book isn’t the shortest book out there, especially for a middle-schooler.

Here’s the thing that I didn’t know then: there are certain expectations about book lengths and genres that are a decent indicator of whether or not a writer is a beginner.* And everything about my story screamed NEWBIE.

First thing you should know: when you’re writing a book, most people in the publishing industry go by word count. Page count is often inaccurate because there are so many variables (including font size, font type, spacing, and even what version of Word you’re using) that affect what each individual is actually seeing. But I could do an entire post on formatting.** In fact, I will do a post on formatting in the future.

Second, there are so many different genres you could be writing in, and those affect word counts. Usually when I say genre, I’m referring to where on the bookshelf would someone who’s selling the book place each book. Unfortunately, there are several different definitions of genre, which makes it very confusing. For example, there’s nonfiction, general fiction, genre fiction (which is romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.), children’s books (which even that entails more than you’d think), and on and on and on.

A novel is what most people think of when they think “book.” A novel can be anywhere from 40,000 words on up. 110K-120K is typically the safest high-end word count a novel can reach before people get antsy about the length. If you’re writing for children, those numbers are lower.

For adults, here’s a guideline that can at least get you started.

Short Story: 0-7,500

Novelette: 7,500-15,000

Novella: 15,000-40,000

Novel: 40,000+

A book like the one I wrote is considered middle grade fantasy or MG for short. Excluding the two missing pages, which I’ll generously guesstimate totaled 1000 words, that story is 26,000 words long.

Middle grade books are typically for kids 8-12 years old and are approx. 20,000 to 40,000 words long. Technically, yes, my book was in the correct MG word count range, but since it’s a fantasy, it’d get a few side-eyes from agents just on the length along. (Fantasy books for any age are generally longer since you need more words for adequate world-building.)

This article on Writer’s Digest gives a better breakdown of acceptable word counts per genre and age group.

*Like anything and everything with writing, there are definitely exceptions. Some best-selling books are shorter than the norm and others are waaaaay longer. (I’m looking at you, Branderson.)

**Design and layout is one of my other true loves.

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