I see the topic of book length come up quite frequently in writers’ circles. What’s too long? What’s too short? How big should a scene or chapter be? The advice tossed around can be very confusing because, well, quite simply, there is no one right answer. Books are as long as the story, and stories in different genres will have differing expectations. In addition, publishers tend to have their own labeling criteria for length. One publishers novel might be another’s novella.
I’m so helpful, aren’t I?
The good news is that it’s not about the length of the book so much as what you want to do with it. There are markets for word counts in the hundreds and for counts over a hundred thousand. So how do you know what’s marketable where?
The first thing to do is take the time to look over publisher websites, especially those of publishers you’d like to target. If the publisher is open to non-agented submissions they will have submission guidelines that lay out word count ranges.
Digital first publishers are usually open to shorter works than print houses and will often accept short stories as short as seven thousand words and novellas. Fifty thousand words is a starting point for category, but the base word count varies depending on publisher and line, and whether it’s digital or print. While there are houses that will take one hundred and twenty-five thousand words, for a first time romance author, a hundred thousand words is likely the top average of marketability.
Another thing to consider is that there is some flex to these guidelines. While you should always do your best to stay within the posted word counts, all is not lost if your book is a smidge under or over. You don’t want to stray too far from what’s requested, but close to target is viable and it may be brought within the guideline with editing.
How long a book is depends on what you want to make of that book. You can mold it to fit guidelines or you can search out a publisher that takes what you’ve written. Either way, do your research and learn what fits where, and produce the best book you can at any length.