Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | January 4, 2012

Fiction Length and Word Count

Various sources on the Internet define fiction by word count. The following are representative:
• Novel: 40,000 words or more.
• Novella: 17,500-40,000 words
• Novelette: 7,500-17,500 words
• Short Story: Less than 7,500 words

I use Microsoft Word for Mac for my writing. I’ve pondered the page count vs. word count. My three published works of fiction are: two novels and a novella. I checked the word/page count on Word and in a formula that I’ve been told traditional publishers use. With the manuscript in 12 point Times New Roman font, divide the word count by 250 (the approximate words/page) the difference between the word processor’s page count and the formula mentioed was 27 for the longest work (94,753 words) and 7 for the novella, (23,182). It appears that the disparity grows with the length of the book.

All my published work is digital only, so what’s the difference? If I decide to make some of my books available in printed form, I’ll have to be able to estimate an accurate word and page count.

Why one format or another? I wrote the novella, V Trooper – First Mission at the length it was published because of the nature of the story. The protagonist had completed his first mission. There is a work in progress that will be the Second Mission. It, too, will be a novella.

Word count is something fiction writers deal with. Line count is an issue that concerns poets. Many poetry contests set a maximum line count for poems entered. Personally, I think the limit is to keep from overburdening the judge(s). If I were to set up poetry contests, I’d set a generous line limit and then charge the poet an additional entry fee, by the line, for any excessive lines. The Waste Land would have cost Eliot a bit more than most.

My view: each story or poem should be just long enough to tell the story. There are books I’ve read that should have been much, much shorter. A few left me wanting more. I like those better than the ones with excess fat.
Writers/readers: what are your thoughts?

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Responses

  1. Awesome post. Thanks for the insight!

  2. I use the definitions set by duotrope.com, and they are almost exactly what you listed. I admit that I haven’t been convinced of the existence of the “novelette” quite yet.

    I agree that there have been far more padded novels than scrimped ones. It reminds me of a conversation I heard in a record shop, where the owner said he didn’t know of many albums that couldn’t be cut to fit on one side of an LP.

    I’m glad that in the digital era, stories are allowed to be the length they need to be rather than fluffed up to fit the ideal production cost / sales price / shelf space ratio.

    • Novelette describes a book I recently bought. Thank goodness it was only $.99. The author is well-known. Even so, some of the reviews complained about the length.

  3. Tom,

    I agree with you 100%. I hate slogging through pages and pages of fluff to get to the story. But then, I write my books the same way – little fluff, pacey action. Some folks like books to be “richer” than mine. I think they mean they want more sensory details.

    Moving a story along is a balance between pace and detail. Every author has his/her own optimal speed, as does every reader.

    All my novels are about 70,000 words. That’s the length I like to read as well. Coincidence? I don’t know.

    Hope you get more input on this issue.

    Thanks for posting.

    John

    • Thanks. I’m interested in good writers’ takes on this.

  4. I like a nice long read, something I can really sink my teeth in. But only if it’s good, obviously. Most of the books I’ve read recently were in the 60-80K range; a bit too short for me.

    Having written two novels myself, I definitely think in terms of word count because I now know how to convert it to pages in a 6″ X 9″ format, the size for most hardbacks and quality paperbacks. I shoot for 100-150K length when I write.

    In essence, I agree that a book shouldn’t be longer than it’s story. But a story can be enriched or cut to improve it. There can always be more editing because there’s always another way to say something.

    • There are a few books I’ve read–very few, lately, that made me sad to know I was going to see “The End.”
      Quality writing is the key. Thanks for the comment.


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