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Word Counts by Fiction Genre and Type With Examples

Kenna is a freelance editor, writer, and blogger who likes to share her knowledge with others.

Word Counts (Market Size)

Flash Fiction: 100 to 1,000

  • Keep this word in mind: brevity. Be concise, short and sweet, and straight to the point; a quick moment, a flash, and then the moment is gone.

Short Stories: 1,000 to 8,000

  • A complete story usually involving one event and one main character.

Novellas: 20,000 to 50,000

  • A complete story that is longer than a short story, and shorter than a novel.

Novels: 50,000 to 110,000

  • The story has a lengthy plot, several characters, and a fully developed story.

Word Counts by Genres (Market Size)

Literary: 80,000 to 110,000

  • Anything written that has a determined value
  • This range allows a writer to fully complete a story, (or one book in the series and continue) but is the range when writing a novel

Mystery/Thrillers: 70,000 to 90,000

  • Character struggles, one main element is withheld until the end, usually one bad guy and a few good guys trying to get the bad guy
  • This genre is all about putting obstacles in front of your characters and then making them figure it out, which takes a lot of words in order to make a great story

Romance: 40,000 to 100,000

  • Two characters fall in-and-out of love
  • A lot of famous romance and published writers will tell you, they follow a strict template for writing romance including the word count

Fantasy: 90,000 to 100,000

  • The story usually exists in a different world from our own, on another world, different types of races/animals, made-up creations
  • This genre is high on word count because it takes a lot to describe a fantasy world, made-up language, and new creation of characters, so the readers are on the same page as the writer seeing the world as it should be

Paranormal/Urban: 75,000 to 95,000

  • The story is set in the real world and includes angels, demons, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witches, etc.
  • A famous book is Twilight, a realistic world colliding with vampires. Usually, paranormal novels are romantic, and the plot is usually dramatic (we all know drama eats words up)

Horror: 80,000 to 100,000

  • These stories prey on fear, the reader should feel fear, disgust, negative emotions, chills, etc.
  • To make a reader feel something unsettling with crazy events made to evoke horror and fear—it takes a lot of description, playing with syntax and words to get an audience scared

Science Fiction: 90,000 to 125,000

  • Lots of science, new technology, advanced technology and worlds that intertwines with the plot
  • This is kind of like fantasy, it takes a lot of describing when entering into a new world the reader has to imagine, but the twist here is technology goes hand-in-hand with how the characters develop during the plot

Historical: 100,000 to 120,000

  • Either the plot or a famous historical figure takes place in a different setting
  • This genre takes a lot of research for the writer, so it also takes some explanation to allow the reader to fall into rhythm with the setting, place, and time

Young Adult (YA): 50,000 to 80,000

  • The protagonist and other main characters are usually between the ages of 13-early 20s
  • The story can either be simple and told intricately, or can be difficult and told simply and of course the other way around. Usually, the main character goes through a journey: emotional, physically, and psychologically (the great thing about this genre is it usually combines with another genre)

New Age (NA): 60,000 to 85,000

  • The story revolves around spiritualism, nature, metaphysical
  • Reasoning, explanation, and how to come to terms develops the story, usually 70,000 words is the sweet spot for this genre

Middle Grade (MG): 30,000 to 50,000

  • Barely any romance (maybe a crush), no profanity, no graphic violence, it’s more about reactions of the characters as situations come their way
  • Simple description and syntax makes the story clear, every word should have its place, and character and motion directed with clarity (the only bending to this rule is fantasy MG Like Harry Potter, Rowling kind of made up her word count but she still is very concise with her wording)

Picture Book: 500 to 600

  • The stories can literally be about anything, usually to teach a lesson to a child or an adult (I guess it can go both ways)
  • Picture books only have a sentence, a few sentences on each page, when putting the book on one page, it is usually a paragraph long (if you haven’t tried it yet, Try It with a picture book)

Nonfiction: 70,000-110,000

  • Telling truth in narrative form using fictional elements to engage the reader in a real story (creatively or dryly)
  • People like to talk about themselves…naturally, and telling a story takes both a long time and several words to get the story out there

Poetry: 5 to 3,500

  • Definition changes from time to time, it is a part of fiction, but I count it as a genre on its own, usually uses metaphors, images, lyricism, inverting syntax creating beautiful words in order to capture the essence of a topic or anything else
  • One of the fun things with poetry is a lot of poets probably don’t pay attention to the word count because when a poem is finished, it feels finished despite the number of words it takes

