Writing Fiction – How Long Should a Novel Be

Most fiction writers know that the best way include the vital content into their work is to forget the ‘word count,’ ignore the number of pages, and simply write until the story is whole or complete. However, fiction must also be marketable and even if the writer feels that they need 150,000 words to tell the story, the publisher may have a different idea. For this reason, a writer must be adaptable in order to make the necessary adjustments to their work in order to see it published.

According to Gloria Delamar of Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, most publishers print 250-300 words per page or 10-12 characters per centimeter,.This is a good rule for writers to figure out how many potential pages they have since not all word processors use the same font and size.

Length Guidelines for Shorter Fiction

Though submission requirements vary depending on the publisher or whether the piece will be placed in a magazine such as the Paris Review or Missouri Review or whether it will appear in something less geared for short fiction such as Harpers or the New Yorker, there is a general guideline for which the writer can look at average length.

Writing Fiction

Lee Masterson in his article How Long Should Your Story Be

Flash-Fiction– which is typically used in magazines to fill a page or two, should be 100-1,000 words.

Short Story– the type that would appear in a literary magazine or the New Yorker should run anywhere from 1,000-7,500 words.

Novellettes– which are often too short to be published as a book and too long for a magazine, therefore many authors with combine three or four pieces into an anthology, usually are 7,500-20,000 words.

Average Length of Longer Fiction

Publishers also differ on what they will accept when it comes to longer fiction, but any piece of long fiction should be publishable as a single piece (or at most, two novellas could be combined to create a novel length publication). Though Masterson separates Novella length fiction from Novel length, Delamar places anything over 25,000 words into the category of Novel. Either approach is fine, but separating the two may help when thinking about and developing a story.

Novellas– are typically difficult to publish for the same reasons as a Novellette, but a longer Novella can be suitable for publishing as its own book depending on the needs and desires of the publisher. They are usually 20,000-50,000.

Novels– have an incredibly wide range, from 25,000-150,000 words according to Delamar, or from 50,000-110,000 words according to Masterson. Something to consider when writing a novel, however, is that most publishers will prefer 70,000-100,000 words, especially for new writers. The reason for this is that anything below 70,000 may be too short to attract readers who want to get the most for their money, and 100,000 may be too expensive for the publisher to take a risk on since they are not certain that the book will sell.

Yet, whether it is short or long fiction, the most important thing for the writer to remember is that a good story should not suffer in an attempt to make a Novellette into a Novel, or vice versa. Keep in mind the length that many publishers desire, and plan the story accordingly. But most of all, remember the words of the literary critic and writer Cyril Connolly, “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”