A Word Count Guide for 18 Book Genres: Memoirs, Children’s Books and Non-Fiction Novels

A Word Count Guide for 18 Book Genres: Memoirs, Children’s Books and Non-Fiction Novels

“My memoir is 270,000 words long.”

I heard these words during a breakout session I led at a local writers conference.

An editor friend of mine, Shayla Eaton with Curiouser Editing, was sitting in on the breakout. We gave each other knowing glances, and because I didn’t want to break this poor memoirist’s literary heart, I nodded at Shayla to take the lead. Soonafter I heard someone mention the words in a novel, I held my breathe and let the moment pass.

As nicely but as directly as she could, she explained to the memoirist that a 270,000-word memoir was excessive. Even if she self-publishes, the cost per copy would be high, and few readers would slog through such a tome — particularly for someone who’s not famous.

And no agents or publishers would even look past that number.

The prose could be as fleet-footed as Fitzgerald’s. The life story could be as compelling as Lincoln’s. The platform could be as broad as Oprah’s. But no agent would get to know that because they’d see “Memoir: 270,000 words” and hit delete before reading any further.

So, what word count should a memoir be? 

For that matter, how long should any book be? How many words are in a typical novel? What’s the ideal book word count? 

If you’re writing your first novel or any book, you’re probably asking these questions.

The short answer is: long enough to tell the story but short enough to consistently hold the reader’s interest.

The long answer is, well, longer.

Why does novel words count matter?

Word count matters because every book, regardless of genre, has an inherent contract with the reader. But that contract is dependent upon the book’s genre.

For instance, when a reader picks up a thriller, they have certain expectations of what they’re about to read. That includes scenes like “the hero at the mercy of the villain,” but it also includes book length. Because thrillers are about pulse-pounding action and maybe some character development (especially if it’s part of a series), the word count isn’t massive. Thrillers tend to be 70,000 to 90,000 words.

If you’re not a thriller author, I won’t keep you in suspense. At the end of this article, you’re going to find a guide to suggested word count length for most every popular genre.

My point is that your genre will likely dictate your word count. There are exceptions, like YA books that exceed 250,000 words, but those tend to be outliers, and first-time authors rarely, if ever, get to be an outlier.

Additionally, knowing your word count before you start writing can help you better plan your narrative arc as well as your writing schedule.

How many words in a novel?

And what’s the average length of other types of books?

Before diving into the specifics of genre-based word counts, let’s look at the broader picture of average book length.

For most publishers, a book is “novel-length” when it’s between 50,000 and 110,000 words.

At a writers conference I recently attended, publishing veteran Jane Friedman said 80,000 words is good for most fiction, below 60,000 isn’t novel length territory, and above 120,000 is likely too much.

Writer’s Digest recommends 80,000 to 89,999 words as a “100% safe range for literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror.” That’s approximately 300 pages of double-spaced type.

In “Outlining Your Book in 3 Easy Steps,” editor Shawn Coyne says, “The average novel today is about 90,000 words. Big, epic stories get anywhere from 120,000 to 200,000 words.” But, he also mentions that “The Wizard of Oz was 40,000 words. The Old Man and the Sea was about 25 to 30,000 words, tops.”

Coyne uses the Nanowrimo word-count length of 50,000 words for his examples, calling 50,000 words a good foundation to build upon.

So what does that mean for you, author?

If you’re working on a novel-length book, aim for 50,000 words at the very least — but it’s better to aim for 90,000. Editorial trimming is inevitable.

However, you’ll also want to take your genre into account.

What should my book word count be?

The following are average word-count ranges by genre.

General Fiction Word Counts

Fiction Genres Word Counts

  • Mainstream Romance: 70,000–100,000 words
  • Subgenre Romance: 40,000–100,000 words
  • Science Fiction / Fantasy: 90,000–120,000 (and sometimes 150,000) words
  • Historical Fiction: 80,000–100,000
  • Thrillers / Horror / Mysteries / Crime: 70,000–90,000 words
  • Young Adult: 50,000–80,000

Children’s Books Word Counts

  • Picture Books: 300–800 words
  • Early Readers: 200–3500 words
  • Chapter Books: 4000–10,000 words
  • Middle Grade: 25,000–40,000 words

Nonfiction Word Counts

  • Standard Nonfiction (Business, Political Science, Psychology, History, etc.): 70,000–80,000 words
  • Memoir: 80,000–100,000 words
  • Biography: 80,000–200,000 words
  • How-to / Self-Help: 40,000–50,000 words

All of these are average book word count ranges and should not be taken as the definitive word count you must reach in your book. We all know of outliers within each genre that have been published well under, or well over, these word counts.

Use these numbers as a baseline for your writing goals.

Know what readers expect in terms of your genre’s word count (even if the reader isn’t aware of their expectations when it comes to how long a book is).

Want to know the exact word count that’s best for your book, based on genre, industry standards and more? Click here to use Self-Publishing School’s Word & Page Count Calculator to discover just that!

How many words per page can you expect in a book? 