Play: 1,000 to 32,000

  • A screen-play is a script of dialogue of each characters, acting instructions, and onset directions
  • To make a great play for a large audience, there has to be a lot of stuff happening and a lot of character development, now for a small audience let’s say for children, it can be on the lower end of word count, honestly it depends on what the writer wants to achieve with his or her play

Examples of Famous Works and Word Counts

Macbeth by Shakespeare

  • Genre: Play
  • Word Count: 18,227
  • Brief Description: Shakespeare’s shortest and bloodiest tragedy, Macbeth tells the story of a brave Scottish general (Macbeth) who receives a prophecy from a trio of sinister witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed with ambitious thoughts and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and seizes the throne for himself. He begins his reign racked with guilt and fear and soon becomes a tyrannical ruler, as he is forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion. The bloodbath swiftly propels Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to arrogance, madness, and death.

Hamlet by Shakespeare

  • Genre: Play
  • Word Count: 31,950
  • Brief Description: Hamlet is the story of a Danish prince whose uncle murders the prince’s father, marries his mother, and claims the throne. The prince pretends to be feeble-minded to throw his uncle off guard, then manages to kill his uncle in revenge. Shakespeare changed the emphasis of this story entirely, making his Hamlet a philosophically minded prince who delays taking action because his knowledge of his uncle’s crime is so uncertain.

Harry Potter #1 by J. K. Rowling

  • Genre: Fantasy & Magic Kids Fiction (MG)
  • Word Count: 76,944
  • Brief Description: Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility. All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley—a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years. But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry—and anyone who reads about him—will find unforgettable.

Harry Potter #5 by J. K. Rowling

  • Genre: Fantasy & Magic Kids Fiction (MG)
  • Word Count: 257,045
  • Brief Description: In his fifth year at Hogwart's, Harry faces challenges at every turn, from the dark threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be- Named and the unreliability of the government of the magical world to the rise of Ron Weasley as the keeper of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team. Along the way he learns about the strength of his friends, the fierceness of his enemies, and the meaning of sacrifice.

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Word Count: 455,125
  • Brief Description: One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. From Sauron's fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor, his power spread far and wide. Sauron gathered all the Great Rings to him, but always he searched for the One Ring that would complete his dominion. When Bilbo reached his eleventy-first birthday he disappeared, bequeathing to his young cousin Frodo the Ruling Ring and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom.

Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

  • Genre: Fantasy & Magic Kids Fiction (MG)
  • Word Count: 36,363
  • Brief Description: 'They say Aslan is on the move. Perhaps he has already landed,' whispered the Beaver. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delightful strain of music had just floated by. And Lucy got that feeling when you realize it's the beginning of summer. So, deep in the bewitched land of Narnia, the adventure begins. They opened a door and entered a world--Narnia--the land beyond the wardrobe, the secret country known only to Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. Lucy is the first to stumble through the back of the enormous wardrobe in the professor's mysterious old country house, discovering the magic world beyond. At first, no one believes her. But soon Edmund, Peter and Susan, too, discover the magic and meet Aslan, the Great Lion, for themselves. And in the blink of an eye, they are changed forever.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Genre: Literary Fiction
  • Word Count: 63,604
  • Brief Description: It revolves around a single, forbidden act of passion that forever alters the lives of three members of a small Puritan community: Hester Prynne, an ardent and fierce woman who bears the punishment of her sin in humble silence; the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, a respected public figure who is inwardly tormented by long-hidden guilt; and the malevolent Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s husband—a man who seethes with an Ahab-like lust for vengeance.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

  • Genre: Teen Fiction-Young Adult
  • Word Count: 67,203
  • Brief Description: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee

  • Genre: Literary Fiction
  • Word Count: 100,388
  • Brief Description: The childhood innocence with which Scout and Jem begin the novel is threatened by numerous incidents that expose the evil side of human nature, most notably the guilty verdict in Tom Robinson’s trial and the vengefulness of Bob Ewell. As the novel progresses, Scout and Jem struggle to maintain faith in the human capacity for good in light of these recurring instances of human evil.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

  • Genre: Historical Romance-Fiction
  • Word Count:126,194 (exceeds genre word count)
  • Brief Description: Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor's warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

  • Genre: Romance
  • Word Count: 155,717 (exceeds genre word count)
  • Brief Description: The story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing. The Time Traveler's Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare's marriage and their passionate love for each other as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals--steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control, making their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

  • Genre: Literary Fiction
  • Word Count: 155,960
  • Brief Description: Although Oliver is fundamentally righteous, the social environment in which he is raised encourages thievery and prostitution. Oliver struggles to find his identity and rise above the abject conditions of the lower class.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

