Indie writers face multiple uphill struggles to get their writing published, more so if you want to publish a fiction novel. Publishing a short story or even a novella can be achieved by creating a blog. But in many cases the budding author will be entirely focused on one overriding question. How many words are there in the average novel?
Never mind the time you don’t have to write your book, the software you don’t have, or even the laptop you don’t have, it’s usually the number of words you need to write that stymies the budding novelist. Tell many wannabe novelists they must write 80k words and some will grimace and get a job in a factory. Authoring a book is hard graft. Notwithstanding the number of words you must write for your opus to be a novel, it’s often surprising to discover there is no fixed rule. As an indie author you try and sell a novel on Amazon that is 500 words long, you may fall foul of an Amazon AI that deems your novel not to be a novel at all.
I have often read that a good novel should be at least 80k words in length. NaNoWriMo, that doyen of novel writing, insists entries must be 50,000 words and over. Readers I have spoken to all seem to want to read long novels. But the success of a novel isn’t dictated by the number of words it contains. Some of the great novels of our time have been between 40k and 50k words long, like Orwell’s Animal Farm, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and that great British novelist Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. These are all under 40k words. Slightly higher word counts are The Great Gatsby and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which are both between 40k and 50k words long.
My first novel was over 63k words, and even then, I thought it was a little short for a novel. Currently I’m working on my trilogy of which The Brittle Sea is 96k words, The Brittle Land 107k words and the final book, The Brittle Sky will be around 150k words long.
The thing is, it’s not the number of words that makes a novel popular, it’s the content that makes the book popular, or unpopular.
And that brings me to a critical part of any writer’s desire to write a novel. Be prepared to make sacrifices. My third book in the Brittle Saga Trilogy, The Brittle Sky, stood at 30k words, up until yesterday. It now stands at 12k words. Did I lose a load of words? Well, that has happened, indeed it happened to The Brittle Sea with a hard drive failure. But no, this was a conscious decision to ditch 18k words because the story didn’t gel. Don’t be afraid of what you write and certainly don’t be afraid to change what you write. If a section of your writing doesn’t work, take it out. But don’t delete it. Save it somewhere else, you never know you may be able to use it somewhere else.
Now, back to how many words make a novel. Here’s what I think diverse types of fiction writing should contain in words.
Short story: Up to 8,000 but no less than 500.
Novella: between 17,500 and 40,000.
Novel: over 40,000.
How your book sells will depend on two things. How good it is and how well you market it.
How good your novel is, is entirely up to you and your writing skills. As for marketing your book, well, guess what, that’s entirely up to you as an indie author as well.
I’ve always said that writing is easy compared to marketing.
Whatever you do, don’t lose faith in your ability, and don’t allow self-doubt to creep in while you are unawares. When you go down the path any indie author must tread, then doubt should be put to one side and replaced with faith in your own abilities.
Copyright © Tom Kane 2021
My Novels, just in case you need to read one to see what a novel looks like, in the flesh as it were.