Size Matters



You are a writer. You put words on paper to satisfy that inexorable need burning within your soul. Guess what: nobody cares.

I know, that sounds crass and even rude—but there are some hard truths to the publishing industry. Mostly gone are the days of high-falutin literary fiction novels meant to examine the human condition in painfully drawn-out purple prose. I have mixed feelings about that, but one thing is true: this is a business and businesses are concerned with what they can make a profit off of. You might have the best novel ever written with words that pierce the heart and sunder the soul. If it won’t sell, there’s no point and you may have been better off becoming a preacher than a writer.

Because of the nature of business wanting to maximize its profits, you might have a book that sells reasonably well, but it still gets no respect from the shelves of bookstores, or even from publishers and agents. It is more economical for publishers, book buyers/distributers, and bookstores to produce, assemble, and store for resale shorter books rather than longer ones. Think about it: it costs more to pay for editors for a 400 page book instead of a 200 page one—the same goes for ink and paper used to create the paperback.

Business economics rules the bookstore. If you have a 6×9 $19.99 600 page book for sale and it sits on a sales shelf two deep and sell both copies in a day, that’s $40. If that same title is competing for an equally popular 6×9 $12.99 200 page book, that shelf space can now gross $78 and not require constant restocking. These are the little details that writers don’t usually think about and often fail to understand. Bookstores don’t care if your writing is superior or if you’re the next big thing: what matters most is the price per square inch your titles can make them at the end of the fiscal quarter. It’s callous and cruel—but there is very little room for art in business… but if you know this sort of fact going into your formatting and book-writing, you can mitigate the potential fall-out from this sort of issue.

I made the mistake of writing a 200,000 word epic out of the gates. It’s a real rookie mistake and one common to people who write because they have stories burning within them and more gumption to write what they know rather than do the initial research and look at market norms and understand the publishing world. It shows a level of professionalism when writers know and understand the generally recognized market guidelines.

Because consumers have generally accepted market norms based on different genres, the type of book you write will dictate the acceptable word length. Nobody wants a 40,000 word fantasy epic. That doesn’t work, but it’s perfect for a corset-ripping romance or a YA book.

Typically, the maximum word count of ANY book caps out at 150,000. Rules can be broken (especially if your name is King, Martin, Rowling, etc. and you have a proven track record of topping the bestsellers chart. My advice is to be the rule, rather than the exception. Play by the rules—it will save you much frustration in the long run). Following is a list of a generally acceptable minimum/maximum word count to use as a guide (plus or minus 5,000-10,000 words is generally acceptable.)


Literary, Commercial, Women’s fiction: 80,000 to 110,000 – larger is typically better.

Crime Fiction: 90,000 to 100,000

Mysteries, Thrillers, Suspense: 70,000 to 90,000 – Cozy Mysteries are on the shorter end of the spectrum, more serious ones should steer towards the deeper end.

Romance: 40,000 to 100,000 – The sweet spot is in the middle… also the title I will use if I ever decide to write a bodice-ripping romance story.

Fantasy: 90,000 to 140,000 – about 100,000 is a good place to start. Readers expect a thick read and anything less than 90,000 might not get a second look.

Paranormal: 75,000 to 95,000

Horror: 80,000 to 100,000

Science-Fiction: 90,000 to 125,000

Historical: 100,000 to 120,000

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

New Adult Fiction: 60,000 to 85,000

Middle Grade: 25,000 to 40,000

Picture Books: 500 to 700

Because of the fact that this is a business, I would be careful to balance my formatting against whitespace and the layout/line spacing of the printed book. If you can shrink the spacing down without causing eyestrain for a reader or without running sentences right up to the edge of the paper, it’s worth looking into. From a purely economical perspective, shrinking line spacing from 1.5 to 1.15 can prevent waste and still produce an impressive book.



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