  • Genre: Literary Fiction
  • Word Count: 174,269 (exceeds genre word count)
  • Brief Description: Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

  • Genre: Fiction-Romance
  • Word Count:183,858 (exceeds genre word count)
  • Brief Description: Jane meets with a series of forces that threaten her liberty, integrity, and happiness. Characters embodying these forces are: Aunt Reed, Mr. Brocklehurst, Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester (in that he urges Jane to ignore her conscience and surrender to passion), and St. John Rivers (in his urging of the opposite extreme). The three men also represent the notion of an oppressive patriarchy. Blanche Ingram, who initially stands in the way of Jane’s relations with Rochester, also embodies the notion of a rigid class system—another force keeping Jane from fulfilling her hopes.

Memories of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

  • Genre: Japanese Fiction
  • Word Count: 186,418 (exceeds genre word count)
  • Brief Description: Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men's solicitude and the money that goes with it. In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl's virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

  • Genre: Romance-Historical
  • Word Count: 418,053 (exceeds genre word count)
  • Brief Description: The story is set in Clayton County, Georgia, and Atlanta during the American Civil War and Reconstruction era. It depicts the struggles of young Scarlett O'Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, who must use every means at her disposal to claw her way out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman's March to the Sea.

Remembrance Rock by Carl Sandburg

  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Word Count: 530,030 (exceeds genre word count)
  • Brief Description: If you like historical fiction you will love this novel. Carl Sandburg's saga of America covers four major eras of our history: the Puritans founding of the Plymouth colony; the Revolutionary War; the Civil War; and World War Two. Sandburg makes the characters come alive as they struggle with individual life circumstances and major issues of their respective historical periods. As a reader you will be saddened by their failures and revel in their accomplishments.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

  • Genre: Literary Fiction
  • Word Count: 561,996
  • Brief Description: Tremendous in its scope, this novel presents an astounding panorama of human life — from the productive genius who becomes a worthless playboy — to the great steel industrialist who does not know that he is working for his own destruction — to the philosopher who becomes a pirate — to the composer who gives up his career on the night of his triumph — to the woman who runs a transcontinental railroad — to the lowest track worker in her Terminal tunnels.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Word Count: 587,287
  • Brief Description: Tolstoy's epic masterpiece intertwines the lives of private and public individuals during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion of Russia. The fortunes of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, are intimately connected with the national history that is played out in parallel with their lives. Balls and soirees alternate with councils of war and the machinations of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles with everyday human passions in a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed. The prodigious cast of characters, seem to act and move as if connected by threads of destiny as the novel relentlessly questions ideas of free will, fate, and providence.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

  • Genre: Literary Fiction-Romance
  • Word Count: 591,554
  • Brief Description: Vikram Seth's novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find — through love or through exacting maternal appraisal — a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence.

Why Word Counts Are So Important

So, I went to a writing conference in Denver, and one of the literary agents giving a workshop behind the true meaning of genre and words counts gave the writers this explanation paraphrased. In the professional writing field, there is a bar set for every writer, one definition of writing defined to publish to a thriving audience. Readers go to one genre for particular reasons, when they go to a different genre, they knowingly or unknowingly compare between genres. Even without knowing the rules and science and research behind the writing, readers know what they like.

Also word counts are set at this level for me and everyone in the publishing, editing, and writing industry. It takes a lot to read 70,000 words, especially when the book has to be read several times for edits during the process. Anything longer than that it becomes more and more difficult to get through, to read, to edit, to process, to publish. Now obviously, some writers bend the rules, but some agents, publishers, and editors have to take that risk, and some of them were worth the risk. Like Harry Potter, Gone with the Wind, Memories of a Geisha, Jane Eyre, the Time Traveler's Life, and many more.

Word Counts for each genre allows us (the editors) know how developed or undeveloped the story is and if there is something wrong with the story. Let's say for example, one person submitted a book in the fantasy genre and the word count was only 60,000. That is 30,000 words below the set minimum. We rejected this book because right off the bat we knew this story wasn't finished. Then on the other side of the spectrum in the same genre, another writer submitted a book 170, 000 words. Again this sets up red flags for the people deciding to publish your book, this book is probably in need of some work in cutting down words in the story that probably aren't needed, also this takes more time, a larger project. Of course, if the query letter and few chapters are good, we might take a shot, but usually we don't, and that is the fact of life in the publishing industry. Of course, unless you are a famous author, the writer will get to pitch their reasoning of word count to their agent most times.


Maria Parenti-Baldey on April 24, 2018:

Thank you for posting this. on April 03, 2018: