Lengths and Word Counts

A very common question I get relates to the lengths of various fiction works.  “I’m writing a novel–how long does it need to be?”  “How long is a short story?”

It is important to keep in mind that the lengths of various works are very flexible, and vary with the publisher you are working with.  Lengths will also vary from genre to genre–in general a fantasy novel can get away with many more pages than a romance.

With that in mind, though, there are certain benchmarks for various works that seem to be fairly industry-standard.  Here are the generally accepted word counts for fiction works, from shortest to longest:

Micro fiction under 100
Flash fiction under 1000
Short story 1000 to 7500
Novella, novellette 7000 to 50,000
Novel 50,000 to approximately 150,000
Epic over 150,000

Don’t let this table be an absolute for you–don’t write based on this table.  Write first, let your creativity be your guide, then consult a word-count table to see exactly what it is you have produced.  Knowing what to call the piece you have written is the first step in finding viable markets for it.

In general, you can assume roughly 250 words per page, if you use a font like Courier at 12-point, double-spaced, with one inch margins all around.  Even in the electronic age, this is how most publishers prefer to receive their manuscripts, so it is good practice. It also keeps your drafts from looking like finished manuscripts.  My personal favorite font is Hewlett Packard’s Dark Courier.  Courier New always prints like an old typewriter whose ribbon is half-empty.  Dark Courier is much darker and nicer to read.  It is available for download here.