Word Count. It’s one of the many phrases I have researched over the last few months. Why? Because word count does matter when you are determining whether your work is considered a novel, a novella or a short story.
The following appears to be the generally accepted benchmarks for different levels of works of fiction:
- Short fiction: under 7,500 words
- Novelette: 7,500-17,500 words
- Novella: 17,500-40,000 words
- Novel: 40,000 words and up
This is where things can get confusing. In the article, “Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post” author Chuck Sambuchino states 80,000 to 89,999 words should be your target word count in literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror genres. For Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels, 100,000 to 115,000 words and YA, 55,000 to 79,999 words. That was just a brief overview of some of the information found in the article. Check it out at the link above to read more about Sambuchino’s recommendations.
So, why such a big discrepancy between the generally accepted benchmarks and the recommended lengths? Publishing contracts.
Yes, at 40,000 words, you can generally call your work a novel. (Though I have seen 55,000 as the benchmark in other places.) What Sambuchino is discussing in his article is whether that novel has a chance at landing you an agent and a publishing contract. He is discussing the industry standards.
As you can tell, I spent a lot of time looking into this. When I wrote “Finding Evelyn”, I didn’t think I would ever publish it. Not really. I wrote it for me. As I started working on “Reconstructing Evelyn”, I did start paying attention. Then, I admittedly started obsessing about it. Until the other day, when I realized, the industry standards don’t really apply to me right now.
Because I published through Amazon, the chances of me landing an agent or traditional publishing contract with “Finding Evelyn” are nearly non-existent. At least, that is what I have gathered from research to this point. Yes, there have been exceptions, but generally, I killed any chance the moment I put it out for sale.
The thing is, I’m really okay with that. I made the choice to continue with the indie author route and publish through channels like Amazon. Why? Because, beyond actually writing the novel, the rest is just business. And business I understand. I don’t understand this particular business, yet. But then again, I didn’t understand the video store business when I first took it over and I didn’t understand the online news media business when I launched it. But, I learned.
It’s one of the reasons I spent the last month building my platform framework, instead of writing. And why I have been doing so much research. Does that mean I’m not interested in a traditional publishing contract? No. Of course not. But, at this time, I’m also not necessarily bound by industry standards, either.
Which word count you focus on is going to depend on your ultimate goal. I decided to stop worrying about the industry standard and focus on the story. The beauty of being an indie author is I can set my own price, for the most part. So, if my novel is shorter than the industry standard, I can easily adjust the price accordingly, so readers don’t feel cheated.
I’m not saying the industry standard isn’t something to shoot for, but I also think, too often, novels are padded to hit that word count. More than once I have skipped multiple pages in a traditionally published novel because the author just kept rambling about things that didn’t really move the story forward. I distinctly remember skipping something like 10 pages of one well-known published author’s work and missing nothing. (I know I missed nothing because after I finished the book, I felt guilty and went back and read it.) You also have to be careful, however, that you actually do include enough information to fill out the story for the reader. I’ll admit, a 40,000 words novel seems kind of short to me and I would guess the author’s probably missing some key scenes in his or her story.
Or maybe not. Who knows.
My recommendation: Just write. Worry about the word count later.