Getting inspired with a plot is wonderful, outlining is fun, beginning is exciting, but one thing that’s important to know before you get too far into the writing process is how long should your novel be? While of course some rules are just begging to be broken, you might find these guidelines helpful to know.
Let’s break it down.
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How Long Should My Book Be?
Children’s Picture Books
Think of the attention span of a toddler: they’re not exactly known for their abilities to sit still for long periods of time, right? Your picture book needs to be:
- Able to read aloud from cover to cover in five minutes or less
- Have no more than two or three sentences per page
- Be between 25-50 pages long
While seemingly the simplest to write, these few words will have its author scrambling to only use the best. Less really is more when it comes to writing a children’s picture book.
I Can Read Type Books
There’s a niche right in between children’s picture books and chapter books, and maybe that’s where your book fits.
For kids who are sounding out their words and beginning to read, you have to A) not overwhelm them, and B) keep it exciting and/or interesting. For easy-readers, your book should have:
- 5-20 short sentences per page
- 40-60 pages per book
Beginner readers need kudos for the hard work they’re doing, sounding out your carefully placed words. Consider adding plenty of humor to reward them and keep them coming back for more.
Early Chapter Books
For children who are really reading on their own, they need their own genre too. Beginning chapter books should have:
- approximately 60-80 words per page
- 70-130 pages
- have short (3-6 pages) chapters
Remember, they’re still youngsters at this age, so don’t forget to have some illustrations.
Middle Grade Chapter Books
Now we’re getting into slightly more serious fiction, and thus, more serious word counts. For your Middle Grade Chapter Book, you’ll want:
- 250-400 pages
- 250-300 words per page (depending on font, dialogue, etc)
- 30 chapters
- 30,000-55,000 words total
Rules are definitely made to be broken when it comes to this type of novel, but it’s safe to say, readers who are entering this world of “real” books get easily overwhelmed, so aim for the Chronicles of Narnia as opposed to Harry Potter when it comes to word count and book length.
Young Adult Books
Most teenagers are like toddlers, not exactly famous for their attention spans. Still, a good meaty book is just what a lot of teen bookworms want. For the right length of your YA (young adult) book, aim for:
- 60,000-90,0000 words per book
- 20-30 chapters
- about 300 words per page
- 300-450 pages total
Consider shortening your YA novel if there will be sequels, and keeping your word counts similar in each book in the series.
General Fiction Books
Now, of course, we’re getting into murky waters. There are famous literary works of art which are just 60,000 words, and others that run 130,000 words. But in general, keep these guidelines in mind when writing general adult fiction:
- 64,000-100,000 words
- 340-450 pages
- Chapter lengths can vary
As long you’re confident in your editing and proofing, the sky can be the limit when it comes to general fiction. Just remember, in this day and age, readers prefer a book that won’t take all year to finish.
Non-Fiction and How-To Books
Non-fiction and how-to books, especially if they’re mainly going to be sold in eBook form, will be considerably shorter than their fictional counterparts. Consider:
- 50,000-75,000 words
- 10-20 chunks, sections, or chapters
- Accompanying illustrations or diagrams
These guidelines aren’t necessarily what you would consider for a memoir or biography: for those, see General Fiction above.
For those wee novels, called novellas, shorter is sweeter. Your book would be shelved as a novella and not a novel if it is:
- 20,000-45,000 words total
- 10-15 chapters
- 100-200 pages
Some famous novels are actually proper novellas, like The Great Gatsby. It’s only 180 pages, and yet one of the most popular “novels” of all time. Don’t rule out a great novella!
In short (or long, or somewhere in between), it’s good to know what you’re getting into before you start writing. Having goals is so important, so set them now and then get to the good part: writing your book.