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That’s the question of the day for me because my current WIP is at a little over 38,000 words and if things go as plan it should top out at about 45,000 words. 

Too many for a novella?  Too few for a novel?

I thought I knew the answer, but you know me, I had to do some research just to make sure I was right.  I was…and I wasn’t.  Confused yet?  That’s okay, so am I.

From jvc on a thread on AbsoluteWrite:

Best way to figure it out is to look at the novels you have on your bookshelf and work it out from there. Novels come in all shapes and sizes, with word counts from 30,000 to 300,000 sometimes. It is said, somewhere, that a debut author is unlikely to sell a novel with a word count above 100,000 words, but doesn’t mean it never happens.
This from Cathy_C’s thread about formatting novels, in the FAQ forum:
Short Short: Under 2,000 words
Short story: 2,000–7,500 words
Novelette (General Fiction): 7,500–15,000 words
Novelette (SF & Fantasy): 7,500–17,500 words
Novella (General Fiction): 15,000–30,000 words
Novella (SF & Fantasy): 17,500–40,000 words
Novel (General Fiction): Over 30,000 words
Novel (SF & Fantasy): Over 40,000 words


There comes a time in your life when you just have to run outside and shout ‘banana’ as loud as you can. Are you there yet?
To answer Jed’s question–yes!  Novelette?  Um, seriously?  On the same thread, from Gilhoughly:


Some romance houses are very specific on word count. If they want 58K words, don’t send them 59.

  • Novel — 40,000 words or more Bolding is mine.
  • Novella — 17,500–39,999 words
  • Novelette — 7,500–17,499 words
  • Short Story — 7,499 words or fewer
Most publishers of adult fiction are looking for 60-100K words. This can run more or less if a book is historical, Young Adult, or children’s.

Yep, novelettes.  Thank goodness I’m too far in the story to worry about that.  Still, I obviously need more research, so…from Wikipedia:

Novel                                over 40,000 words
Novella                            17,500 to 40,000 words
Novelette                        7,500 to 17,500 words
Short Story                     under 7,500 words

Okay, so it looks like this one’s going to fall somewhere between a novel and a novella–and why did I feel a compelling urge to type “rock” and “hard place” in there?  Mass confusion leads to more research…from Kimberly Dawn Wells on Suite101:


Short Story up to 10,000 words

Novellette up to 25,000 words

Novella up to 60,000 words

Novel 75,000-120,000

Books of 120,000-150,000+ words are recommended to be broken up into parts or a series. A single book of this length tends to become longer than an attention span can take. It can also be difficult to properly fill a plot after too long.

And finally from Lee Masterson on Amazon’s Askville:

Short Story

~ 1,000 – 7,500 words

The ’regular’ short story, usually found in periodicals or anthology collections. Most ’genre’ zines will feature works at this length.


~ 7,500 – 20,000 words

Often a novellette-length work is difficult to sell to a publisher. It is considered too long for most publishers to insert comfortably into a magazine, yet too short for a novel. Generally, authors will piece together three or four novellette-length works into a compilation novel.


~ 20,000 – 50,000 words

Although most print publishers will balk at printing a novel this short, this is almost perfect for the electronic publishing market length. The online audience doesn’t always have the time or the patience to sit through a 100,000 word novel. Alternatively, this is an acceptable length for a short work of non-fiction.


~ 50,000 -110,000

Most print publishers prefer a minimum word count of around 70,000 words for a first novel, and some even hesitate for any work shorter than 80,000. Yet any piece of fiction climbing over the 110,000 word mark also tends to give editors some pause. They need to be sure they can produce a product that won’t over-extend their budget, but still be enticing enough to readers to be saleable. Imagine paying good money for a book less than a quarter-inch thick?

Epics and Sequels

~ Over 110,000 words

If your story extends too far over the 110,000 mark, perhaps consider where you could either condense the story to only include relevant details, or lengthen it to span out into a sequel, or perhaps even a trilogy. (Unless, of course, you’re Stephen King – then it doesn’t matter what length your manuscript is – a publisher is a little more lenient with an established author who has a well-established readership)

Remember, these word counts are only estimated guides. Use your own common sense, and, where possible, check the guidelines of the publication you intend to submit your work to. Most publishers accepting shorter works will post their maximum preferred lengths, and novels are generally considered on the strength of the story itself, not on how many words you have squeezed into each chapter.

Copyright 2002 Lee Masterson

Lee Masterson is a full-time freelance writer from South Australia. She is the editor-in-chief of Fiction Factor ( – an online magazine for writers, offering articles on the craft and business of writing, tips on getting published, free ebook downloads, author interviews, paying market listings, and much more! She is also the managing editor of the AuthorsDen newsletter. In what little spare time she has, Lee also writes science fiction novels.  

So, am I there yet?  Who knows?  I think the best thing to do is keep writing and when I’ve finished the story, take that last paragraph from Lee Masterson to heart.  If I have any common sense left, that is!

Special thanks to Jed for giving me the idea for the title of this post!

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