This is another common question, and for most writers it should be easy to answer by using a “word count” feature in your writing tool.

If you’re writing in Microsoft Word,”word count” is an option under “Tools.” Prefer something different? Here’s how to find word count in Google Docs. You can also track word count in Scrivener.

The average single-spaced document typed in 12-point font contains about 500 words per page, but that can vary pretty drastically depending on your formatting.

So, if you have an hour to write and aim to get down 300 words, you might wonder, how many pages is 300 words — and the answer is less than one! Doable, right?

If you’re thinking bigger and wondering, for example, how many pages is 50,000 words, simply divide your target word count (50,000) by 500 (since that’s the average words per page). Your answer here is 100 pages.

Don’t let those commas instill fear. Fifty thousand words isn’t that much divided into five days a week for a year. That’s only 193 words per writing day!

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Filed Under: Craft

53 comments

  • LAURA BERKOWITZ says:

    For over a year, I have been working on a fictional story about a woman prevailing despite whatever physically befalls her. Much of the novel uses first-hand knowledge of current medical and hospital treatment.
    At this juncture, word count is about 50,000. I only need to add a few chapters to complete my novel.
    (I have already written the final scene for this semi-autobiographical story.) Those chapters would probably bring final word count to maybe 60,000.
    I have consciously excised non-essential information to avoid distracting the reader with the superfluous.
    Question: is my ‘bare-bones’ novel as constructed an adequate length to satisfy the reader once s/he’s become invested?
    Thanks to anyone who can help me sort this sticky wicket out.

  • As an author coach and editor, I appreciate this post SO MUCH! My clients and students are always asking about word count, so Im going to link to this post on my Resources page at http://www.writeyourbestbook.com!

  • Bronwen says:

    I’m sorry I have not read any of the comments yet because I’m about to go to a glass-blowing class (w/social distancing;-)), but I did read the article and it was super helpful!! More useful (and faster) than my flicking through my own short story collection and “guestimating” the generally appropriate word and page count for a book of short stories. I am almost certain that your sage (why is it always “sage”? Surely thats rascist??) advice is telling, no, screaming for me to share my undeniably literary genius with the world in a vary manageable In short story format. And no, this is not a COVID inspired opportunity to write the great American novel; I was already unemployed with time on my hands. Wet-felting cathouses from sustainably resourced Alpaca roving is ruining my nails. Thank you for the information! I’ll read the comments after I finish “blowing”.

  • How many words per author in an anthology? I am wanting to publish a coffee table book with 3 pictures each. For 20 authors.
    Thank you.

  • I have written many short fictional stories over my lifetime. Never published any because they were written for the pure enjoyment of writing. My children have always been my audience. Recently I began writing a fictional novel based on previous work and updated. This writing is for my wife’s enjoyment. I am also writing a book of nonfiction, not a memoir, but about events that have occured over the past year of my life. The purpose of which is aimed at addiction and recovery. Due to the seriousness of the content my goal is to have this work published. There are other stories of fiction already on the writing table but I am earnestly working to finish this project first. In terms of word length it is 50,000 and counting. I estimate that it will finish between 90,000 and 100,000 words. When it is complete, should this be the first manuscript I offer to a publisher? Should I complete one of the other stories of fiction before this one to be considered by a publisher?

  • E says:

    How many words should a lyrical novel/novel in verse be?

  • Jemima Pett says:

    I think the best scifi is generally a little less than your suggested length. The reason some scifi gets boring is that writers try to write too much!

  • Danielle Aird says:

    I have been working on a travel memoir about the Camino de Santiago. My book is not so much about me but about some of the many interesting characters I met on the Camino and about some of the quirky locals along the path. It also contains lots of historical pieces, most of which have not been published in Camino books before. I have been paring it down from 180,000 words. So far I have gotten rid of 50,000 words. Should I try to reach my goal of 100,000 words?

  • My favorite story of all time “The Wheel of Time” consists of 14 volumes with an average volume word count of 306,278 (a total of only 4,287,886 words).
    That’s why I personally dislike 10 page “books” on major e-book sellers.

  • Lucie wood says:

    What about a trilogy when you reach a certain length?

  • Andy says:

    I’m writing my first novel. I just finished what will probably be the penultimate chapter. It currently stands at 41,836 words. It is probably going to be under 50,000 words when done.

    But this is what it took to tell the story!

  • Cassandra says:

    What about YA fantasy or other genres within YA?

  • julia says:

    when writing a novel or any type of story that you would like to publish, do publishing companies typically help fill in some lack of story plot or content to get to a novel-type length, or would you say that the original writer has to overwrite to get to novel-length?

  • I cannot imagine that in this the Age of the Tweet, and where a dinner date is seen as a major commitment, coming in at the higher end of those word counts is going to be an asset. My debut historical novel (that I’m absolutely certain will make me rich and famous and solve all my problems) is currently 85% done at 40,000 words. I’m assuming that less is more, and if the wise and witty publisher that snaps my book up wants more, I can always add back some of the scenes I cut.

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