You might believe the title of this post to be a somewhat stupid question. Indeed I think most people have a sort of vague idea, in terms of actual book size (or how many inches thick) how long any of the above should be but how many of us know the figures used by publishers to determine which is which?
I know I didn’t. So when I stumbled across a list of just those things, like the good little blogger I am, I want to share.
Apparently, a Short Story can be anywhere between 1,000 and 7,500 words. These are the types that can be found in anthology collections, periodicals or genre zines. All look for work around this length.
A Novelette therefore, is between 7,500 and 20,000 words. More often than not, work of this size can be difficult to sell to publishers being too long to insert comfortably into a magazine, yet too short to be a novel in its own right. The best way forward is to compile three of four works of this length and put them forward as a compilation novel.
Now, a Novella ranges from 20,000 to 50,000 words. Most traditional publishers will shy away from publishing work of this length but it is ideal for the e-book market. The online reader tends to squeeze a little reading into a busy day, they have little patience to sit through a 100,000 word novel. On the other hand, if you are a non-fiction writer, work of this length can be entirely acceptable.
The Novel of course sits between 50,000 and 110,000 words long, though most publishers prefer a minimum of around 70,000 words for a first novel – some even hesitate if the piece is shorter than 80,000 words! At the other end of the scale, editors tend to balk at piece of work longer than 110,000 words, because all the while they are considering profit and costs. They need to be sure they can produce a book that looks exciting enough to readers without over-extending their budget.
Finally, Epics & Sequels are usually over 110,000 words. So if you write a novel that is far over the 110,000 word mark you have a few options available to you. You could attempt to condense the work down to a more saleable size of course but if you can’t do that without crushing the story it may be time to consider lengthening the novel to create a sequel, perhaps even a trilogy if the story has the legs. These things needs to be considered, unless of course you are Stephen King, then you can do what you want more or less but for us lowly unheard of writers the above info can be very handy.
Remember though, this is just an estimated guide – all publishers are different. Use a bit of common sense and if it is possible check the guidelines of the publication you intend to submit your work too. Most presses and publishers have websites. Publishers accepting shorter works for instance will specify maximum lengths more often than not and novels are considered according to the strength of the story not how many words you have crammed in so don’t follow religiously or crush your work if you can help it!
I hope you might find this as useful as I do.