It seems many writers start writing a book without knowing how long it should be. Often they end up with a length that lacks marketability, can’t be economically produced, or will require substantial edits to make it the right size. It may be too long; it may be too short. Both problems take time to fix – if they can be fixed at all.
A friend recently finished writing her “book.” It was 8,500 words, she said with a smile; she hoped that would be okay. She was dismayed to learn it wasn’t even close. It even fell short of common length expectations for a novella. Most would call her book a short story.
Of course everyone can point out exceptions to “standard” book lengths. But invariably these come from established authors who have name recognition. New authors seldom receive such latitude.
When pitching my book at a writers conference, one industry person said my length was perfect, while another wanted it 20,000 words longer, and a third said it should have at least 25,000 more words. That’s a huge difference.
There is no universal answer for the ideal book length, but there are some generalities. To avoid wasting time and effort, we need to be close to industry expectations when we write. Here are some ways to find out how long your book should be:
- If you have an agent or publisher, start there. What they say, goes.
- Ask people in the book publishing industry who know.
- Go to a library or bookstore and look at the length of books similar to yours. (A rough average is 300 words per page.)
- Search online (like I did) and find a lot of conflicting information, but at least it’s a place to start.Know how long your book should be before you start writing. Click To Tweet
The main thing is don’t waste time writing a book that is way too short or too long for anyone to ever publish it. The closer our book is to our publisher’s expectations, the easier it is to tweak to meet their requirements.
Have you ever written something that was the wrong length? How are you at editing something to hit a word count? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!