News room: Just the Right Size: How Big Should Your Book Be?

Just the Right Size:  How Big Should Your Book Be? by Jessica Barrah

Are you self-publishing your book this year? How long should it be? It’s best to meet certain expectations, both for your readers, and in order to make a profit. Find out what the best length is for your genre.

How Long Should Your Manuscript Be?

When you are sending your manuscript to agents for publication in the traditional manner, then the length of the manuscript is important. Although, initially, you may only be sending some sample chapters, you will need to submit your book in full at some point. Besides demonstrating that you have the skills to construct a tightly written narrative, agents know that publishers don’t like to publish books that are outside the normal limits of a genre. Much of this is due to the expectations of readers, and what they’ve become used to in a romance or sci-fi or literary novel. Another thing to consider is the attention span of readers – for example, a thriller might not be so thrilling if it’s 150,000 words long. You don’t want to put an agent publisher off by writing something too long and overblown. If you are self-publishing using print on demand, then length has a more significant impact on the price and you may not want to make your book too expensive to produce, and reduce your potential royalties.

Printing Costs

With CompletelyNovel the minimum length is 18 pages, and books of over 300 pages do work out more expensive.

You need to make a profit on your book to make it worthwhile. Selling directly via CompletelyNovel you get 100% royalties, but if you are selling via Amazon or other retailers they will take 30% off. If your book is £11.77 to produce, you’ll have to price it higher to get royalties after the 30% is taken off. And a paperback priced around £15 is twice the £6.99-£7.99 price point that most books seem to retail at.

For more information, read our article ‘How to Price Your Print Book’

Calculate your print costs here.

Guidelines for Different Genres

As with everything, there are always exceptions to the rules. If your book is way over the guidelines below, take another look at your manuscript. Have you been sufficiently ruthless with your editing? Are there any parts that you could cut out – either cutting down on non- essential words, or re-evaluating whole pages. Does that descriptive passage or long sections of dialogue add anything to the book as a whole, moving the plot forward or revealing more about your characters?

If your book is significantly shorter than the guidelines, is it actually a novella or a long short story rather than a novel? Or do you need to do more work and flesh it out a little more? Each story does have its natural length, and if you are self-publishing then you don’t need to justify anything to anyone except for yourself – and your future readers.


Novellas fall between 10,000 and 40,000 words.

Adult fiction (commercial and literary)

Usually between 80,000-100,000 words. If you aim for around 90,000 words you should be fine.

Science and fantasy fiction

Science fiction and fantasy readers like more of an ‘epic’ tale – so here the maximum is higher. 110,000 counts as ‘epic’, but books usually fall between the 90,000 to 120,000 range, with 150,000 as a maximum.

Historical Fiction

Similarly, historical fiction readers also like ‘epic’ tales with historical details. You don’t want to bore them with too much historical information, but you still need to write a convincing story which conjures up the feel of the era. Aim for the 100,000-word mark.

Romance Fiction

Romance novels can be very varied, with an array of different sub-genres. They can be from 50,00-100,000 words, depending on if it’s a Mills and Boon style, a longer Chick Lit, or an even longer historical romance. Look at books that are similar to yours to see which sub-genre yours fits into, and how long it should be. Is it a quick pool read, or an epic love story? If you aim around the middle, 80,000 should be fine, but it’s up to you.

Crime Fiction

Around 70,000-90,000 words is a good guideline. Keep the narrative taut and full of suspense without excessive description, making the book long enough to satisfy the reader without making if feel like a slog.

YA Novels

It’s harder to say what the ‘expected’ word count is for YA fiction. Around 50,000-80,000 words is normal, with a little flexibility due to the sub-genres found in YA, for example fantasy and sci-fi books could be longer.

Non-Fiction Books

Unfortunately it’s not really possible to advise on the ideal length for non-fiction titles as the range is too varied. We can only advise to read the kind of books you’d like to write, especially those which have been published recently. This will give you an idea of the length that publishers and readers expect at the moment.

Children’s Books

The world of children’s publishing is varied, depending on the type of book and the age range of the intended reader.

Read this article from Writers & Artists to give an overview of writing for the Children’s book market.

We hope that’s useful information, and good luck with self-publishing your books.

Further reading:

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Written by
Jessica Barrah
Published on
Self-publishing, Writing, Editing, Books, Authors, and Novels