The Long and Short of it.

2514093529_e662bbc296_o1.jpgSo as I have been getting close to completing book one of a fantasy series I have been researching the format and structure that agents and publishing houses prefer.

Although I am close to the editing and polishing process I am thinking of the exact length that I would like the book to end up on. And by length I mean word count. Of course I had an idea at the start but these things tend to snow ball out of control.

Many agents say that you should concentrate on the flow and pace of the story, but a seasoned writer will understand the importance of making the most impact with less words. But the at majority agents won’t even touch a manuscript if it doesn’t fit into certain boundaries.

There are however always exceptions to these rules. Aiming to be the exception is setting yourself up for disappointment.

What writers fail to see is that for every successful exception to the rule (e.g., a first-time 150,000-word novel), there are at least 100 failures if not 400.
A high word count will generally mean that the writer simply did not edit their work down enough. Or—it means they have two or more books combined into one.

Now before you quote Rowling, remember the first HP book was not that long. But after JK had made millions of sales worldwide, she could be her own exception to the rule.

Many authors won’t earn tons of money right away so they have to stick to the rules. Unless your some kimd of genius, super talented writer. Then please do your thing.



Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range and is a 100% safe range for literary, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere. Realistically you can dip as low as 71,000 words and as high as 109,000 words. These are the extremes of the range. Dipping below 80k may make the novel too short, whereas if you break that 110k mark then it seems like a golliath read. Coupled with the fact that in todays austere times printing an 100k plus book will be more expensive, as well as costly to market and distribute.

Ulitmate Fiction Guide below:
80,000 – 89,999:       Perfect
90,000 – 99,999:       Safe
70,000 – 79,999:       May be a touch too short
100,000 – 109,999:   May be a touch too long
Below 70,000:          Way Too short
110,000 or above     Easy there it’s too long


My genre (rubs hands with glee).
Science fiction and fantasy are the huge exceptions because these categories tend to run long. With the descriptive nature of this genre, it’s a given that the world-building process will need more words.
Researching this genre I would say 100,000 – 115,000 is an excellent range.
Even though it’s six-figures long, Writers tend to know that these categories run long so they make them run really long and hurt their chances. Best practice would be to stick to 105k to show you can lean down your manuscript.

Middle grade is from 20,000 – 45,000, depending on the subject matter and age range. When writing a longer book that is aimed at 12-year-olds .These are books that resemble young adult in matter and storytelling, but still tend to stick to MG themes and avoid hot-button YA-acceptable themes such as sex, drugs and rock & roll.  You can stray a little over here but not much.With middle grade books you can aim for a lower word count. Personally I’m unfamiliar with this genre but shooting for 20,000 – 30,000 words should work.


YA is one category where word count is very flexible. For starters, 55,000 – 69,999 is a great range. Word on the agent rumour mill is that these books tend to trend longer, as much as the 80Ks. However it gets more risky the higher you get so pushing above 70k has got to be the upper limit.
Again, higher word counts usually mean that the writer does not know how to edit or if it’s science fiction or fantasy. Once again, these categories are expected to be a little longer because of the world-building.

Concerning the low end, below 55K could be all right but dropping much below about 47K could be a mistake.


The standard is text for 32 pages. That might mean one line per page, or more. 500-600 words is a good number to aim for. When it gets closer to 1,000, editors and agents may shy away. Wow short and sweet that one.

The underlying rule seems to be make sure you use the word limits as a target andake sure that you edit. Follow through and finish your manuscript and then take your time to lean it down and tighten it up. Once you have completed your work, you want to make it as appealing as possible to agents.

Neil Sehmbhy is the author of the forthcoming Corporation, Sunder and Jinx novels.

Follow him on twitter @NeilSehmbhy


4 responses to “The Long and Short of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s