September 27, 2018 by Sarra Cannon
One of the most common questions I am asked lately is, “How long are your books?” or “How long should my self-published book be?”
This is a great question, and I think there are four main things you should take into consideration when planning out the target word count for your novel.
I write mostly Young Adult and New Adult Fiction in several genres, including contemporary romance and (mainly) contemporary fantasy/paranormal.
That being said, I don’t necessarily have an “average” word count. My first novel, Beautiful Demons, was only about 47,000 words. As the series grew, so did each book’s word count.
My most recent book in the series, Beyond The Darkness, clocked in at just under 100,000 words.
Another release of mine this year, Witch’s Mark, was only about 50,000 words, and was a standalone New Adult Paranormal Romance.
Basically, I tend to believe a novel is going to be as long as it needs to be. I do set a word count target for myself based on my plot. Once I have the book plotted and I have a good idea of what all needs to go into the novel in order to write it to the best of my ability, I usually have a pretty good guesstimate as to how long the novel will be overall.
If it goes longer, I try not to stress over it too much. It will simply be as long as it needs to be, and as long as I’m staying try to my instincts as a story-teller and being aware of pacing along the way, I don’t worry too much over word count.
That, to me, is one of the best parts of being an Indie Author! If you are a traditionally published author, you really need to know what target word count agents and editors are looking for in your genre. This is simply not as crucial for the Indie Market, though it is something you’ll need to consider.
There are four main factors I believe you should take into consideration when deciding how long your self-published novel should be. These are in order of importance.
Since we as indie authors are not held to the same rules as those who are traditionally publishing, the main thing to consider is the quality and integrity of your story. How many words do you need in order to write this story to the very best of your ability?
Sometimes, this is simply something you will learn over time as you work on your craft. As you write, pay attention to your gut instincts. Does a character need more time to develop? Do you really need to show more action here or more reaction there?
Pay attention to the pacing as you go. Are you rushing it trying to hit a certain word count? Try slowing down. Is everything dragging there in the middle leading up to that important midpoint? Maybe there are some cuts that need to be made.
Over time, the more you write, the better you will start to get at understanding how many words a story will take to do it justice.
Just as with traditional publishing, it’s important for indies to know the typical or average word count for their chosen genre. While sticking to genre norms is not a hard and fast rule (you are, after all, the one making all the decisions here!), it’s so important to consider reader expectations in this process.
For example, if you’re writing an epic fantasy series, readers will most likely expect novels of 100,000 words and up. A 50,000 word book will possibly feel extremely short to readers in this genre, so you may want to consider this in your marketing, branding, or messaging for the book.
On the flip side, readers looking for light contemporary romance might not be used to 150,000 words per novel.
Knowing reader expectations for your genre can be a powerful tool when it comes to marketing your book to the correct audience, so it’s definitely something to keep in mind.
If you plan to write a series and want to use your first book as a loss leader (as discussed in this video), it’s important to know that many advertising sites will not accept books that are less than 40,000 words. Books shorter than this are usually considered novellas and will not qualify for many different types of promotions.
While there are plenty of successful marketing strategies out there for novellas and short stories, keep in mind your overall strategy when deciding on a target word count. If you were hoping to utilize traditional advertising sites like Bookbub in marketing your books, you’ll want to keep the word count in novel territory – 40,000 words and up!
I mention this one with a major warning. I always believe that quality and the integrity of your story should be the most important consideration when it comes to your word count. However, it is just a fact right now in today’s market that the faster you can publish, the easier it’s going to be.
And trust me, self-publishing is not easy for anyone! The more you can word good, solid strategy into your publishing plan, the better off you are going to be. This shouldn’t come before the quality of your story, but it is still something to consider.
If you are a slow writer and it’s going to take you a very long time to complete a 90,000 word novel, you may want to consider aiming for a shorter word count. If you set a target of 60,000 words per book, you could potentially write three books in the same amount of time it normally would have taken you to write two.
It’s something to consider, but like I said, you should never compromise the quality of your work just to get it out there quickly.
It’s always best to look for a balance and be trying to find the best way to stay true to yourself as an author while utilizing the best strategy for success.
That’s it, guys! Those are my top tips for how to set your target word count.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What do you take into consideration when deciding how long your book should be? What genre do you write, and what is your average word count?
These days, I mostly find myself writing books where I’m aiming at over 80,000 words, but I think that’s a result of my mostly being deep into each series. Next year, I plan to start a new series with a target word count of 60,000 words each. At least in the beginning.
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I have been self-publishing my books since 2010, and in that time, I've sold well over half a million copies of my books. I'm not a superstar or a huge bestseller, but I have built an amazing career that brings me great joy. Here at Heart Breathings, I hope to help you find that same level of success. Let's do this.