Word Count: The Non-Rule Rule



by Samantha Fenton


When people talk about how long the word count of a novel should be, they say, “there really is no rule….” But, then they go off talking about some “guidelines” of the “right length” of a novel.

“There’s really no set rule, but you shouldn’t go below insert word count or above insert word count.”

So here’s my question: How long or short can a novel be?

A lot of writers overwrite, so they spend most of their editing process cutting out scenes and trimming. I have the opposite problem, I underwrite. That means the whole of my editing phase is spend trying to find new subplots to put in and which scenes to expand or show. The problem with both of these issues, is how to know when to stop. When do you stop trimming, when do you stop expanding?

I’ve found this little chart on the internet referring to the “right” word count of a novel:

80,000 – 89,999:       Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999:       Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999:       Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999:   Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000:            Too short
110,000 or above       Too long

It would seem this makes sense, until you go on to research how long a novel should be according to its genre. Apparently, a middle grade novel is good at 20,000 – 35,000 words, and a young adult can be as low a 75,000 words. Which also makes sense, as many younger kids aren’t going to be reading an 110,000 word epic novel. So, the end answer is “it depends.”

Yeah, okay, real helpful.  

The truth is, there is only so much manipulating you can do to a book to show the word count you want it to. Some books are simply not long enough to be a novel, some are too long and need to be broken up. But, again, the problem comes in, on how long is too long and how short is too short.

Here’s some food for thought, “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton is only around 48,000 words. That’s a good, solid novel, too. My rule for word count, is based on how long it takes me to read the book, and if the book feels long enough to be a novel in my hands. This means, that if you can somehow get a book to be at least two hundred pages, I’ll think of it as a novel because it feels like one. As for how long it takes me to read it, if I decide to read the whole book in one sitting, it should take me at least two or three hours. Otherwise, if I pick up the book fairly regularly to read, it should take me a number of days.

So in the end, for me, if a book feels like a novel, and reads like a novel, I’ll consider it a novel.





Guest post contributed by Samantha Fenton. Samantha lives in Ridgefield, Washington on a beautiful ten acres filled with many beloved pets. Samantha is currently striving to traditionally publish, as well as enjoying her passion for golf. 

25 thoughts on “Word Count: The Non-Rule Rule

  1. A lot of word length has been influenced or is the direct result of the publishing industry—pages cost money to produce. The trick is to find a publisher who isn’t so focused on word count, and values the strength of the story.

    I’ve written a tome (over 291K words), and it was well received. Word length depends on what the story requires. If it takes as little as 50K words or as much as 112K words to tie up/resolve all conflicts, so be it. The value of the story is what counts at the end of the day.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. This. You’ve got it down here. I’m betting that as ebooks and self-publishing get more popular, word count will matter less.

      Of course, I think the publisher’s guidelines are also generally good to follow, and a big word count can be a problem. Maybe we DON’T need to follow the side story of the elf fairy that was mentioned off the cuff in the background during an epic battle for 75 pages and how his life was affected. The author might care, but the rest of us? Probably not.

      I go by my own rule of telling a the whole story in the fewest words I can. And that usually involves writing a bloated draft and cutting out half of it or tightening it to the more important parts.

      Still, if the story takes 250,000 words and it’s all done well, then please, I hope the author doesn’t cut it down to fit some arbitrary word count. Or they can make it two books so we can buy it twice. :-p

      Liked by 3 people

  2. So, 134,055 are too many words for Book II of a high fantasy epic trilogy that requires an appendix full of names as a who’s who in Xlandia? Or should I just write a good story that keeps audiences interested and not worry about how many words are in it until editing time rolls around when chances are things might change as stories often do and I think should when some things become rather superfluous? I’m only asking that because my concern has always been pages rather than word count and if I worry about word count (like I did in school) I find myself having fewer words than I need and worry less about the quality of words that I’m writing. I ask this because they both affect each other and my work is mostly about am I getting my point across. In Hollywood, they always told screewriters to keep it 120. I asked Randall Wallace (BraveHeart) how can I keep to 120 pages when I know my story needs more but producers won’t read over 120 pages. He said to me to just write the story. If it’s good, pages don’t matter; if they want it, they’ll take it. I had a lit agent love a script but thought I killed off too many people. Being a history, you really can’t change who gets to live or die. So I told her if they can find anywhere in the script I can make that change without changing the history I’d do it. I never heard a word and this was a 190 page script with offers. I do understand limits on synopses–I suck at that but I actually practice that when I can. But if writers worry too much on how many pages a person reads or how many words aomething is when will I have time to think about the story? If that was the case for all books, no one would have read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings (big book version). Much less Game of Thrones, Pillars of the Earth, Twilight, or Harry Potter. I hope that didn’t sound judgmental. I love this blog and always get the greatest advice and save them all to reference later and share with other writers I know. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think max length really, totally depends on the story. Though I also think it IS fairly easy to figure out at what point a book STARTS being a novel. That seems to be around 40,000 to 50,000 words.

    Epic fantasy and much sci-fi generally requires a lot more words, on the order of 110,000+ and possibly even more, largely because it has to convey the entire world as well. A lot of literary fiction is also pretty hefty in the word count, possibly for the same reason. Massive amounts of scenery building, reflection, and deep interaction.

    An action novel, on the other hand, especially one set on Earth, which we all already know, can communicate scenery necessities with a few broad strokes. Characters aren’t expected to spend much time in deep philosophical reflection, and problems may require nothing more than a few shots from a gun to the right person. This allows them to be much slimmer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me too! (or three!) I have always written concisely and then go back to fill in descriptions, scene setting, details, etc. Personally I think it makes it more fast-moving, so it’s great if you’re writing action scenes.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. As a reader, I’m less likely to read a very short book than I am a very long one. I think it’s due to both the hours I know I’ll spend reading a book and the fact that longer novels usually devote more time to their characters. I want to spend long hours with likeable characters, which is why I don’t often start reading slim books.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I was always taught that a story takes as many words as the story takes to write. That said, I’ve written tight short fiction fully plotted with as few as 100words, and an epic adventure series that expanded to 38 volumes each with 495-550 pages. So, I do agree that there is flexibility. I saw your note that most kids won’t read thick books…I was not ‘most’ kids. I read the globe annotated Shakespeare in first grade, and spent winter break in seventh reading “At Dawn We Slept”. I always went for the thickest, oldest books I could find. I like words, what can I say…. 🙂 Love your blog!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. “So in the end, for me, if a book feels like a novel, and reads like a novel, I’ll consider it a novel” Agreed! Every time I bought a novel, I avoid the thick one, but then I found one very interesting resume from the novel then I bought. The next thing I knew I finished those damn long thick novel. So your statement it’s so true! 🙂


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