Publishers and agents understand their genres and their readers inside out. At least, they should. Genre is one of the main factors that influence how long a book should be. The length of the novel used to be more of an issue for novelists and publishers, however, before the rise in popularity of the ebook and digital reading platforms.
Typically, publishers consider books to be “novel-length” when they are between 50,000 and 120,000 words. If you’re in the middle of this territory, say around 80,000 – 90,000 words, this is a good length as far as most publishers are concerned.
Young Adult novels can be shorter without raising eyebrows. A novel of 50,000 – 80,000 words is probably about right. Thriller and horror novels are often between 70,000 and 90,000 words. Science Fiction and Fantasy novels, however, tend to run longer, at between 90,000 – 120,000+ words.
Publishers have come to these conclusions based on experience and market research, as well as the cost of print materials, distribution, and how print books are displayed in bookshops and, to a lesser extent, libraries.
Factors that might have dissuaded a publisher from buying a shorter work, such as the cost of production, are no longer a barrier with digital publishing. Shorter fiction is having success online.
We’re seeing an increase in the popularity and study of microfiction, with stories as short as a few words finding a growing audience. Alice Munro, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013 as a master of the contemporary short story, has a catalog that consists primarily of short story collections.
While short fiction has traditionally been unrewarding or even considered hobbyist, it is now commercially viable.
Of course, we have classic novels that are shorter than the standard novels, such as John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” J. D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange.”
Check out the Amazon Bestseller list and you’re likely to find several very short books, under 100 pages, ready to give readers fast entertainment.
Amazon promotes “Short Reads: Great Stories in One Sitting” and allows readers to browse by reading time, from “15 minutes” to “2 hours or more.” There is even a category for “15-minute Coffee Break” reads.
By producing shorter works, you can get your books in front of readers faster and more frequently. There are plenty of paying readers enjoying shorter novels, so writing shorter novels is not only good for new authors, but it can be a lucrative business too.
When considering the length of your book, however, it’s helpful to consider the following two things: the expectations of your readers, and how many words it takes to tell your story effectively. Your novel should be no longer, nor any shorter, than is necessary to tell the story.