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What Would Be the Ideal Word Count for a Novel?

June 21, 2018

What Would Be the Ideal Word Count for a Novel?

As you embark on your journey into writing your first novel, you probably have a lot of questions. For example, you probably want to know how you can guarantee that your book will be picked up by a publisher and how you can certify that people will actually want to buy it.

The reality is this: There’s no real way to ensure that your book will get picked up or that it’s going to be the next New York Times Best Seller – well, other than writing a really amazing book that captivates hundreds of thousands of people.

The success of a novel not only lies in the subject matter, the story line, the characters, the climax, and the plot; it also has a lot to do with the marketing, the audience, and so much more. One of the things that fits into the “so much more” category is the length of your novel.

Why is the Length of a Novel is Important?

Your goal, as an author, is to write a novel that will entertain your audience, keep them engaged, and really touch them. With that said, if your book is too short, your audience could end up feeling like it didn’t give them that much of an experience; they might feel cheated, in a way. On the other hand, if it’s too long, your readers may have a very difficult time making it to the end.

For these reasons, you definitely want to make sure that your book is a length that is suitable for your audience. But how do you know what is considered a suitable length?

You’re about to start writing your very first novel. You’ve done a lot of research and have found that you want to write a book in the young adult genre, which should have a total length of anywhere between 55,000 and 80,000 words. Great! That’s just the right amount to tell your story, develop your characters and plot, reach the climax, and then come to a great conclusion without boring your readers or making them feel as if they are missing something.

While you know that you can definitely hit the 55,000 to 80,000 word recommendation for a young adult novel, you can’t help but wonder what that translates to in regard to the word length for each chapter.

So, how long should each chapter in your novel be? The honest answer is this: It’s really up to you.

How many words in a novel?

What Does That Mean?

“It’s up to you” really isn’t the answer you were looking for, is it? You were hoping for something that was a bit more definitive.

Honestly, the length of your chapters really is up to you. However, if you are looking for a more solid answer, then here’s what we have found literary agents and publishers tend to recommend…

… Stick to about 2,000 words per chapter.

You can definitely modify that amount. There are tons of famous novels out there that features chapters of varying lengths; for example, one chapter may be longer than 2,000, while another will be significantly less. That’s cool and it can definitely work. However, as a general rule of thumb, going anything more than 2,000 words usually isn’t recommended.

Why? – Because people tend to read only one chapter in a sitting. A chapter that is about 2,000 words in length is pretty easy to read and digest. It’s not too long, and it isn’t way too short. If you go far beyond the 2,000 word point, your readers will likely skim through the pages without really paying attention to the details just so they can get to the next chapter or stop reading for that allotted time period.

Now, with that said, it should be noted that you can get away with longer and shorter chapters, but there is a trick: you should make sure that you have a shorter chapter first and follow it with a longer one. For instance, you may have a chapter that features 800 words and follow it with a chapter that has 12,000 words. That could definitely work. Why? – Because your readers will breeze through the shorter chapter and won’t have a hard time making it through the second one. In fact, they may even feel more accomplished if you write in chapters in varying lengths, as they will be able to read more than one chapter in a single sitting.

Length is a Recommendation

It’s important to keep in mind that the word length of a novel – as well as the word length for the chapters it contains – is merely a recommendation. There are some books that feature chapters that are significantly longer than 2,000 words (Harry Potter, for example, has about 4,500 words per chapter!)

The bottom line: Make sure you keep a good flow so that you can hold the attention of your audience.

For more information on proper chapter and novel length, Reedsy has two articles on the subject

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