by Victor Salinas
Every writer, at some point in time, is bound to ask themselves: How long should a book be?
As a novelist you want to make sure the length is right. Too short and your readers will be severely disappointed. Too long and you risk boring them.
In order to help you find the right length for your novel, consider the following questions.
What is the Genre of Your Book?
Different genres typically have different book lengths.
If you’re writing a fantasy or sci-fi novel, your book will be much longer. This is because your readers will need more exposure to your fictional world in order to better understand it. (And honestly, it’s what readers of those genres expect!)
Fantasy and sci-fi novels might clock in around 400 to 800 pages. Some even larger than that! The Lord of the Rings is almost 1,200 pages! (And yes, we are counting all three parts as a single volume. Just like Tolkien intended.)
Historical or contemporary fiction usually require a much shorter book. Since your readers will already be familiar with the setting (i.e the real world), you will spend less time describing the world to them and more time on just the bare bones of the story itself.
These types of books can get away with just 200 to 400 pages. Many are novellas with just 100 to 200 pages.
Mystery, crime, horror, and romance can vary widely. If these types of novels are set in the real world, they will tend to have lengths similar to those of historical or literary fiction (200 to 400 pages). If these novels are set in a fantasy or sci-fi setting, they will be longer (400 to 800 pages, most times).
Who is the Target Audience?
It’s cliché to think that older readers want (or will tolerate) a longer book and that younger readers need a shorter book.
There are plenty of examples to counter this.
The later Harry Potter books are downright massive. (The Half Blood Prince clocks in at 652 pages.) And many adult novels are quite slim. (Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is just 288 pages).
The best way to help gauge adequate book length is to research other books with the same target audience.
Does your book appeal to people who also like A Song of Ice and Fire? If so, it might serve you well to make your book over 600 pages.
Do your homework and see what your readers like.
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What is the Pacing of Your Writing?
No writer should compromise his or her art (at least, compromise it too far).
Every author has their own style. And part of that style is pacing. Some books move very quickly. Others take a lot of time to build up.
Use your own pacing and style to help determine how long your book should be. If you’re slow and methodical about building up your plot, your book should be longer. If you like quick, gritty action, it will be shorter.
While there is no page recommendation with these differing styles, use common sense. You might add or subtract up to 50% to the typical page count for your genre and target audience based on your pacing and style.
Then again, you may not add or subtract anything. It’s all about you.
How Much Can You Do Without?
With any discussion of book length, it’s very important to point out the concept of brevity.
A book should be as long as it needs to be. And not a single word longer. Any extra fluff or filler should be eliminated.
While we’re not an enemy of longer books, it’s wise to keep things nice and trim. Readers tend to get bored with a long book faster than disappointed with a short book. To keep the plot moving nicely, unneeded scenes and characterization should be removed.
Think of your novel like a movie. You have to cut the bad takes and cut the scenes that go nowhere.
It’s better to have a book that’s a little too short than a little too long. You can always write a sequel. (And in fact, your readers will demand one!)
How Long Should Your Book Be?
With all of these considerations in mind, you should now be well-equipped to answer this question.
Most of it comes down to two things: research and personal style.
Look up books already out there targeted for your genre and audience. What length of book do they seem to like? Set your sights there.
And as you write, use your own personal style and pacing to help guide you. If your style is quick and direct, your target page count will be shaved down. If your style includes lots of characterization and plotting, your target page count will rise.
Always remember: a book should be as long as it needs to be, and not a single word longer.
Err on the side of a lower page count. Save the extra material for the sequel!
Victor Salinas is a long-time fan of many fantasy and sci-fi series including the Lord of the Rings, Dune, and Star Wars (his all-time favorite; he dares you to test his knowledge!). He currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area. with his wife, cat Dorado, and giant collection of nerd memorabilia.
Go google popular novel length, you’ll be amazed at how long some of the greats are, or rather, how short they are. And pages? Page counts are relative. Word count is the metric we need to consider.
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I think it’s not always informative just looking at what’s being published right now. Established authors have all kinds of leeway, and using their work as a metric may lead you astray. If you’re an unpublished writer going the trad publishing route, you have to consider that publishers may not want to risk publishing a long novel- so a shorter (90K) book will look more appealing.
If you want to self publish, then books may be as long or short as you like. But there are considerations around that too.
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I never consider length when I write a novel (shock, horror!). I’ve always let the story determine the length. I think pre-determining the length of a novel is counter to the creative process, a bit like a composer deciding how much time his/her symphony will take to play before setting down a note on paper. I know this attitude goes against the commercial ‘advice’, which I see as a form of dictatorship. I’ve published, through a small independent publisher, novels from 26,000 to a trilogy where each volume exceeds 200,000 words. Let the story decide on its own length, for me.
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I agree with stuartaken. Your book should and will be the length for you to tell the story! My Young Adult series are short and leave a hook at the end. I also like a “happily ever after” approach with a little kicker.
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